Photography by Cassi Frey

My Ukranian Brotherhood

"Growing up I had learned, through experience, to despise the over the top masculinity in men. I was not a fan and actively avoided it when possible. When I turned 25, I Joined the Peace Corps and was sent to serve in Ukraine. Ukraine, for all I knew going in, was a world dictated by men that I thought I would never really understand. I went in to this experience with as much openness as I could muster. I also thought I was aware of how I would be perceived by these men. I thought I would be seen as this silly arrogant American girl that had a skewed view of the world and thought that I could fix it. And I also thought that maybe they would be right. I was entering this world skeptical and guarded, not only about the men, but about my own intentions as well.

"After three months of intense language and cultural training, I was sworn in as an active Volunteer and sent to my permanent site for the next two years. I was still idealistically entering my assignment with high hopes of helping the youth and community develop different and improved world views. On my first true solo day in my new home, the neighbors invited me over for tea.  Trying to be the good volunteer I wanted to be, I went over, even though I was stressed-out, exhausted from the three-month training, and still did not have a real handle on the language. That night the grandfather of the family took me aside and had his daughter in law translate to me something that he felt I needed to hear. As I sat listening, attempting to translate on my own, he explained to me that I would have many hard days ahead of me filled with people against me. That I might not understand or grasp that some people are trying to put me down. He told me that when that happens, to come over any time, and to cry on his shoulder. It filled me with so much love for this patriarch that I had just met and added cement to the bond I will feel forever towards Ukraine. Not all the men of the family were quick to warm to me, but one by one they all invited me in to their secret club. They took care of me and gave me comfort for the whole two years at site. They helped my world view expand into a more accepting and loving one; more than I could ever hope to do so for them in return. This is my Ukrainian brotherhood."

Cassi Frey is a marine biologist, a Returned Peace Corps volunteer, and an avid human observer. Her favorite photographs capture a moment of expression in everyday events. She strives for connection, but her heart is always in the sea. You can find her on instagram at @imacassi