Celebrating Ukraine
Exchange student from Ukraine with mayor of Appleton, two high school principals, and Wisconsin Spanish teacher

Roman poses with school officials and the mayor of Appleton (WI)

Even when I was still in Ukraine, I was looking forward to International Education Week (IEW). It was one of the best opportunities for me to share not only my experience but also to raise awareness among Americans about my native country.

This year was extremely difficult for me, because I had to deal with perhaps the most terrible thing in life: war. I can talk about how much it has affected my life for hours, but even more, I can talk about how much more I have grown to love my country, appreciate our culture, and learn more about my history and the history of my ancestors. Most importantly, I can convey how proud I am to be Ukrainian and to be born in such a beautiful and flourishing state.

I was looking forward to this week when I arrived in the U.S. A month before IEW, I started thinking about when and in which classes I would be able to make a presentation on Ukraine. At the same time, I started talking to all my teachers about it.

At first, I planned to make a few presentations, but after each teacher asked me more and more questions about Ukraine, I decided there should be way more presentations! After all the conversations, my teachers suggested that I come to my classes and others, as we wanted everyone to know a little more about Ukraine.

The preparation for this week allowed me to learn even more about my country and its brave people.

In total, I gave 24 presentations in five days, which were attended by more than 600 people. I managed to talk to every person who was present and answer all the questions, which were very many. In my presentations, I talked about our great history, our rich culture, national cuisine, and unique art. Since I have been involved in Ukrainian folk dances since childhood, I also managed to tell a lot about their importance in our history and what makes dance part of our cultural heritage.

That week also became very important in my life for other reasons. I have become more confident in myself and my abilities. My English has improved a lot, and I was able to enrich my vocabulary. The preparation for this week allowed me to learn even more about my country and its brave people. IEW helped me to be less afraid of public speaking and I made a lot of new friends that I keep in touch with every day.

Maybe the number 24 does not seem significant, but I think it is very important to share why I did 24 presentations. I chose this number of presentations, because on August 24, Ukraine celebrates Independence Day, for which our ancestors fought for centuries. This holiday has become the most important holiday in Ukraine. In addition to this, the war in my country began on February 24 this year, so the number 24 has acquired a double meaning for us. This number is historic for both me and for my people.

One of my missions in the U.S. is to improve my leadership abilities, as this is something I will need in life. I decided that International Education Week could be an opportunity not only to teach others about my country but also to learn to communicate with other people, to gain new skills, knowledge, and experience, and to move forward.

I invited the mayor of my city to attend one of my presentations, and one day I got a reply from his office that he would come!

That's why I invited the mayor of my city to attend one of my presentations, and one day I got a reply from his office that he would come! It was an extraordinary honor for me to have such an honorable and authoritative audience and to be part of the schedule of the mayor of my city. I greatly appreciate that I was able to interest a large number of people and represent my country and its people in a dignified manner.

In addition, my invitations to presentations were accepted by the guidance office at my school, as well as by the school principal. All of them, on different days and at different times, attended my presentations, which is also a very valuable and unforgettable thing for me. I am extremely glad that a representative of the U.S. State Department was present at one of my presentations. What makes me happiest is that more people have learned about Ukraine.

IEW was one of the most memorable weeks of my life. It was full of incredible experiences, meeting people, improving my leadership abilities, and a storm of emotions and memories that warm my soul.

I am proud that I was able to be a true ambassador of my country and represent it worthily on another continent that has become my second home. International Education Week brings people together!

—Roman (FLEX, Ukraine), hosted by the O’Connell family (WI)