ORIGINALLY WRITTEN MALINDA OLSON
After traveling about 5,500 miles to reach the United States, Sasha Lytvynova, a 16-year-old from Kharkiv, Ukraine, arrived in Hillsboro for an 11-month study abroad.
Lytvynova came to the United States seven months ago and is attending Hillsboro High School, where she is a senior. Lytvynova received a scholarship from the Freedom Support Act Future Leaders Exchange Program, which helped make her study in the United States possible.
In order to become part of the FSA-FLEX program, students must meet certain criteria as well as pass three rounds of testing.
“It was a big contest,” Lytvynova said. “There were 800 people and only 30 of them came here so I just wanted to try. I didn’t think that I would be one of the 30.
“I just wanted to try myself, try to find out how good of English and also I wanted to come see America because it probably would be my only chance to come here.”
According to Lytvynova, the FSA-FLEX pays for her transportation and also provides her with $125 every month.
Lytvynova did not get to choose where she would be placed, but she said she was excited to come and had even heard about Kansas before she was accepted to the program.
“I’d heard about it before because I had seen the movie, ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ she said. “Then I was trying to find it somewhere on the map and it was right in the middle of the map. Actually, I thought it might be a desert but when I came here, it’s not that bad.”
Since Lytvynova has been in Hillsboro, she has lived with two families. She resided with one family until about three weeks ago, but left because of difficulties.
Lytvynova is now living with Marvin and Elfrieda Funk, Hillsboro.
“We’re used to having a granddaughter in and out of the house,” Marvin said. “But to have one live here, it’s a real joy.”
The Funks decided to be Lytvynova’s host family after speaking with their daughter and being introduced to Lytvynova through their granddaughter.
“Our daughter came over one evening and mentioned Sasha really needed a place,” Elfrieda said. “The next day our granddaughter and her friend came over and brought Sasha-that decided it. She gave us a big hug right away.”
On top of living with a new family, learning a new culture and taking classes at HHS, Lytvynova has been trying her hand at other extracurricular activities. In the fall she was on the volleyball team. She also started basketball this winter, but decided not to continue.
Lytvynova enjoyed being part of the volleyball team “because all the team is together and everybody is just helping each other and always saying ‘you’re good, you’re fun, you’re doing great’ instead of saying ‘you’re so bad,’ and everybody tries to help you.”
She has also found the teachers to be helpful compared to those in Ukraine.
“The teachers are all really good,” she said. “They all try and help me. I didn’t expect it from them. In our school everything’s different. Teachers don’t help us a lot.”
The teaching style, however, isn’t the only difference Lytvynova has discovered between Kansas and Ukraine.
She said there is more unoccupied land in Kansas compared with the Ukraine and her hometown, which has a population of 2 million. Until arriving in the United States she had never lived in a house; instead, she lived in an apartment.
Also, Lytvynova has found differences between the people.
“Everybody likes to talk here,” she said. “At first they thought that I am grumpy because I didn’t talk a lot. It’s really easy here to just come up and say hi and start talking.
“In Ukraine it would be different. People would think you are crazy. You have to know the person really good to come and say hi and start to talk about something.”
Lytvynova said her favorite thing about the United States is “to look at another world.”
“When you watch American movies, you imagine everything so perfect and everything is so beautiful. But when you come here, you see that here people are simple and like people back home. It was kind of nice to find out that it’s not that different.”
Lytvynova has also enjoyed the friends she has made and it is her wish to come back and visit again.
“I want to thank my friends for being here for me and supporting me when I have hard times, helping me with homework when I needed and having some fun things to do so I’m not staying at home all the time. And I think I’ll really miss them. I’ve already started to miss them.”