Their lives are very different from their grandparents' experiences under socialism, and sometimes that can cause a few generational problems, said the 10 Ukrainian college students who just completed a month-long exchange visit at East Central University.
The young women, all 19 or 20, were just toddlers when Ukraine established its independence in 1991 after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
"I'm sure even our parents couldn't imagine we would be able to go to other countries and have a relationship with Europe," Nataliia Kryvchun said.
The women are the first students to come to ECU under a new international exchange program established between ECU and Kiev National Linguistic University in Ukraine and State University of Management in Moscow, Russia.
Ukrainian children begin learning English in the first grade, and the Ukrainian students are majoring in English, so they have very few problems talking with Americans.
"The students here talk really quickly," Kryvchun said, however, "and slang is hard to understand."
Such questions as "What have you been up to?" and phrases such as "working out" were puzzling at first, she said.
"We're used to a literate language," Nadiia Shevchenko said.
While hearing everyday language and different pronunciations of words was a bit of a challenge, that was one of the reasons the women wanted to come to the United States, to enhance their knowledge of English as well as learn about the country.
"It was surprising to find that in the heart of America there are people studying the Russian language and culture (at ECU)," said Anna Makarenko. "We didn't expect that."
Russian language courses are taught at ECU by Dr. Mara Sukholutskaya, a graduate of and former instructor at the same university where the women are now studying. She was instrumental in creating the new Study Abroad program for ECU students and faculty.
In Ukraine, people speak both Ukrainian and Russian, which are similar languages.
Since arriving at ECU, the Ukrainian students divided their time between attending classes and seeing Oklahoma. They visited a ranch near Stuart and the Chickasaw Nation's headquarters, Kullihoma Stomp Ground and Bedre Chocolate factory. They toured the National Cowboy and Western History Museum in Oklahoma City, Tulsa's Gilcrease Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art and saw the area where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
And they shopped. "We've spent a lot of money here" at Wal-Mart and Goody's.
They found a more casual dress style at ECU than at home. "People would stare at us and ask, 'Why are you so dressed up?'" The 10 women already knew each other and were selected for the exchange by their dean's office. Like most college students, they first turned to the Internet to check out ECU from half a world away.
"The Internet helped us decide whether to come, to see photos of the campus and see what classes you have. We could look and find what we are interested in," Kryvchun said.
Their parents encouraged them to make the trip to the United States, with one mother worried only about the long flight. It took nine hours to fly from Kiev to New York, where they spent seven hours in the airport before a three-hour flight to Dallas and a three-hour drive to Ada.
"They knew this would be a chance to see the world and get a better understanding of English," Shevchenko said of her family.
They brought their cell phones to keep up with families and friends.
There are similarities - they both work to accomplish the same goals - as well as differences between higher education in Ukraine and the United States, said Dr. Olena Bagumian, the associate professor of English lexicology and stylistics who accompanied the Ukrainian students to ECU.
"We have a different approach and form of education," she said. "We probably will involve some of the things we've seen here into our system."
"One way the system is different is that you choose your subjects (at ECU)," Aleksandra Koleshikova said. "We have a set program that we stick to, except for a few elective courses."
"The system here is more flexible," Valeria Glotova added.
And in Ukraine, class attendance is compulsory. A student who misses a class has to go to the professor, write a paper and make up the work. Students receive points for attending and participating in their classes. Students who skip class on purpose lose their points.
It's more fun at ECU, they said, but "long-term, you discover the professors are encouraging you to go to class."
The students still have to complete all the assignments they missed while they were in the United States and be ready for final exams before their school year ends May 25. They completed some papers while at ECU and emailed them home.
They were familiar with cowboys and the American West, but learned new things about Native Americans.
"We didn't know about tornadoes," one student said with a wide-eyed look.
Several other things also surprised them.
"We were shocked on the first day that there were no students walking around on campus after 1 o'clock," Shevchenko said.
That's not the case in Kiev, Glotova said. "On one side, it's nice (at ECU)," she said. "It's so calm and comfortable. On the other side, we're not used to that."
One student, pointing to one of ECU's many squirrels, said they have no "wild" animals on their campus.
And everyone drives here, they added, even if the destination is only five minutes away, while Ukrainians either walk or take the subway in Kiev.
"We're used to walking," Glotova said, "even though we have cars."
They look forward to showing off their city and campus to several ECU students who will travel with Sukholutskaya to Ukraine this summer.
"We will show them our city, which is 1,500 years old, and help them with their classes and the Russian language," Glotova said.
"It will be interesting to see our classes," Shevchenko said. "It will be a huge experience to see how the European system works. It was the same for us (here)."
It's hard to know another culture without seeing it, the students agreed.
"I had heard so much about America, but until we came, I did not have a real understanding," one of the women said.
Knowing several languages has been considered prestigious in Ukraine since her grandparents' day, said Viktoriya Trostogon, whose grandfather was a linguist.
Kiev National Linguistic University has trained more than 25,000 specialists in teaching, translation, psychology and management during its 60-year history. Graduates work at the Ukrainian and foreign embassies, consulates and representative offices. Faculty members and graduates provide interpretation for Ukrainian official delegations at the summit level.
The university has more than 6,000 students, including 500 international students, and is the only institution in Ukraine where students can study eight European languages and six oriental languages.
"If you're interested in traveling, you can do a lot of things (as a linguist)," Glotova said. "There is a need for people with a good knowledge of languages."
"It's exciting to read world literature, to read a masterpiece in the original language," Makarenko said.
"And it gave us the opportunity to come to the United States," she added with a smile.
The first week in Ada they thought the food was "weird" and said they could hardly eat.
"It's a different style of life. We cook at home and eat healthy food," Makarenko said.
"Most women like to cook," Glotova said. "We have a rich cuisine and a lot of traditions and holidays that are still kept."
It is a tradition that a woman in every family bakes a special bread for the Easter holiday.
The students said they wanted to thank all the ECU professors, staff and others who welcomed them.
"It was very pleasant to come here to school, to see students interested in us," one Ukrainian said. "Dr. (Richard) Rafes and Dr. Mara were pleasant and interested in us."
The professors opened their doors to the exchange students and treated them as equal participants in their classes, they said.
"We could stay twice as long," Glotova added.
Sukholutskaya, who took the group to a restaurant to celebrate the birthday of one of the students, said she was grateful for ECU's faculty and staff who also helped them with everyday things like ironing boards and hangers.
"Sometimes little things may be more important than big things because they help them adjust to a new place," she said. "I'm also grateful to the ECU students who drove them back and forth to Wal-Mart as if there were no tomorrow, or they were going out of business."
The Ukrainians seemed impressed, she said, that Rafes bought them ice cream at Braum's and saw them off as they boarded their airplane in Dallas.
"They said they were in their third year in school and had never seen their president," Sukholutskaya said. "They were surprised we were not as formal."
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