Olya is a 16-year-old exchange student from Ukraine, who arrived in the USA in August 2012 and is currently residing with a wonderful host family in Washington, MO. How did I meet her? Her host mom, Brandy Foss, told me that I absolutely have to meet up with Olya because we have so much in common. I invited her for coffee and we found that Brandy was right: Olya and I both enjoy a good latte, we believe that pantries should be stocked with European chocolate rather than chips, we share the same taste in foreign movies, we speak with an accent, we love traveling, and we love to use photography as a form of self-expression. People even say we look alike, since we have a similar hair color. Yesterday Olya and I did some baking and enjoyed a nice talk, which you are about to read right now on the Re-Discover Washington blog.
Why did you decide to come to the USA? When I was six, I has a dream that I was 18 and I was walking on the streets of New York. Coming to America has always been my dream. I came to improve my English, visit the USA, make new friendships and gather new experiences.
What are some of the first things that struck you as very different from home? There are no places to walk here. The distances are big, and life without a car is virtually impossible. I enjoy walking to places, and I miss that a lot. I also miss European candy.
What else do you miss from home? The food, my friends, the cafes, walking.
What do you like about Washington? I like my school, and I really like the variety of classes I can take. There are a lot more creative opportunities: art, acting, pottery, cooking, etc.
Were you afraid of traveling alone? I enjoy traveling. When you travel solo, you meet many new people along the way and you are more open to new experiences. Arriving to the USA was quite the adventure. One of my flights was late, and I missed the plane to St. Louis. For a minute, I thought my whole life had come to an end. I was alone in a foreign country, with no phone and no friends. However, I pulled myself together, asked if there was another flight I could take, and I managed to make it to St. Louis. I learned that I can find a way out of almost any situation if I keep calm and carry on. In February I am going to Hawaii and I am looking forward to exploring it all by myself.
What is Instagram and when did you start using it? Instagram is an app for iPhone that gives me the opportunity to share all the pieces of my life with other people. I started using it this summer and it helps me to stay connected with my friends. I want my photos to inspire other people to live, eat good food, create and travel. If I am doing something interesting, I take a photo of it and I post it on Instagram. It’s a way to document my life through photos.
Did you have any expectations before you arrived in the USA? Were they met? The movies leave you with the impression that the USA is like New York. When you arrive here, you find our that it’s not. Small towns are very different from big cities. I thought I will be able to walk to places and shop at small grocery stores, like I am used to do at home. However, I realized that things are different here. Not bad, just different. Traveling on your own makes you more mature. It was my decision to come here for a year, and I have learned a lot during the couple of months I’ve been in Washington. When you are away from your parents you learn to live alone and make your own decisions. I miss my childhood friends and my family, but am also happy to have found a wonderful host family who is there for me when I need them.
What are your plans for the future? I believe that experience is the beast teacher. If you never try, you’ll never know. After the school year is over, I will go back home, finish high school there, and then I plan to go to the University in the Check Republic and study acting. After that, my dream is to return to the USA and go to New York. I think you should believe in yourself and take advantage of what life has to offer. I am looking forward to seeing what the rest of my stay here has in store for me.
Photos: Olya on Instagram