Written by Mark Sherman; Host Dad to Nataliia Vasylkivska (2016; Ukraine/CA)
In August of 2015 we were at the Fresno airport to meet and pick up our exchange student from Ukraine and we had no idea at that time how our lives would change that day. My wife, Mary Anne and daughters, Emma and Leah had read numerous profiles of students from other countries who had applied to become exchange students in the United States. We collectively decided that a 16-year old girl named Nataliya seemed like the best fit for our family and we committed to opening up our home and our lives to her for the 2015/2016 school year.
During the course of the school year we were able to get to know Nataliya as we melded into one family. Emma and Leah realized that Nataliya was their new sister and we knew that we now had three daughters. We traveled as much as possible and tried to show Nataliya as much of California and the United States as possible. At the same time, Nataliya shared with us, her school and our community aspects of her country including its history, customs, food, and beauty.
Through Skype, we were able to “meet” Nataliya’s Mother, Father, Sister, Brother-in-law, Aunt and Uncle as she translated our conversations from English to Ukrainian and Ukrainian to English.
The school year went by way too fast and in June 2016 we were back at the airport, this time to say goodbye to Nataliya, as she prepared to travel back home to Ukraine. It did not seem real that she would no longer be living with us and we all realized that our relationship would last far longer than a 10-month school year.
In April of 2017, after keeping in constant touch with Nataliya and her family and after much planning, we boarded a flight to Ukraine to see our new daughter again and to finally meet her family in person. From the time the entire family met us at the airport in Kiev to the time they waved goodbye to us at the airport as we began our journey home, we all experienced something none of us will ever forget. Nataliya and her family welcomed us into their homes and we shared eight days of incredible hospitality, food, sightseeing and love that few tourists could ever hope to imagine.
During meals while enjoying the amazing Ukrainian food they prepared, we sat around their tables talking and answering questions for hours as we all got to know each other. The discussions ranged from politics and differences between our countries to the many things we all had in common. On one evening, we were even able to have dinner with both sets of Nataliya’s grandparents.
Through Nataliya, we have now become one permanently blended Ukrainian/American family separated by 6,179 miles. But, as Nataliya wrote to us the day she left “Distance means nothing, when someone means everything!” How true!
Make the world a smaller place and build international relationships by hosting a World Link international exchange student.