Anna Akastyelova went from living in a city in the Ukraine with a population of 1 million people, to being a foreign exchange student at Little Wolf High School in Manawa. She is one of 210 students from the Ukraine who were chosen as foreign exchange students.
How did Akastyelova find her way to Manawa? She says those in the foreign exchange student program don’t get to pick where they go. Rather, if they are one of the few who get chosen for the program, they are told where they will be going.
She arrived in Manawa in mid-August to meet her host family, Paul and Tammy Olk. Once she arrived in Manawa, she was happy the program brought her to a small town.
“It’s (living in a small town) what I wanted to experience,” she said. “I think it is really good that now I experience that. People are really, really friendly. Many people know each other and it’s just so nice. When I was riding my bicycle and people were driving by me and they wave to me, and it was like ‘Why would they do this?'”
When she was still in the Ukraine and she found out her host family lived in Manawa, she said she started researching Manawa.
“I went to their school web site and I read a couple of school newspapers to see some activities they do,” Akastyelova said.
She also began communicating with the Olk family as soon as she could by exchanging emails.
With her host family, Akastyelova is experience something she and many others in the Ukraine don’t get to experience – living in a house.
“In the Ukraine, those in the country live in houses, but most people in the city live in big apartment buildings,” she said.
Choosing what classes to take at school may be taken for granted in the United States, but that was one of the things Akastyelova looked forward to.
“I was really excited about choosing the subjects at school,” she said. “We don’t have the chance to choose subjects when we are in high school in the Ukraine. We just have what we have.”
While in Manawa, Akastyelova isn’t blending into the background. She has been involved in a variety of activities.
“There are a lot of activities and I’m trying to do as much as I can to try myself in many things,” she said. “I was in cross country and I really enjoyed it because my team was just wonderful.
“In the Ukrainian schools they don’t really play sports.”
It was the first time she ever participated in cross country, and she lettered in it.
She said she is also involved with many group projects, drama club and the FFA club. This allowed her to go to the Dairy Expo in Madison where she met some international guests, so she got to speak with people from other countries.
She was also her class’s homecoming representative.
“I was really surprised and I didn’t know what to do. I was asking everybody what to do,” she said.
She said she also experienced the homecoming tradition of toilet papering.
The whole homecoming experience was fun and interesting because they don’t have homecoming in the Ukraine, she said.
“I have a lot of friends,” Akastyelova said. “We went to Halloween together and I went to a couple of Halloween parties. The people are really nice. They ask me questions and they ask me to say something in my native language.”
Another new experience living in Manawa brought her is riding a school bus. She said most students walk to school in the Ukraine.
When asked what it’s like riding a school bus, she said with a laugh, “You have to get up early.”
The school days are roughly the same. It’s after school that is different.
“After school here I have more activities than in the Ukraine,” she said. “In the Ukraine we have more homework.”
Akastyelova said she was homesick the first couple days here, but her host family helped lessen that. She also speaks with her family in the Ukraine on Skype once a week.
She said she was also a little nervous when she first arrived.
“I was excited, but I really wanted to know more about my host family,” she said. “Right now I’m just so glad that I came here and decided to do this because I just like my host family.”
Akastyelova has been able to achieve another goal by being able to travel with the Olk family.
“It was my dream to see the Grand Canyon, and Thanksgiving week we went to Utah. We saw the Salt Lake and the Grand Canyon,” she said.
The Olk family also took Akastyelova to a Wisconsin Badgers football game in Madison.
“It was cool, but it was a little bit cold. But I liked it,” she said. “I am getting into American football more.”
Paul Olk said that was a requirement, as they both laughed.
“I had a hard time with the rules but my host father explained it to me,” she said.
The family watches the Green Bay Packers games together, and Akastyelova said she will go back the Ukraine a Green Bay Packers fan.
Akastyelova will return to the Ukraine in mid-June, but she said she wants to stay in contact with her host family.
“I really hope that they come to the Ukraine,” she said. “I think my host family maybe they are going to come. And I will be really glad if they would come visit me.”
What will Akastyelova remember the most about her time in Manawa?
“Everything,” she said. “Every day brings something good. It’s just something you have to go through to understand.”
(See next week’s County Post East for an article about Paul and Tammy Olk’s experience being a host family.)