Former Mississippi-Ukraine exchange students reconnect, recall memories from 20 years ago – Magnolia State Live


Problem for a nation below attack brought eight previous Oak Grove college students collectively more than 20 a long time following living in Ukraine as trade pupils.

To these students, now older people in their late 30s and early 40s, Russia’s assault on Ukraine brought again vivid reminiscences of the areas they saw and individuals who opened their households to the teens.

The team drifted aside after graduation but reconnected very last month on social media soon after Russia released its invasion on Feb. 24.

Kacey Cole, who graduated higher college in 2001, is the only one particular who however life in Hattiesburg. She tracked down her host relatives, like sisters Alena and Viktoriya, in Ukraine to make certain they were being Ok and has been equipped to remain in touch with them considering that the war begun.

Only the Ukrainians’ initially names are employed in this tale for anxiety of retaliation.

“Currently, they are risk-free and worried, but very pleased of their army and hopeful for peace,” Cole mentioned in an e mail. “They notify me about sirens and bombings in the mornings and the worry that ‘No one particular is aware where the up coming rocket will arrive.’”

Cole mentioned in a cellular phone job interview that some of the host people moved to other international locations over time. The types still in Ukraine are safe and sound.

“Any time they present these photographs of Kyiv and there’s a church there identified as St. Sophia’s, I can remember likely there,” she mentioned. “It’s 1 of the most wonderful places I’ve ever observed in my life.

“To have that connection has been fascinating, terrible — so lots of distinctive feelings about it. It is just so stressful. I can not picture living in that circumstance.”

Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick, a professor of gifted education and learning at the University of South Florida, was the trainer who accompanied the pupils. Now 53, Shaunessy-Dedrick remembers the purely natural attractiveness of Ukraine.

“I remember driving as a result of the broad fields of grain and recalling my elementary schooling and instructors telling us that Ukraine was the ‘breadbasket’ of Eastern Europe,” she stated in an email. “I could see why. Bread was a cornerstone of the Ukrainian eating plan and identity, and we have been greeted at the airport and celebrated at gatherings with symbolic gestures that bundled fancy loaves of bread and youth dressed in their country’s headscarves and ribbons.”

Lindsey Topp, now a assets-casualty attorney in New Orleans and former Oak Grove pupil, reported Sasha, a single of the teenagers she related with in Ukraine, is serving in the army.

“I can not aid but assume of the buddies we made then and how their life are parallel to ours,” Topp said. “Many are dad and mom now, doing the job and supporting families. I dislike to imagine how I would come to feel if my everyday living ended up disrupted by war on my doorstep.”

Cole, assistant director of the English Language Institute at the College of Southern Mississippi, concerns about her friends’ safety as they navigate everyday living in a time of war.

Just one of Cole’s pals had taken her little ones to continue to be in her hometown although her husband remained at the relatives household in Dnipro, southeast of Kyiv. The moment she realized nowhere was harmless from Russian airstrikes, she and the youngsters came home to be with her spouse.

“She advised me Ukraine is fine when it arrives to floor troops and ground security, but till air place is shut, we’re in threat no matter in which we are,” Cole stated.

Topp represents household and business house owners in hurricane, fire and relevant situations. Her time in the exchange software aided form her beliefs as an adult.

“That trip assisted me reevaluate my values and priorities and recognize the freedoms and excesses I had fully taken for granted to that issue,” she reported.

Cole, far too, said whilst she didn’t feel about it at the time, her experiences in Ukraine had an impression on her existence. She attained a bachelor’s diploma in worldwide research at the University of Mississippi.

“Ultimately, I imagine the working experience affected my decision of analyze in college or university and my profession route of doing the job with global learners,” she claimed. “I’m so thankful for that knowledge and the way it opened my eyes to a different society and the earth.”

Ukraine was a young country in 1999, having declared its independence in 1991 from the former Soviet Union. The students have been touring to a region largely unfamiliar to those who ended up not authorized guiding the Iron Curtain.

“We set off with some trepidation about what we have been finding into and identified a nation that differed in numerous strategies from our very own politically, socially and educationally,” Shaunessy-Dedrick reported. “But we located people who ended up truly fascinated in our earth, in sharing their lifestyle with us — especially the Ukrainian values that experienced for so extensive formed their people today.”

The university student exchange was by the Mississippi Consortium for International Improvement, which no longer operates a superior school exchange system. Students from quite a few Mississippi educational facilities ended up invited to take part, including Oak Grove.

The college students spent three weeks in Ukraine in October 1999. Ukrainian pupils returned the check out, coming to Hattiesburg, in Spring 2000.

In 1999, some of the older Ukrainians had trepidation over the nation’s independence for economic explanations, which include how they would get their pensions. Shaunessy-Dedrick’s host, Ludmylla, also shared the “tensions her relatives experienced linked to wars with Russia.”

“Our intent in going to was to deliver a model financial sector of Mississippi goods so that our Ukrainian host youth would occur to the U.S. and have a very similar current market and take pleasure in economic achieve,” Shaunessy-Dedrick stated. “I think the U.S. sponsored this vacation as element of a more substantial strategy to assist the financial independence of Ukraine.

“I have questioned just lately how significantly people attempts went, and the geographic threats to Ukraine offered their proximity to Russia.”
Topp reported the Ukrainians were fired up to hook up with Us residents and “show us their society.”

“They were being so proud of their background, but equally proud to be a democratic country,” she stated.

Currently being able to freely convey who the Ukrainians were being and how they lived was a spotlight not only for the Oak Grove pupils but also for their host families.

“Looking again now, in particular with the war with Russia, I am reminded of how proud the Ukrainian people today were being of their distinctive identities as independent from Russians,” Shaunessy-Dedrick explained.


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