Sofiya Melnychuk Overcomes Obstacles After Moving from Ukraine to Missouri

By Chloe Horstman, North Star Reporter

It is a normal April day in Western Ukraine, and a 16 year old girl sits down at home to work on homework. Suddenly the phone rings, and the significance of that day comes flooding back to memory- today she will find out if she passed the extensive tests to become an exchange student.

Sofiya Melnychuk was shocked when she received the phone call that would tell her that she was going to a new school on a different continent.  

“I was shaking for that call,” Melnychuk said. “I was just sitting and doing my homework. I did not know that it was that day. It was like ‘Hi, is this Sofiya Melnychuk?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, hi’,  she was like ‘We are your finalists’ I’m like ‘What’. I was just shaking. I started crying like ‘Oh my God’…”

Melnychuk dreamed of being a foreign exchange student but never thought that she would be able to, and spontaneously made the decision to join the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) competition that lasted from September until December.

“It’s a really long process, and I actually decided a day before,” Melnychuk said. “I was like ‘well, I don’t think I will become an exchange student’…they choose only 200 so I’m like ‘not me’. I just decided to…go to another city and have some fun, well, now I’m here. And actually I always wanted to be an exchange student but I was kind of scared….one day I was like ‘I’ll try that, who knows?’”

After the results were decided, Melnychuk did not have a lot of time to pack up her life in Ukraine and move to St. Louis MO, so she had to come to terms with her situation and decided to trade in fear for determination.

“For the first two days I was super happy but then was like ‘No, I’m 16. I just turned 16 and I’m going to a different country on my own, without my parents, I’m scared,’” Melnychuk said. “But then I thought that was like a really really great opportunity to learn English…and I was like, ‘No, I’m going to make it, why not? My brother did it, a lot of people did it, I’ll be fine.’  But I was scared, I just didn’t realize that I was about to leave my family for ten months, my friends…it was stressful after I left my city because I didn’t realize, now I am leaving…”

Waiting to meet her in America was Jane Puszkar and her husband, who had hosted two exchange students 20 years before and saw an ad on the website Nextdoor for hosting exchange students, and immediately knew Melnychuk was the right host daughter. Since then they have been in touch with the Melnychuk family.

“There’s an eight hour time change, but she can still be in touch with whoever she wants in Ukraine which is really neat,” Puszkar said. “When we decided to pick her as a host daughter, she sent us an email and then shortly thereafter I was in touch with her mother and then after that her brother, her grandparents, everybody else in her family, so it’s been a really neat experience. We’re in touch via facebook, so they get to see what we’ve been doing with Sofiya on a regular basis which is very comforting, I’m sure, to her family.”

Moving to live in a different country at a young age without your family is a lot to take in, but Melnychuk remembers to have a positive mindset and remember what FLEX taught her.

“I had like a pre-departure orientation before I came here so they told us all the important things,” Melnychuk said. “They had this saying that ‘A year in America is not better, not worse, just different’. And I’m like ‘What that doesn’t make any sense, of course it’s better’. I came here half a year and I’m like ‘Oh my gosh it makes so much sense’ So I just stick to the ‘Not better, not worse, just different.’ It makes so much sense, it’s just all different.”

And different it was. Melnychuk has been able to travel with her host family and both her and her host parents will hold on to dear memories of discovering new things with each other.

“Almost all the memories of traveling have been absolutely touching,” Puszkar said. “It’s always rewarding to introduce somebody to something that they’ve never seen before that you already know… All the really touching memories have been centered around travel as well as just our one on one discussions about life and culture, I’ve learned so many things about Ukraine and it has been very very enriching.”

Since then, Melnychuk has experienced many different things in Missouri, like visiting the Arch and City Museum, driving a boat, going to school dances, and talking to new people and throughout her experiences continues to learn to have confidence.

“The thing I also learned here is that if you’re afraid of something you have to do that,” Melnychuk said. “I was really afraid of talking to new people and I come here and I was like ‘hmmm…I don’t know anybody’. I was afraid to make interviews and have interviews and just talk to people, I was like ‘no, please, I’m scared,’ and then I just tried it and… after I did something that I was scared of, I was so proud of myself, so happy.”

In the year that Melnychuk has been in Missouri,  the Puszkars have seen her gain more control over the English language as well as confidence, and are glad that they got to invite Melnychuk into their home.

“I would recommend being a host family to anybody who has room in their heart to accept a child into their home,” Puszkar said. “It’s just so rewarding. You end up learning more from them than what you teach them.”