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Fair exchange

Student from Ukraine has learned a lot from the contrasts

Posted: May 27, 2008 5:13 p.m.
Updated: July 26, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Ukranian exchange student Oleg Muzychenko poses in front of the Statue of Liberty.

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Today people live in an informational society. One can get information about almost everything - just click the button on your laptop and that is all. This is called "The Global Village," researched by Herbert Marshall McLuhan. I am sure that people in Dublin, Rome, Kyiv and Moscow, in the north, east, west and south, know about the United States of America, about the educational potential of the country. That is why a lot of exchange programs exist in other parts of the world.

The Eurasian Undergraduate Exchange Program (UGRAD) is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and administered by the International Research & Exchanges Board. The UGRAD program is highly competitive, with a rigorous selection process including in-person interviews and English language testing. Undergraduate students are brought from Eurasia to the United States to participate in one year of non-degree academic training in many fields and accomplish community service and part-time internship components through this program in order to give back to the local community and gain practical work experience.

In 2007 I became a participant from Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine. I commenced a one-year study program at College of the Canyons.

Ukraine is a country between two continents, Europe and Asia, and the second largest European country after France. Dnipropetrovsk - simply called Dnepr by local inhabitants - is a dynamic and lively city, and has remarkable embankments, long boulevards and spacious parks. It is also the major center of high-technology industries, education, machine-building, metallurgy and trade. The city is not only famous for its commercial industry, but also its green hills and deep history. The city is surprisingly green along the wide and slow-moving Dnieper River. It has been the major center of the steel industry from the beginning of the 20th century until the present. It has also dominated in the machine-building and aero-space-building industry since the 1950s.

The only child of Sergey and Lora Muzychenko, I was always proud of my parents. Sergey Muzychenko is an ex-professional volleyball player, He played for the Ukraine National Volleyball Team, and now is the owner of a small business. Mrs. Muzychenko has two master degrees in the field of economics and works for a big company.

Since the early years my parents paid a lot of attention to my education. In 2006 I graduated from community high school with an A-grade diploma, and from English language school with an A-grade diploma as well. Since early childhood I was involved in sports a lot - dancing, karate, roller-blading, volleyball - and thus became a captain of the high school volleyball team, almost like my father.

While driving on the streets of L.A. County I would often remember my father driving back home, when he would say, "I won't let that guy go in front of me!" After he said that, I usually adjusted my safety belt.
Sometimes people here drive crazy. Rarely will one let you go in front of him. But this was not my first impression of the USA. The first was just after the Lufthansa plane had landed in Washington, D.C. The air was very damp and hot like in a Russian bath - but we take a bath to relax, and here people live in it.

Another impression was caused by the difference in time zones. Before I came to L.A., I spent two weeks in language school in Washington, D.C., and there, for the first time in my life, I fell asleep during class. I tried to hide my face behind a sheet of paper, making an impression that I was reading and participating in the studying process fully, but in reality I was sleeping - however, most of my classmates were too.

When I arrived in L.A. and met my host family, I entered my new room and suddenly I understood that a new part of my life had begun. I had nobody to go to. My family and all those close to me were on another continent far away. I was here, all by myself. But everything was not as bad as it seemed to be. After some time this culture shock has gone, and I understood that this could be a great experience, to live far away from home. This was a chance to become more self-reliant.

The fall semester in College of the Canyons started, and I did not have time to be lonely. I was here and there, practicing English, and getting in touch with different people. All was new and interesting for me. The studying program seemed hard, at first, because I had to choose what subjects I should take.

There is a huge difference between the U.S. educational system and post-USSR one. In both systems a student can choose his or her major. This is freedom of choice. In the USA every enrolled student is able to choose subjects he wants to study in a particular field.

But in the Ukrainian system an educational program is made by well-qualified specialists and professors for a group of students. After one graduates from school and enters the university or academy (because there are no colleges in Ukraine) he joins other students in a group. So students have the same curriculum and study together, have four to five classes a day, for five days a week, for four or five years. And also every class schedule has at least one hour of physical training a week. I think working out is good for the health and every person should do it, despite their age.

My life here is not wrapped up in studying only. One of my dreams has come true. I got a chance to travel and see with my own eyes things that were shown on TV back in the Ukraine. For example, TV programs create the impression that Hollywood is the place where stars walk down the street, the sun shines brightly and dreams come true. But, in reality, it is all about one street with stars on the ground, bad roads and not very pleasant people. It was nothing special. I expected more.

Las Vegas made the biggest impression on me. I could hardly believe what I saw. Everything was so bright and beautiful. All of those hotels, statues, cars, lights and decorations could make me go crazy. I felt the inclination to take money out of my pockets and go gambling. But, thank God, I was under-age. Thus I will still have some money to keep traveling around the country. The most impressive thing was the Bellagio Fountain.

After Las Vegas I made my way to the East Coast: Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and my journey had its last point in Washington, D.C. I could not ignore that city, once I had come there to study, but the seduction of seeing the "pencil" (Washington Monument), saying "Hello!" to the Lincoln Memorial and White House, itself, was stronger than me.

For the future, I plan to travel around California.

I call myself "lucky" because it was a lucky chance to get a scholarship out of hundreds of students. It was a great experience, living apart from my family.

Learning other cultures and people develops a lot of good human qualities. I would encourage anyone interested to become a foreign exchange student. I would highly recommend doing what I did because I think there are so many new experiences to be had. It's a great contrast to your normal life and country.

When I return home, I will continue to move on with my studying, and try to contribute to my country, because all of those people, all of my teachers and friends, especially my parents, believe in me, and I must not let them be disappointed.

Oleg Muzychenko is a 19-year-old student from Ukraine who is attending College of the Canyons through the Eurasian Undergraduate Exchange Program. As part of this program he worked as an intern at The Signal.

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