Exchange students from Russia and Ukraine arrive in Kansas

WICHITA, Kansas — Amid controversy in Russia and Ukraine, a U.S. Department of State scholarship program aims to enhance public diplomacy, beginning in Kansas.

Two exchange students, from Russia and Ukraine, arrived Friday afternoon at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. They arrived on the same flight.

Both students have been awarded the prestigious scholarship through the Department of State.

Mykhaylo Kostynyuk, 15, from Ukraine, will attend Hutchinson High School for the 2014 – 2015 school year.

Lyubov Igoshina, 16, from Russia, will attend South High School in Wichita as a senior.

The ASSE, formerly American Scandinavian Student Exchange, International Student Exchange Programs have selected the Wilke and Goodness families of Hutchinson and Wichita to host the high school exchange students, “in order to improve relationships between the United States, and Russia, and Ukraine,” said Stephanie Weishaar, the ASSE Kansas area coordinator.

According to a press release, the program “has been designed for these students to gain a better understanding of America and take what they’ve learned back to Ukraine and Russia.”

Even amid tensions at home, the students say they are looking forward to their experience in the U.S.

“I think my host family will be great,” said Mykhaylo.

“I want to go to school. I want to have a lot of different experiences. I want to know American people, American culture,” said Lyubov.

“I think it would be a big culture shock for Misha,” said Thomas Wilke, the student’s host father.

Regardless of the initial culture shock and language barrier, the international student exchange program hopes to have an impact on the worldwide controversy.

“We have a direct impact on what takes place in those countries by sharing our life with them,” said Weishaar. “Then they go back home and they impart the values that they learned here in America, and the real perspective that they’ve gained while they’re here, and then they become future leaders in their country,” she continued.

Due to the current conflict in Russia and Ukraine, the international student exchange program is having a difficult time finding host families for students from the two countries.

“We have students from about 20 different countries that are still waiting for this opportunity. [They are] very eager to experience our culture and learn English and participate in America’s life, and they can’t do that until they find a host family,” said Weishaar.

If you are interested in becoming a host family, call 1-800-736-1760, or click here.

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