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From concerts to Chicago, exchange student savors U.S. trip

Liza Serdyuk (left) and host mom Tami Miller are shown celebrating Ukraine's independence day in traditional vyshyvankas, and eating borsch. Submitted photo.1 / 2
Liza Serdyuk (left) is shown with fellow exchange student Sara Rodolfi on Serdyuk's birthday. Submitted photo.2 / 2

Liza Serdyuk recently went to a Chris Brown concert with her friends at the Xcel Energy Center. She said it was "super fun."

She wanted to go to a concert in the U.S. because it was "the most teenager thing to do here."

"I wanted to go to a concert here," she said. "But I didn't know what concert they will have. Then, my friends found this."

It was her friends' present to her before she returns to her home in Ukraine.

Serdyuk is an exchange student in 11th grade at River Falls High School.

She said she purposely didn't take a lot of hard classes at RFHS, because her goal was to experience electives and cool classes she couldn't try in Ukraine.

For example, she really enjoyed her art classes.

"People here, they're like, 'Oh it's so boring,'" Serdyuk said. "In Ukraine, we don't have ceramics."

Drawing or any art lessons in Ukraine cost a lot of money, she said. "But here you can take class and do it for free and even get a grade for that."

She's taken ceramics, advanced ceramics and drawing at RFHS. Her favorite project has been a portrait of her grandma's brother, which she'll bring back home to her family.

She's also enjoyed her American Literature class. She said she especially enjoyed reading "The Great Gatsby." She'd read it in Russian before, but said she likes the English version better.

"It's like really different," she said.

The meaning of some words was lost in translation, so some details changed a bit from the English to the Russian version.

It's not just translations that are different in the states, Serdyuk said. She said one big difference between Ukraine and the U.S. is that everything here is "super huge."

"Like huge stores, and huge buildings and size of food is huge," she said. "Everything is huge."

She tried to avoid eating unhealthy food in the U.S.

"But then I broke," she said. "I started to eat like stuff because people said 'oh you should try that,' and I'm like 'okay, once.'"

Her favorite food she's had in the U.S. is Mexican food.

Serdyuk said she gets along very well with her host parents Tami Miller and Rick Miller, and host brother Ben Klimpke. 

"I have loved every aspect of being Liza’s host mom," said Tami Miller. "She is smart, funny, eager to try new things, just an all-around great girl. She’s made a lot of new friends, tried cheerleading this winter, and is now in Track and Field, some things that are not offered to her in Ukraine.

"If I could keep her I would. She fit in very well with our family and extended family, for that matter. We’ve had so many people tell us that we truly could be mother/daughter as she looks so much like me"

Miller said it's going to be very hard to say goodbye when Serdyuk goes back to Ukraine in a few weeks.

" Until then, we are making the most of every day with her upcoming trip to Minneapolis, Prom (she’s been selected for Prom Court), and going to see a college track and field meet before she goes home," Milelr said. "I’m looking forward to the life-long bond we’ve forged. We plan to go visit her in the next year or so and see her country and meet her family."

When coming to the U.S., Serdyuk said she was surprised to see the clothes people wore.

"People wear a lot of comfy clothes," she said. "No one in Ukraine would wear leggings to school, they would be like 'Oh my god,' or socks with like slippers or something.

"Also, girls are not wearing makeup, and my mom was like 'Don't forget that you're a girl, Do your makeup, look nice.'"

Serdyuk said makeup is a big deal for girls and women in Ukraine and Russia, and countries in that area.

"Ladies are really into makeup," she said. "My mom can't go to the grocery store without makeup up and her hair done."

She said she enjoys not wearing makeup in the U.S.

Serdyuk has learned a lot in the U.S., and not just in her classes at school.

"I think I became more open minded," she said. "I know a bit more about American History, and minorities. Before I came here, in Ukraine, you know, racist jokes (or) like homophobic jokes, I would just listen to them and I didn't care, but now, if someone makes jokes like that, I'm like 'whoa, what are you doing?'"

Serdyuk has already sent some candy home, and she plans to bring back some postcards. She'll also bring back a few extra smiles.

She said people in the U.S. smile a lot more than they do in Ukraine, or other countries, and she's started smiling more herself since she went on her trip.

Serdyuk has also gotten a chance to visit Chicago, which she said she'd hoped to visit because she's seen it in movies, and TV shows and books. She was impressed.

Serdyuk is set to go back home May 16. Before she does, she'd like to visit Kansas City, spend time with her host family and friends, and just have fun.

When she does go back to Ukraine,, she will keep in touch with her friends and her host family. Some of her friends from RFHS are coming to Ukraine this summer to see her home, and experience her culture.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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