Ukrainian exchange student presents a historical map of the USSR during International Education Week in Indiana
Sofiya presents a historical map of USSR during one of her talks.

Sofiya Shines During IEW

"Доброго дня! Мене звати Софія Туголукова, мені 16 років і я українка." 

With this Ukrainian phrase I started every presentation that I did during International Education Week. The first few words were an introduction, “Hello, everyone! I’m Sofiya Tuholukova and I’m a Ukrainian girl.” Then I explained why I am in the U.S. and what it means to be an exchange student with the FLEX program. It was a pleasure to talk about my country in America.

My presentations were interactive activities. First I asked my audience what they knew about Ukraine, and then I started to present about Ukraine.  During the presentations we compared Ukrainian culture and history with American culture. After that I asked for feedback on a piece of paper that people would leave in a box. I was so excited reading the responses. The box was full of people’s thoughts such as, “Thank you so much for the presentation, it was amazing. I didn’t know about Ukraine before”, “I wanna visit your country, the culture is awesome”, “I liked the song that you sang, can you please say the name of it again”, “your voice is beautiful, the presentation was great,” and more.

So what did we talk about?

First I showed Ukraine on a map and pointed out that it’s the largest country in Europe. To make it more understandable, I explained that Ukraine is approximately equal to the area of Texas. The next topic I discussed was the history of Ukraine. I explained that Ukraine was subjugated by Poland, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and others.  Our ancestors managed to save our unique culture and land. I showed the picture of a Kosak and a boat that our Kosaks used to fight. Then a little bit more history about joining the USSR and becoming an independent country in 1991. We also talked about the symbols – the flag and coat of arms. To visualize what Ukraine really is, I explained the government system, the constitution, and talked about what’s going on in Ukraine now. Being honest with listeners, I informed them about the revolution that we had five years ago and showed the map with areas of Ukraine currently at war with Russia. Not officially a war, called an anti-terrorist operation by the government, but does it really matter? People are dying there.

Changing the topic to a happier one, I showed a short video about the beautiful landscapes of Ukraine. There was an explosion of interest when I showed Ukrainian money, which I brought from my country. Seeing the pictures of the capital of Ukraine, other cities and streets, students were excited because it’s so different from America. Furthermore, people asked where could they find the shirt that I had on, which was vyshyvanka (traditional clothing), as well as wondering which fashion I like more, Ukrainian or American.  Then we watched the national Ukrainian dance, Hopak, and talked about values—family, education, and traditions. I gave examples of all of them and why they are important. I also gave some information about religion and churches. 

My favorite part was the slide about food. People were surprised that we eat jelly with meat and borshch (soup with beets). “Why is it pink? Your food is so colorful! How exactly do you cook it?” were questions from the audience. After the presentation, I talked more about Ukrainian food and showed the book with recipes that I brought from Ukraine. 

I did not omit Ukrainian football teams, famous boxers and singers, winning the Eurovision Contest in 2016, popular bands, and peculiar musical instruments such as trembita, sopilka, and bandura. I revealed the wonderful sound of the bandura. And that wasn’t the end. I taught some Ukrainian words and introduced the alphabet. The last slides were about the most significant persons in Ukraine—Taras Shevchenko and Lesya Ukrainka. In order to completely immerse listeners in the atmosphere of Ukraine, I sang the song which was made from the Lesya Ukrainka’s poem “Давня Весна.” After noisy applause, I said that every American family can be a host family for an exchange student like me and gave the information about the program. Then we spent time taking pictures with the Ukrainian flag, trying out the wreath and necklace, and examining Ukrainian money and toys (which I made myself). The night before I cooked a delicious Ukrainian snack - pyrizhky filed with cabbage and carrots. I can say that they liked it, because after first presentation I had no more pyrizhky for other presentations that day, they just ate all of them.  

I was happy to represent Ukraine. My dream is to be an ambassador and FLEX gave me such a good opportunity to do it in the US. I was excited that the students at the presentations were from all over the world, not just Americans. I’m thankful to my teachers, friends, audience, parents, and exchange program for giving me a chance to spread diversity, share my culture, learn other cultures, understand and respect each other to make the world better! 

—Sofiya (FLEX, Ukraine), hosted by the Fehrman family (IN)