IM exchange student hopes to return
By JIM ANDERSON
IRON MOUNTAIN – Technology makes the world smaller.
Anna Kopyakova, an Iron Mountain High School exchange student from Ukraine, can attest to that.
Being apart from family is hardly as difficult as it once was, thanks to the digital revolution. Initially, Anna talked almost daily with her mother via webcam and still chats once or twice a week.
“I can’t imagine how it would work with letters and phone calls,” she said.
With music and films available online, Kopyakova said she’s found few surprises here. “The cultures are not that different,” she said. Even television shows, she observed, are mostly the same ideas, different characters.
The teen student did, however, make a pleasant discovery in the Upper Peninsula.
“People are really friendly here,” she said.
After finishing her year of school at Iron Mountain, she hopes one day to return to the U.S., possibly to study business and marketing at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.
Kopyakova is from Chernivtsi, a city of about 250,000 in the mountainous western region of Ukraine.
While Ukraine’s climate is a bit milder, a Northwoods winter is tolerable, and sometimes fun, she said.
“I learned how to ski here. I actually like it a lot.”
Of the lingering snow, she offered, “I can handle it, but it’s not spring.”
Ukraine, which gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has no shortage of contentious politics, but Kopyakova said her experience in the U.S. has heightened her interest in government.
“One of my classes here was civics,” she said. “One of our tasks was to follow the (U.S.) presidential election. It was really interesting to learn … how the electoral votes work.”
One quirk of American life, she said, is our focus on calendars, clocks and planning.
“People are more flexible in Ukraine,” she said. A social meeting at 3 p.m., for instance, might easily be 20 minutes off the designated time. “It’s fine, good enough,” she said with a laugh.
On the other hand, education in Ukraine is more rigid. “It’s very hard in Ukraine,” Kopyakova said, mentioning required course work in chemistry, physics and advanced math.
In the U.S., she said, classes are smaller with more individual study. “Maybe it seems easier because it’s more interesting taking classes you like.”
Kopyakova’s mother is trained as a physicist but works as a realtor. The family also has a small business that makes boxes.
While attending IMHS through a 4-H international program, Anna has stayed with the Schoenborn family. Her host father is Scott and her host mother is Candy. She also has two host sisters, Emma, a freshman, and Ailie, a sixth grader.
Testing and interviews were part of the selection process for Kopyakova’s exchange visit, with about one of every 30 applicants finally chosen. “It took almost a year to prepare,” she noted.
Fluent in both Ukrainian and Russian, she likes the English language but wishes for “a better accent.” Host sister Emma has helped on writing assignments. “She’s still checking my essays,” Anna said with a smile.
Her host family has tried to improve her cooking skills, she said, with limited success. “I can make a salad and fry eggs.”
Apart from the popularity of U.S. fast food, Kopyakova has noticed only a few differences in choices. Reese’s peanut butter candies, for one, have gained a fan.
Catching a big bass last fall was an outdoors highlight, and Kopyakova guardedly respects the coyness of Upper Peninsula anglers.
“It was about a 20-minute ride,” she said of the location of the catch.
Jim Anderson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.