EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Just weeks ago, Solomia Varyvoda, of Ukraine, sent a video to her future school, the International School of Minnesota. In it, she said, "I hope I will be able to become a part of the ISM family and to contribute to the community."
Weeks later, in late August, her dream has become a reality. The 14-year-old, who studies in 8th grade at ISM, has joined the more than 160 other students, Pre-K through 12th grade, on campus in Eden Prairie.
Varyvoda is one of four students the school has welcomed for the 2022-2023 school year, along with Yevhen Lazor, Dima Nyzhnyk, and Zlata Bilaga. Varyvoda says they've all experienced the familiar "Minnesota nice."
"I was really surprised about people because they all are asking, 'How are you doing? How’s your day?' It’s like, very unusual for us," she said.
Varyvoda says she's made friends "pretty fast," and they speak a number of different languages.
"I'm glad that I have friends here," she said.
Zlata Bilaga, in 9th grade, adds that the first few weeks here have been thrilling.
"It's the first time that I go abroad," Bilaga said. "It was something amazing for me."
However, all students express worry about their families and loved ones back in Ukraine.
"It’s hard to leave my family because of the situation," Bilaga said. "I just worry about my family. I have nightmares."
Sarah Bianucci, the student life coordinator, says the entire student body, teachers, parents, and surrounding community are stepping up to support them.
The four students, ranging from 8th-10th grade, were matched with guardians, provided school supplies, and are receiving free room and board.
"It’s been a great opportunity for us to have students on our campus, live on our campus as boarding students, and be supported by our school community," Bianucci said.
Just as important, Bianucci says students are able to gain sensitivity to the situation Ukrainians are experiencing, and develop empathy.
"Our students are learning from them now that they are a part of our school community, and they are engaging with them right alongside them," she said.
On Saturday, Oct. 1, ISM will host their annual "International Day." It's a chance see cultural performances and try foods native to the different countries represented in the student body. Community members are welcome to register here.
To donate and support the students, visit here.
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