Suzanna filming the Embassy’s Ukrainian Independence Day video

This summer, I spent ten weeks interning for the US Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine. While I went with hopes of practicing my Russian language skills, I did not go to Russia, and yet I learned so much more.

Ukraine’s present conflict with Russia was critical to my experience, and my impressions of an emerging democracy and proud, historic society. Ukrainians my own age were born in an independent Ukraine, to parents who lived in the USSR and witnessed its collapse. Similarly, these Ukrainians witnessed the recent, deadly revolution, EuroMaidan, on their capital’s main square and live with a struggling economy, rampant corruption, and tragic fighting.

In the capital, most young people speak some English, many better than I do Russian or Ukrainian. They look to the West and want to study in and visit the US, UK, Canada, and Germany. They listen to American music (I went to an Imagine Dragons concert in their main stadium with my Ukrainian friend), wear American clothes (I have never seen so many Yeezys at home), and eat American food (Domino’s Pizza was across from my house, a reminder of Ann Arbor).

The people I met were friendly, energetic, and interesting individuals. I was amazed at the typical Ukrainian’s passion as well as their helpfulness, and especially by my Ukrainian Embassy colleagues’ desire to support reforms in Ukraine.  They quickly made me part of their team, and I feel honored and lucky to have made such wonderful friends within such a talented group. Similarly, the friends I made outside the embassy inspired me with their sense of adventure and their artistry. They generously toured me around their homeland to chic galleries, hidden bars, and local hangouts, never shy about giving me a recommendation for the next day.

Suzanna on Kyiv’s main square, Maidan

“Practicing the language I’ve been studying here at U-M, experiencing true immersion, and feeling purpose in using it was wonderful.”

The significant amount of time spent abroad in a single country allowed me to explore extensively; I saw so much of Kyiv and visited other parts of the country as well. As a broke college student, the strength of the US dollar there provided me opportunities to do much more than I might have elsewhere. I visited venues, museums, restaurants, and traveled to other cities for extremely modest prices. That was very influential on my ability to experience more of their culture, society, and various regions.

Practicing the language I’ve been studying here at U-M, experiencing true immersion, and feeling purpose in using it was wonderful. It was exciting and rewarding to finally be in the place that I have heard about for so long, to finally form my own opinions about the culture, politics, and people there, and to truly put my skills to use.

I am inexplicably grateful to Dr. William Siegel and Ms. Margaret Swaine, the International Institute, Program in International and Comparative Studies, Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, and everyone in the Slavic Department for supporting my trip. I’m already searching for a chance to return to Ukraine!