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Ukrainian students share their culture with WSU students, despite war at their doorstep

Ukrainian student presentation slide
Murray, Jessica Caroline
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Ukrainian student Kateryna Debera shares a slide showing foods and culture from her nation during a recent presentation to WSU students.

Dangers of bombings delay, but don't stop, Ukrainian participation in WSU business class.

Students from King Danylo University in Ukraine were scheduled to begin their business tourism class in February.

Professor Nadiia Grebeniuk, who serves as the Ukrainian professor for the course, said the timing was all wrong.

“We actually have classes on Tuesday and Thursday, and 24th February when the war started, it was actually the time for having the classes and since five o'clock our city was bombed it was rockets on the airport,” Grebeniuk said.

Once the invasion began, students didn’t show up for a couple of weeks. Many of the Ukrainian students had been displaced from their homes. But soon, many of the Ukrainian students started zooming in again from different locations.

Natalie Parsons was one of the American students in the class.

“I think it made us scared for them. But then also inspired by how, like, resilient, they were to still come to class,” she said.

“And it made it really real for me about what was happening, because I've connected with these people and like Instagram and stuff, and they become my friends.”

She said all of a sudden, she had a personal connection to the crisis unfolding in the news.

WSU Professor Dipra Jha teaches the class. He said it always ends with a final presentation by students about tourism in their home country.

“I remember that after the invasion happened, I reached out to Professor Nadiia and I said I would completely understand that if you do not, if you're not able to do that presentation, and her response to me was over email saying that, give me a couple of weeks and I'll come back to you," Jha said.

A few weeks later, Grebeniuk wrote to Jha and said the students had committed and would do the presentation, come what may.

“In the beginning, every air alarm was the big stress. And we said to our students that first of all, you have to take care of your safety and your health. But if possible, please join the class,” she said.

Anna was one of the Ukrainian students, and said the class served as a kind of escape.

“It's really important when you have maybe saying or some place that help you to get away from the bad news. And this course was such place," she said.

When the time came for the final presentation, the Ukrainian students shared their culture, different aspects of foods and festivals with their peers in the U.S. Jha said they did an amazing job.

“Once our students get to actually meet some of these students from overseas, and you know, they have these connections with each other, and then they then they can't get to understand that people all over the world are more or less the same. They have the same aspirations, they want to actually have the same things. And so and this is what makes the world better,” he said.

On the very last day of the class, students from both countries were allowed to ask each other questions over Zoom, chat, and add each other on different chat platforms.

American student Natalie Parsons said she was inspired by the resiliency of her peers in Ukraine.

“We know social media isn't the same as communicating with someone in person, but I'm hoping to stay connected with them over that and maybe someday visit Ukraine,” she said.

Anna from Ukraine feels like she’s made some new connections.

“It was really great because I have a lot of new friends from the Washington State University. And it's really great that I understand now that the world is not so big that I imagined it before and it's really great," she said.