Although this is Iryna Koval’s first time outside of Ukraine, she is quickly adjusting to life in the U.S. Read on to hear about her new friendships, language exchanges, and rewarding work experience!

By: Iryna Koval, Greenheart Work and Travel participant

Every story has its beginning. Mine started at the center of the world: New York City. You can only imagine my culture shock when I arrived in this large city, considering I have never left my home country of Ukraine before. Nevertheless, this is an experience I’ve always wanted. Upon arriving, we met an unbelievably friendly man who helped my friends and I find our way to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He shared many details about his life in the U.S. and even gave us some cookies and strawberries. It was in this moment that I realized I had come to the right place–this was our first cultural exchange.

The amazing, multicultural residents of the International House in Harrisburg greeted us upon our arrival. I made lots of new friends — not on the first day or in the first hour, but during the first minute. It was so easy to connect with everyone because we came on the same program and shared similar goals, dreams, and interests. This is why everyone should take part in this program. I never imagined that I would have friends from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Jordan. Together we play traditional games and even learn new languages– I have fallen in love with the Spanish language and am trying to learn a Spanish song by heart! When learning the song, I asked my friends to say the Spanish words very slowly and then I translated them to Ukrainian. It was a lot of fun and I feel like it bonded us even more. I am also trying to teach Ukrainian to anyone interested. Now, almost all of my co-workers greet me by saying “hello” in Ukrainian! My Chinese friend has difficulty pronouncing the Ukrainian sounds, but I know that she is practicing regularly because her pronunciation is improving.

I should also mention my work, which is where I spend a lot of my time. It has been tough, but after a month in lovely Pennsylvania my hard work has been rewarded and appreciated. It’s in these moments outside my comfort zone that I’ve gained new life experiences. I consider myself very lucky to be working with such kind people. I can even call one of my supervisors my friend because he offers so much support and help. We chat together a lot, and in doing so I am improving my English daily.

This is only the first part of my adventure! Next, I will be traveling, which I am really excited to do. For now, I will enjoy every moment here and make some great memories that will last for the rest of my life.

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