How students from Ukraine are integrating into the Saint Viator community
This semester, Saint Viator High School in Arlington Heights has two new students from Ukraine enrolled in classes.
Vitalii Strutynskyi is a current senior who arrived last year, while Olha Slobodianiuk is new this year.
In both cases, they cited the warm, welcoming atmosphere they felt when they arrived -- from both students and faculty -- and the many opportunities they have to explore.
For Vitalii, that meant hockey. He played hockey in Ukraine, and in looking for an American school to attend, he chose Saint Viator, in part, because of its hockey program. His home is in Kalush, located on the western coast of Ukraine.
"Kalush is far from the war zone, but many people from my town went into the military after the war started," Vitalii said. "My family decided to leave the country and we went to the Czech Republic to get our documents together for our moving to the U.S."
In making the transition, Vitalii describes learning the language was the most difficult part.
"Last year, I was usually silent in the classes," he says, "(but it helped) when I worked with someone in a group."
This year, Vitalii is finding the transition a bit easier, especially because of hockey. Last month, he made the varsity squad as left wing, or forward. The varsity opens its season Saturday, Sept. 23, in Mount Prospect when they host St. Ignatius College Prep.
Head coach Tim Benz said Vitalii is one of his top six forwards and he has blended in well with the team.
"He is a speedy left winger that plays big," Benz says. "He is strong on the puck -- it's tough to take it from him -- and he has a motor that doesn't quit.
"As a person, Vitalii is a great teammate and very coachable. He is eager to learn," Benz added. "Overcoming a huge move, new school, new country and a language barrier has been nothing short of incredible. He has quickly just become one of the guys on the team, and will emerge as a leader this season."
On the other hand, Olha's experience leaving Ukraine was more urgent.
"I am from Kyiv, which is the capital of Ukraine, so obviously Russia wanted to take the capital, which affected the city a lot," Olha says. "Leaving Ukraine was hard. Getting together all the documents and visas was harder than it would be in a country without war."
Olha was somewhat familiar with American schools after attending a school in North Carolina. But due to some obstacles, she needed to return to Kyiv and find another school in this country.
"Luckily, I had my godmother who was in Chicago, and Saint Viator was very nice to accept me to their school," Olha said. "The community of Saint Viator is friendly, so the transition was very easy."
After getting settled into her classes and the school environment this semester, Olha is looking forward to taking Theatre 2 next semester, which focuses more on the production aspects of theater."
"Saint Viator allows all students to try a lot of different things," Olha said, "and that's what makes the school so amazing."
Both students are benefiting from Saint Viator's Rev. Mark R. Francis, C.S.V., International Program, but as the program's coordinator and school registrar, Stefania Svejnoha, explains, the entire school community is enriched.
"Olya (a nickname for Olha) and Vitalii's attendance at Saint Viator brings not only culture and awareness to our community, but a sense of compassion as well," Svejnoha said.
"They did not leave Ukraine of their own choice for an American education like the majority of our international students do, but for their personal safety. As Viatorian educators and administrators, giving them the opportunity to study safely and not sacrifice their education due to war, I believe, represents Saint Viator High School and the program's mission perfectly."