Last updated on July 17, 2023
Editor’s Note: This article is a part of the Holos Project, a four-way partnership (ENGin, The Los Angeles Times Insider, Published Points of View, The Outspoken) established to empower the voices of Ukrainian students across the world through one-on-one journalism mentorship. This article was written by Maria Novikova from Ukraine with the mentorship of Joonha Lee from the United States. “Holos” is the Ukrainian word for “Voice”.
A terrible, irritating sound is spreading across your room. “The sirens are going off, kids. Stay away from the windows!” says Mom. You sit up on your bed while rolling your eyes and trying to concentrate on your homework. When it happens too often, it starts to annoy you. At times, you have to use a lamp to see through the dark as the power system collapses again.
Some may say that there’s always a brighter day after the darkest night. It sounds very tempting, but I must convince you it is wrong. After the darkest night, there is always a day that is full of the consequences of the previous night, a thought that many American students may not consider. To demonstrate, I will compare the weekdays of teenagers from distinct countries.
Starting the day waking up early around 6:30 am seems to be similar for both the Ukrainian and American teenagers. Then it goes as usual – a smooth morning routine, that you perennially stick to in the same order every day. The only diversifying aspect are the morning meals by virtue of the cultural variety. However, once school commences, the routine diverges.
Children are not lucky to go to a chilled dark school. Unfortunately, power outages tend to occur in the morning. It is peculiar for teenagers to live without Wi-Fi and telephone for 4 hours. Taking in comparison the school life of these students, it is of paramount importance to emphasize that the Ukrainian education system mandates anywhere between 16-19 subjects. For that reason, a typical Ukrainian high school student has seven or, perhaps, even eight lessons per day. Due to the blackouts, the lessons were shortened, so that instead of 45, the lessons lasted 35 minutes. Many American students, in comparison, have class options from Computer Science to Physics, that sounds really cool to have. They also last between 45 minutes and an hour and a half long, meaning they can study more. It is an undeniable fact that some of the students are not fond of studying, but it does not mean that someone can take away this opportunity.
As far as lunch is concerned, both American and Ukrainian students can eat on campus. However, not only do most American students eat for free, but they are also able to attend club meetings at that time, something that us Ukranian students are unable to do. Even though the lunch break in Ukraine does not last as long as in America, students can dine twice or even three times beyond lunch. That is why students, during these breaks, are constantly visiting the cafeteria to buy these pastries and beverages that are offered throughout the day. If air alerts occur during the school day, we are relocated to the school basement, where pastries are sold. I love these pastries as they create a sort of fondness with the memories of those I share them with. Good food can easily bring everyone together, especially during air alerts, pastries appear as a unifying factor.
Before the war, the most fascinating part of any Ukrainian student’s life would be after school. After being overloaded with homework, sports were such a relief. Students, who were volleyball fans, used to stay up late after school and play. You could choose a sport between volleyball, football and basketball. Before the pandemic, after school activities were held under surveillance of teachers. The lockdown made it impossible to do extracurricular activities full-time. Frankly speaking, some of them haven’t reopened yet or they are no longer available. Still, adolescents must attend dance classes and consulting lessons concerning final exams. Traditionally, all high school seniors perform a prom dance right in front of the whole school. Graduation takes place at the beginning of summer and is followed by an official ceremony and a final celebration that is often considered as a prom party.
If we take a look back at American high school, we will undoubtedly find out that students also stay at campus for extracurriculars, for instance, sports, debate and volunteering. Personally speaking, volunteering does concern me a lot and I wholeheartedly believe that it is a must for teenagers, as it develops eagerness to assistance and teamwork.Unlike in America, volunteering at Ukrainian schools is more of an exception than a rule.
Needless to say, most teenagers spend their evenings studying. In Ukraine, the final exam preparation cannot be done without tutors, as they are popular and not as expensive as in America. An average ordinary student can take 3-7 weekly tutoring lessons. However, these numbers are very different now. Lessons are being canceled because there is no light in the evenings.
Occasionally, American adolescents go out with friends in the evenings. When I look at teens from other countries partying and spending time with their friends, I am saddened by all of it. Not only me but also many Ukrainian teens are cut off from their friends who left the country as refugees or even died.
The sound of a siren brings you back to reality. It is an unspoken rule- that if the siren sounds for a third time, it’s a bad sign. Once, lost in thoughts, you start counting and realize that it was the third time. “It starts again,” – says your mom, and then you hear the air defense.