The River Falls Journal asked each of the River Falls High School exchange students to share a bit about their experiences thus far in River Falls. Meet Mary Makhno from Ukraine.

Name: Mary Makhno

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Grade: 12

Name of your family back home: Makhno family

Name of your host family: The Juettens

Where are you from? Kremenchuk, Ukraine

How long are you staying in the U.S.? School year

What do you want to do after graduation? Finish my senior year in Ukrainian school and go to college.

How did you decide to go on an exchange trip? I heard from my friend about his amazing experience.

Why did you decide to come to the USA? I have been dreaming about going to the USA for all my life.

What surprised you when you arrived here? People (more kind, friendly, polite, helpful), nature, way of living.

What is your host family like? I am very lucky to be hosted by the Juetten family. I love them. We have so much in common. When we met I understood that we are a perfect match. We spend all our free time together by doing a lot of fun stuff. They are very active, helpful, kind, polite and friendly people.

What do you like to do with your host family? Anything (from making cookies to travelling).

What tourist sights and events have you visited so far in the U.S.? We have already gone to Madison, St. Paul and Minneapolis. During the winter break we went to Chicago for three days and during the spring break we are going to California (San Francisco and Los Angeles) for a week.

What are you most looking forward to on your trip? I am waiting for our family trip to California, because, as for me, it is a real paradise. It is a place where people's dreams come true. I am also in love with its nature and views. That is why I am extremely excited and looking forward to go on our trip.

What do you think of your host school? It is a very nice place. I met a lot of new friends and teachers. People are very open-hearted, kind, polite, helpful and friendly. There are a lot of different events that are going on in the RFHS. I was also in a RFHS swim team. It was such an amazing experience. We had so much fun, I found my very first and best friends there and gained a lot of new skills as a swimmer.

What are some of the biggest differences you noticed between your home school and American schools? In my home country students are not able to choose classes. We have a strict schedule that we need to follow. We also have six, seven or eight classes a day per 45 minutes and 10-minute breaks. Moreover, we have the same group of people, a class of 25-30 people, that stays together all the time and have the same classes, while in the U.S. school there are different people in the different classes.

What are some of the biggest similarities you noticed between your home school and American schools? Teachers and students are very helpful, friendly, polite, kind, curious and active.

What is your favorite memory from your trip so far? The Homecoming week and dance with my best friends.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far on your trip? Transport, because in Ukraine even in the smallest town there is a huge amount of busses that can give you a ride to any place in five minutes. However, in the U.S. you need to ask you host parents or friends to give you a ride.

What are some things you have learned about the U.S., and American culture? I have an American Studies class in school, where I learned a lot of new things about the U.S. and its culture.

What did you learn about yourself through this trip? I am a mentally strong and independent person, who is able to deal with money, make important decisions and other stuff connected with an adult life without parents.

Would you like to travel abroad again? Sure, as much as possible.

What advice would you give anyone who's thinking about doing an exchange trip? Take advantage of every opportunity and for sure take part in different exchange programs; however, at the same time, you need to be ready for different challenges such as homesick, making friends, language barrier, sometimes loneliness and others.

However, if you are strong enough to survive that and this is exactly what you want and what you need, then try and do everything to make this dream come true.

For example, one year ago I could not even imagine that it is possible to get a scholarship and go to the U.S. for a year, and get a nice stipend every month; however, it was a dream of my life and I worked very hard to get my goal and finally I did it.

That is why I am proud of myself, but now I have new dreams and goals that, I hope, will come true one day as a consequence of my hard work.

Do you think going on this trip has changed your perspective in any way? For sure. Now I am another person. A lot of different things have changed myself as a personality.

What will you do after you return home? I will finish my senior year in Ukrainian high school and then go to college.