GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A 17-year-old exchange student from the eastern portion of Ukraine was supposed to head back after the completion of her program in May, but with Russia's armed invasion of her home country still ongoing, her plans have changed.
Tetiana Trach arrived in West Michigan back in August, staying with a woman on the city's northeast side, and attending Northview High School as a senior.
“My teacher told me about the program, about the exchange program, that I can apply for it because she said my English skills were good,” Trach told FOX 17 this week.
"It's about leadership skills ... it requires an open mindset and certain communication skills."
It was quite a change going from having just 14 classmates back in Ukraine to 300 at Northview.
She spent her time in West Michigan taking up all sorts of new opportunities — joining the high school wrestling team, trying her hand as a cheerleader, and snow skiing and tubing.
Wrestling really clicked with her, and she would love to take it up again in the future.
"I've tried wrestling here, and I really love it too,” she said.
“And I tried cheerleading here ... I tried tubing, skiing.”
As part of the program that Trach is involved with, she was supposed to head home to Ukraine on May 25.
“People here are more free, and they are more diverse ... and when something really important happens, they really pay attention,” she said of her peers in the United States.
When the eyes of the world turned onto the Russian invasion of Ukraine, her plans of returning home were halted.
“It hurts and, like, I feel a little left behind,” Trach said regarding the complicated emotions that come with being over here, while her friends and family are inside a country at war.
“My town hasn't been bombed, but all the towns and cities around my town have been,” she explained.
At first it was unclear how long the conflict would last.
“There still is quite an active conflict in Ukraine," said David Jesuit, a political science and public administration professor at CMU.
“I think we have to be thinking of this conflict in terms of years, not months … maybe even a decade before people are able to safely return to normal, and are able to safely reside in Ukraine.”
Initially here in Michigan on J-1 Visa, Trach has now applied for temporary protection status. But that is not the only application she has recently put in for.
“I’ve been accepted to Hope College," she said with a smile.
"I'm very excited about it. So, I'm here at least for four more years.”
She will be living in the dorms, and studying political sciences — something she became interested in after the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2014.
She doesn't know yet where she will go, or what she will do, after she graduates college.
“Hopefully, everything will go good, and I will be able to go there and help my own country to be a better country,” she said.
“Maybe I'll stay here; maybe I will go back to Ukraine. It's hard to say what is it going to be like in Ukraine in four years.”
READ MORE: How to help the people of Ukraine