Hanna Ryazanova, a 16-year-old exchange student from Mariupol, Ukraine, is discovering quietude in her new home, Milbank. Hanna is enrolled as a junior at MHS and lives with Dan Karges, his fiancée Mandy Rauscher, and Dan’s four boys, Jake, Michael, Zack, and Andrew. “She fits right in,” said Mandy. “It’s really nice to have another girl around.”
Hanna is not accustomed to the hustle and bustle of four siblings, but is adapting easily. “I am like in a vacuum,” she says. “They can talk to me and it’s like I don’t listen. I’m very focused when I am doing something like reading.”
In Ukraine, Hanna has one step-brother who lives with his mother, so she only sees him a few times a year. “We talk often, though,” Hanna says. She resides with her mother and step-father, but sees her biological father nearly everyday. “He only lives about 10 minutes from me, so we see each other very often.”
Hanna is part of a scholarship program called ASSE – American Scandinavian Student Exchange. “This is the second time I have applied to come to the USA,” she says. Her application process began, for the second time, a year ago. It involved testing, essays, and a panel review. According to Hanna, 11,000 Ukrainian students began the procedure together, and 248 became finalists. “There were five or six from my city that became finalists. Five of us came to the US at the same time.”
“It took a lot of hard work and dedication for her to get here,” Dan says. “For us, it was pretty simple.” Dan and Mandy also submitted to an application process which involved a background check, home visits, and reference checks.
Hanna says she enjoys the peacefulness of small town South Dakota. Mariupol, her hometown, has a population of approximately 500,000 people. Families live in tall apartment buildings, and the heavily populated area gets quite noisy. “Milbank is very similar to my grandmother’s small village. She lives about 30 minutes from my town, and I like the quiet of that and here.” Hanna also likes to walk. “She will walk out to Lake Farley and all over town. People see her walking and say ‘Hi’ to her as they drive by,” Mandy says. “Everyone here is very nice to me,” Hanna says.
Hanna says her life in Milbank resembles her life in Ukraine. She plays the guitar and piano and is a member of the MHS choir. She also enjoys drawing and reading. Her favorite classes at MHS are art, pottery, choir, and music. “The other classes are pretty easy for me, too,” she says. “The grammar that I’m being taught here is like what I learned in eighth or ninth grade, and my math classes are also teaching what I learned back home in eighth grade. We began learning English in the second grade. We have no choice – we have to learn it.” Most people in her area of Ukraine speak Russian. “But Ukrainian and Russian are very similar,” she says.
Hanna says the food in the US is also not that different. “I like soups and hot drinks like tea and hot milk. Back home, people usually have to cook something quick because they are so busy, which is similar here.”
Dan and Mandy agree hosting an exchange student is a great experience. ”She’s perfect!” Dan says,” There is no back talking. When she is asked to do something, she does it right away. She’s so helpful. And there are no dirty clothes lying all over the place.”
Hanna must fulfill several requirements while in the US. She must participate in four educational trips with other exchange students. They will travel to Pierre to view the legislative process and explore the Twin Cities for a weekend. Hanna is also expected to perform 50 hours of volunteer work and must complete reports and presentations about her experiences.