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Ukrainian exchange student encourages continued prayers for her homeland

Annychka Pasichnyk attends Xavier High School in Appleton through Global Outreach

By Jeff Kurowski | On Mission

APPLETON — Imagine having the opportunity to live and learn in a country at the top of your list, but to do so, you need to leave your family and homeland amidst a war.

Annychka Pasichnyk of Lviv, Ukraine, attended Xavier High School in Appleton this past school year through the Global Outreach Catholic Exchange Program. She will return to Xavier in August for her senior year. (Jeff Kurowski | On Mission)

That was the situation for Annychka Pasichnyk of Lviv, Ukraine. She ultimately decided to come to the United States as part of the Global Outreach Catholic Exchange Program, arriving last August to attend Xavier High School in Appleton.

Since 1991, the Global Outreach Catholic Exchange Program has brought more than 630 Catholic high school students to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska. 

With the assistance of host families, this past school year the program welcomed 23 students from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine who are committed to Global Outreach’s mission and vision “to build a civilization of love as young, dynamic Catholic servant leaders.”

Pasichnyk, who attended Xavier as a junior this past school year, first learned about Global Outreach through a Ukrainian friend who is an alum of the program.

“She told me that I can go to summer camp to experience what it’s like,” said Pasichnyk. “I went to Hungary with my mom. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I said, ‘Mom, I have to do this.’ I felt like I was meant to do it. I went there and I loved the people right away.”

“The spirit (at the summer camp) was so beautiful,” she added. “It was important that it’s a Catholic program because I’m from a Catholic school. I was kind of lost in my faith in Ukraine. I wanted to go to the U.S. to experience that through this program. I applied after the summer camp and I was accepted.”

Pasichnyk, the youngest of four daughters in her family, said she knew it would be difficult on her mother, Olsya, for her to be 6,000 miles away from home.

“I lived with my mom. My dad (Anatoliy) is in the military with Ukraine,” she said. “It was hard for her because she’s used to having me there. I would go everywhere with her. She prayed for a good host family for me.”

Pasichnyk recalls receiving a letter from her host family, Dan and Rebecca Barfknecht of St. Thomas More Parish in Appleton. When they met in person, she said it was an immediate connection.

“I was so happy. I loved them right away,” said Pasichnyk. “When I saw (Rebecca) in real life, we hugged. My host dad said that it was going to be fine and we were meant for each other.”

Pasichnyk said that she initially struggled with her new surroundings and was also concerned about the safety of her family. 

Watching television news reports and then hearing the air alarms and sirens due to the Russian invasion in her homeland  brought a sense of fear, she said.

Pasichnyk explained that even though Lviv is “far from the front of the war,” the city has taken military hits by Russia in its attempt to cut off energy sources.

Developing friendships was difficult in the first couple months at school, said Pasichnyk.

“Going to another continent without knowing anybody to build a life is hard,” she said. “English was hard. I got better, but I was struggling a lot. God was there for me. I prayed and prayed and prayed. I wanted friends right away, but it’s not like that. Friendship is a process. I needed to accept that and go forward with God. When you feel lonely, he’s always there.”

Pasichnyk, who participated in cross country and basketball at Xavier, credits her teachers for guiding her during her experience at Xavier.

“The teachers are so nice. You can basically talk to them like a friend,” she said. “In Europe, students are scared of teachers sometimes. Teachers here are glad to help you. I struggled with essays. I didn’t really know how to do that. Teachers helped me a lot.”

As far as some of her cultural experiences in the United States., Pasichnyk said that she doesn’t like American restaurant food, so she’s grateful that her host family cooked meals.

She said she was also surprised that high school students drive cars. 

“You cannot get to another place without a car. People at age 16 drive a car. In Ukraine, you have to be 18,” she said. “I used to walk a lot. I would go to my school and to town. My city is super old. It’s super different from Appleton. There’s like one million people. I’m a big city girl.”

Attending Mass each Sunday at St. Thomas More Parish with her host family was important, said Pasichnyk, who belongs to a Greek Catholic Church in Lviv. 

She said that she also grew in her faith through a Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) retreat experience at St. Joseph Parish in Green Bay. Several Global Outreach students participated in the retreat.

“TEC was one of the best experiences of my entire life,” she said. “I got the opportunity to meet people from different places. It was like a deeper faith experience.”

Pasichnyk said that she received her first English Bible at the TEC retreat.

Throughout all her school and life experiences here, her family and the people of Ukraine were on her mind and in her heart, she said. 

She made a video about her life in her home city, which included photos, for Xavier students, staff and faculty. Cookie sales were also held at the school to raise money for Ukraine.

“I want to do more,” said Pasichnyk. “I heard about some Ukrainians here in Appleton, so I would like to get involved.”  

She will have that opportunity this next school year because, due to the war in Ukraine, Pasichnyk will spend her senior year at Xavier through Global Outreach. She said that she plans to go to college in the United States.

Pasichnyk returned to Ukraine on June 15 and will travel to Krzeszowic, Poland, to attend the Global Outreach summer camp July 7-13. 

Giving back to the program is important, she said. Pasichnyk will serve as a mentor for a 2024-2025 Global Outreach exchange student from the Czech Republic.

She said that she doesn’t know what the future holds for her home country and hopes that people around the world keep Ukrainians in their thoughts and prayers.

“It means so much, not just for me, but for everyone,” she said. “Prayers are so important for Ukrainians. It’s something special.”

For more information about the Global Outreach Catholic Exchange Program, visit Global Outreach Catholic Exchange Program | Oshkosh, WI (globaloutreachprogram.com).

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