ALTOONA, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – One Ukrainian foreign exchange student in the Chippewa Valley is staying in the community a bit longer. Iryna Levada came to the U.S. in August of 2022 and just a few weeks ago, she found out her VISA was extended.
This past school year, Levada has been quite involved at Altoona High School. From joining the tennis team, to being in forensics, the mock trial team and more, the high school junior stayed busy while making sure to support her home country.
“I was willing to become a foreign exchange student since I was in the fifth grade, so I’ve been willing to try for a while,” Levada said. “I wanted to get this experience to meet new people, to explore a new country for me and explore just the other part of the world.”
Yet Levada came to the U.S. at a difficult time for her home country. For more than a year, Ukraine has been at war with Russia.
“It’s just so devastating to see all this damage happening to my country,” Levada said. “People cannot continue living their normal lives.”
So throughout her time in the U.S., Natalia Ripeckyj, Levada’s host mother, said Levada has supported her home country from afar.
“Ira has been instrumental in bringing awareness about Ukraine, Ukraine’s culture and the invasion to the Chippewa Valley,” Ripeckyj said. “We did a fundraiser, Ira helped with that, for the Protez Foundation which helps amputees in Ukraine.”
Ripeckyj said Ira also held a fundraiser at school where she made Ukrainian blintzes for kids, where they were so popular she ran out.
Just a few weeks ago, Levada and her host family found out she will be staying in the U.S. a bit longer.
“The U.S. State Department finally wrote Ira and our family a letter about two weeks ago stating that the situation in Ukraine in her region is dangerous and the extension is maybe not for a whole academic year, but until they feel that it’s safe for her to return,” Ripeckyj said.
So until then, Levada will continue to play tennis, go to a college camp this summer and stay involved in the community, while persevering like her home country.
“Ukraine is still fighting and we’re fighting strong,” Levada said.
Levada and Ripeckyj both said having foreign exchange students can be beneficial to the student and surrounding community. They both recommend other families consider bringing foreign exchange students into their families.