Editor's note: Yulia Bychkovska spent the 2015-16 school year attending high school in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, as part of the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program. She is currently studying international business and business administration at Columbia College in Missouri. She's not sure yet what she'll do after graduation, but she knows she'll have her mom's support.
When my mom met me at the airport after my exchange year in Ohio, instead of balloons or a cheesy poster, she met me with vidbyvni—my favorite meat sandwiches. My mom knows me too well.
While many think I am brave, my mom is the brave one. She let her 16-year-old daughter move to a different continent for nine months on her own. We never discussed whether I was allowed to participate in the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program, because from the first FLEX round we both knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
My mom’s method of support was letting me be independent. I did not pass the first FLEX round on my first try. I asked to change tutors and started to learn English intensively. My mom gave me freedom to do so. The next year, she let me choose whether I wanted to participate instead of forcing it on me. With each passing round, she made sure I knew that everything would turn out in the way that was better for me. While at that time it seemed that she did not believe in me, now I understand that she was helping me to be realistic in case I did not become a finalist. And when the day came for me to find out that I was selected, my mom was there with me throughout the process of preparing for departure.
During my exchange year, every time my mom and I talked was special. My birthday was not an exception. In the morning, as usual I called my mom. This time, however, she was not the only one by the camera. I saw balloons, I heard familiar voices—my whole family came to celebrate my 17th birthday. My mom knew I would be homesick on this day and she decided to make me feel like home by cooking my favorite meal and inviting my family over.
My mom supported me throughout my exchange not only with her presence, but also with surprises. She sent me books to help prepare for the exams in Ukraine (not the most exciting package) and she included my favorite chocolate. It’s too bad one of my host family’s dogs ended up eating half of it, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
After my exchange, I applied to colleges both in Ukraine and abroad. After visiting some colleges, I decided that I wanted to go to college in the US, but I was nervous to tell my mom I would again be spending time away from home. When I finally told her, my mom’s smile was like a rainbow after a month of heavy rain, indicating she was happy to hear my news. She hugged me like she had waited for me to come to this decision for the last three months, or even the last 18 years.
My mom did not think I was crazy. In Ukraine, the expectation is to go to a local university right after school, find a job, get married, have kids. And now I was talking about starting down a different path, one that I would enjoy much more. My mom’s hug gave me hope that my idea wasn’t completely insane, and I did not have to be some limited version of myself to have her support.
She sacrificed so much for my success, including her comfort. When I left for Columbia College in Missouri, we did not know when I would get a chance to visit home. And now, although 21 months have passed and we have not seen each other, she supports me every day. We're both looking forward to the next time I'm home, but until then, I start my day calling her and end it with a text.