Studying in Ukraine a valuable experience…but for how long?

Column by Christiana Holsapple. E-mail [email protected].

When I speak about my study abroad experiences in L’viv, Ukraine, most often I get the questions, “Why would you want to go there?” and “Where is that place?”

Indeed, most Americans do not consider Eastern Europe a prime travel destination. And it’s true; I didn’t see the glamorous Eiffel Tower or the famous Tower of London.

However, I did gain experience in a part of the world that is less commonly traveled. I chose to study in a non-traditional location, and by doing so, I was forced to go without the English-speakers and many of the Western conveniences we take for granted.

The aspects I liked most about my experience abroad were the relative absence of tourists, the dearth of Western influence and the challenge of living without some of my American comforts. I was struck by how entirely different everything was in Ukraine, how free it was from many pressures of Western life.

As I saw the advertisements for the 2012 Eurocup, to be hosted in Ukraine and Poland, I could not help thinking how much Ukraine, might change within the next couple of years.

There has been talk about how much more commercialized South Africa has become as a result of hosting the World Cup. I’ve met Africans from other countries who go so far as to exclude South Africa from the umbrella of real “Africa,” as the country has become so Westernized post-World Cup.

Furthermore, we can certainly see the impact of international events in Lexington through the ubiquitous construction for the World Equestrian Games.

Many argue that these changes have been negative, that commercialization is destroying local culture.

However, others point out the money pouring in as a result of such international attention. Perhaps commercialization is a small price to pay for bolstered economies. Countless jobs are created, yet through this, the city is changed forever.

Is it more important to maintain the natural cultural setting and societal circumstances?

Or is this path unethical, as it would deny the local people a renewed job market and the potential for improved qualities of life?

I don’t know what the right answer is, but I am curious to see what becomes of the city in the next few years. If I visit again in 2012, will I find the same distinctly-Ukrainian town?

Nevertheless, I do know how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to visit L’viv, Ukraine — a place which, at the time, still seemed untouched by the majority of Western ideas.