Ukrainian foreign exchange student seeks shelter in Manitou Springs

Angela Rowe, Reporter

Sofiia Lobas (11) wears a traditional vishivanka and venok as she holds her home country of Ukraine’s flag. (Shay Lacy)

Manitou Springs High School junior Sofiia Lobas is an exchange student from Ukraine. She spent her first exchange year (2021-2022) in Texas. Then she flew directly to Colorado this summer; foreign exchange students typically go home during the summer, but in February of 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine, cutting off all flights to and from the country, causing Lobas to be unable to fly home for summer. Lobas is staying with the Perkins family while at MSHS.

“I’m just happy that we brought foreign exchange students back this year, because the high school hasn’t had them for a couple years,” MeLeah Perkins, Lobas’s host mother said. 

Perkins is the counseling secretary at MSHS and was introduced to host parenting from working at the school. She and her family have hosted eight different foreign exchange students. She was beyond excited to welcome them back into the school this year after COVID-19 affected travel restrictions for the past couple of years.

Perkins has loved getting to know Lobas and is excited to learn more about her as the year progresses. But Perkins has also found it challenging to learn about the events occurring in Ukraine and how they affect Lobas and her family as the war continues. 

“What’s been hard is learning about the war and things that are going on out there,” Perkins said.

Lobas was supposed to go home in May 2022 but was unable to due to the war in Ukraine.

“I got a call at 2 a.m. from my parents saying they were hearing bombs go off and that a war had started,” said Lobas. “I could hear my family screaming. It was the scariest call of my life.”

While this was one of the scariest moments for Lobas, her family distanced themselves from the war and is still safe. They have yet to return to Ukraine.

Lobas applied to become an exchange student in August of 2020, and after a long process, she got accepted in May of 2021. She then took a long flight in August of 2021 to stay with people she didn’t know and started a new journey in her life. 

“When I came to my new host family, the moment where we were meeting at the airport was just really sweet and a new beginning,” Lobas said.

Last year, when Lobas met her host family in Texas, she was very nervous and scared that she didn’t know them. But this year was different. Arriving at the airport has been her favorite memory this year since her host family was so welcoming, pleasant, and excited to meet her Lobas said.

To kick off the school year at a new school, Lobas has decided to expand her horizons and participate in volleyball and cheerleading.

Interim Principal, Anna Conrad, got to know Lobas over the summer and is happy with how she has become a part of MSHS. “She is involved in the cheer program which has been really exciting and I think that she has been an awesome addition,” Conrad said.

Ukraine and the USA have very different academic systems, causing some stress and readjusting to Loba’s learning style. Although the transition has been challenging, Loba continues to strive for academic excellence. 

“In Ukraine we have a one to 12 grade system, but there is a percent system here. It was really hard to adjust to because it’s really confusing,” Lobas said. “My favorite part is that you can choose subjects here because in Ukraine you have 20 subjects per year required.”

Lobas has had a successful time during her exchange program so far.  She was not only one of the 4% of students to get accepted into the foreign exchange student program but was also named one of the top 10 students in her program last year.

“I went to New York City this year with the exchange program. If you get in the top 10 students of the year you got to go,” Lobas said.

Lobas has enjoyed her exchange program and she has some advice for MSHS students: “You should try to be an exchange student,” she said.

While the future of Ukraine is uncertain, Lobas had to decide what was the safest option for her future. “I have decided to apply to universities in the US and continue my studies here,” Lobas said. “If I do not get accepted to any universities here, then I will try to get accepted to a school in Germany.”