JERSEYVILLE, Ill. — The tradition of homecoming king and queen has a whole new meaning for Jersey Community High School. The school crowned a Ukrainian exchange student as its 2022 homecoming queen.
“We don’t usually do anything like homecoming in Ukraine,” Jersey Community senior and homecoming queen Kateryna Savyenkova said.
Savyenkova is a second-year exchange student.
“At 16 years old, starting to live without all your family and friends is hard in a new country," she said.
A stranger on the street might see her and think she’s like any involved high school student. She’s been a part of cross country, bowling and now homecoming court for school and, her favorite, writing for journalism class.
But what makes her special is her appreciation for home.
“War in Ukraine started in February 2022, and I obviously could not go home," she said. "And for probably three months, I didn’t know what was going to happen to me."
That’s when math teacher Zoe Chin stepped in. Chin and her family took her in without hesitation when Savyenkova was forced to stay for a second year because of the war back home.
“She just fit right in," Chin said. "There wasn’t a huge transition … I think the kids in this school have really embraced her."
Jersey Community High made its support apparent for Savyenkova with Ukraine Day, where the band played her country’s anthem. She said it was a bittersweet feeling for her.
“I just want people to think about Ukraine, not only about me,” she said.
Although it's so easy to viewed a foreign country as just a place, Savyenkova wants people to keep in mind what other Ukrainians are going through.
“My whole purpose of being here is to educate people and be an example of something that can happen in your life, too,” she said.
Savyenkova told 5 On Your Side she doesn’t know if she’ll still be in America or will go back to Ukraine when she graduates. In the meantime, she’s researching American colleges and even considering some form of journalism as a major.