Portland Christian Schools Preschool - Grade 12

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Commencement or Kyrgyzstan?

June 19, 2023


How did Ivana get to Kyrgyzstan?!  Back in 2020, when she was a sophomore, Ivana applied to the U.S. Department of State’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth. It’s a program that provides “critical language study overseas for U.S. high school students through full scholarships to participate in intensive summer and academic year programs . . .  while immersed in the culture and day-to-day life of the host country.” (https://www.nsliforyouth.org/nsli-y/).

Ivana was accepted for the 2021 NSLI-Y Russian Summer Program between her sophomore and junior year. Due to COVID, the six-week intensive language study that was supposed to be in Moldova (tucked between Ukraine and Romania) pivoted to a virtual program.  Even though it was virtual, Ivana was pleased to note that her Russian improved over the six weeks.

After that summer, she continued studying Russian at Portland Community College (PCC) while still attending PCS.  As a PCC student, Ivana entered the National Post-Secondary Russian Essay Contest hosted by the American Council of Teachers in Russian (ACTR). She received a bronze award for her entry with the subject, “What Does Home Mean to You?” Other contestants who entered this competition were college students from universities such as Harvard and Princeton! 

Because she was an alum of NSLI-Y who did not get to participate in a foreign location for the six-week intensive program, she was invited to apply for a two-week cultural immersion experience. When Ivana was accepted, she learned that she would be going to Kyrgyzstan from May 23-June 10.  She would be missing the last two weeks of her high school experience, as well as her June 10 high school graduation commencement ceremony. 

Ivana describes Portland Christian as her “home away from home.” She has been at PCS since first grade! Her 6th to 8th grade PCS teacher, Mrs. Kristen Caldwell says, “Ivana is going to be a world changer. She’s brilliant and a hard worker.” During her years here at PCS, she has made lifelong friends and been part of Student Council, National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta and during her senior year, participated in track & field and ski club.

Ivana with her friends at the NWL April 21 meet

Ivana (second from left) with her track and field teammates

One of her meaningful memories was planning and enjoying Barn Bash (a fall high school event) and homecoming. She also was campaign manager representing the liberal Gold Party her senior year, for the AP U.S. Government & Politics class presidential mock election. 

Ivana with her mock election political party

Ivana (far right) with her party-mates

As she reflects on PCS teachers, “my favorite teachers were Mr. Jannsen and Mrs. Humphrey. They taught me what it means to be patient and loving, their lessons have taught me to hold strong to my faith. This advice they have given me, I will cherish forever.”

With a decision to be made – commencement ceremony or Kyrgyzstan – Ivana weighed what it meant to stay for the last two weeks of school versus the opportunity of a lifetime.  Her parents left this weighty decision to her, although Ivana knew her father hoped to see her at the graduation ceremony.  “I couldn’t pass up this opportunity,” she said, noting that even though she is well-traveled, she would never have independently chosen to visit Kyrgyzstan. But because of her love of learning and meeting people, Ivana decided to go with NSLI-Y.

Ivana appropriately garbed in Kyrgyzstan

Ivana at a local store

Her fully paid trip to Kyrgyzstan was a full cultural immersion. She met U.S. embassy staff, and along with other NSLI-Y participants, they met Kyrgyzstani students and families. She also stayed with a local family who treated her as one of their own. She found them welcoming and hospitable. So many of them dream of coming to America, and meeting her gave them hope for that dream.

Ivana will attend George Washington University, in Washington D.C., double majoring in international relations, business and Russian studies. Beyond these plans, she says, “I’ll see where God takes me. I have many passions, and I love helping people!” 

To Ivana and her 30 classmates, we wish the class of 2023 God’s blessings and that they will continue to seek Christ in their lives and will experience His love and peace.







Words by Grace Dugger