WAUSEON - Schoolchildren are schoolchildren, in Hungary, the Ukraine, or Wauseon.
Hungarian and Ukrainian students, and 14 of their teachers, went to Elm Street School yesterday. The Elm Street students were ready for them.
They sang for each other. Wauseon students sang “Blue and Red and White” and passed out little American flags. Hungarian girls sang and played music, and a Hungarian couple wowed the Wauseon pupils with a broom dance.
Northwest Ohio children learned about schools and life “over there.” The visiting students and teachers saw a modern, computer-filled U.S. school.
For four years, Elm Street School has collected things to send to schools in Ukraine. “One year it was 600 pairs of shoes. Another year, it was 500 boxes of school supplies, scissors, glue, books, pens,” said Sherry Franks of Wauseon.
“The kids at the school got to meet somebody that they've been sending boxes to,” said Mrs. Franks, who oversees the American Legion Auxiliary project.
And Laryssa Syedova got to say “thanks.”
Mrs. Syedova is an English teacher in the Ukrainian village of Lyubar, where she met U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) when a northwest Ohio group visited there. Yesterday, she sat watching a classroom while waiting for the assembly.
“These people here [in Wauseon] send things to the Ukraine, and your Marcy Kaptur went with a group to take supplies for poor children there. I'm here to tell them thanks for all they do for those children,” Mrs. Syedova said. “Here, every class has computers and children know how to use them. We don't have that in Ukraine.”
The 15 students and their teachers are in northwest Ohio for a month through the Institute of Democratic Exchange, an educational project of the Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development. Coordination is by Phil Smith of Perrysburg, where the visitors stay in homes.
The express purpose of the U.S. trip is to sharpen English-speaking skills, said Edina Szollosy, a language teacher from Szeged, Hungary. “They all have studied it many years but they need to hear English spoken as a mother tongue,” she said.
“Yes, I've learned new words,” said Zsofia Baba, 13, a student at the Juhasz Gyula Practicum School in Szeged.
“I've also learned about American life, food, and sports. American football, I like it. Halloween, yes, I will paint my face.”
Elm Street School fifth-grader Paige Stiriz was part of the assembly and hurried to spend class time with the visitors.
“I really liked the dancing and I liked how people here could help them. I want to ask what sports they play and what they like to eat.”
Wauseon High School senior Jonathan Mondelli got reacquainted with Mrs. Syedova. She was a translator when Jonathan and others traveled with Miss Kaptur to the Ukraine in June.
He renewed memories of that adventure, he said, recalling visits to the towns of Lyubar and Burtyn.
“People there are very open but there is a huge difference in generations,” Jonathan said. “Older people, over 40, still think like when Ukraine was in the Soviet Union. They don't trust one another. They don't talk much to each other. Younger people have the leadership and organization skills.
“Ukrainian people were welcoming but we wondered why they trusted us more than they trusted each other,'' he said.
And life is rough in some Ukrainian villages.
“In Lyubar, there was no water for three days we were there because the village could not pay its bill,” Jonathan said. “Electricity is hard to find in some towns too.”
Miss Kaptur, whose Anastasia Fund benefits the needy in the Ukraine, invited Jonathan on the trip after they met at a Washington youth leadership conference.
Mrs. Franks presented the group with money collected in Wauseon, to help send students and teachers to Chicago and possibly Niagara Falls.
It's been that kind of welcome everywhere, Mrs. Syedova said.
“People here are very, very friendly,” she said. “We are at home here.”