NCHS exchange student Maksym Kuzhdin and host father Tom Speedie. Kuzhdin will head back to his home in Ukraine on June 5.
Maksym Kuzhdin’s Year In Nashville Comes To A Close
By Alex Haglund
Sunday afternoon, graduation was held. Despite having a year of high school left, exchange student Maksym Kuzhdin walked across the stage – his time as a Hornet was at an end.
On June 5, Kuzhdin, or “Maks” will be be headed back to Ukraine, to his family, to his school and just as coming to the United States in August was, his return will require some adjustment.
Maks has had quite the year here, piling on numerous experiences in his short time, trying new things, new foods, meeting new people, and even finding – or making, depending on how you look at it – new family.
Maks was hosted by Tom Speedie, who he refers to as “Dad”, and in a change from his rather large family at home, he only has one sibling here, Tom’s son, Graham (the year has been an adjustment for Graham too, who Speedie stated has been used to life as the only child of a single father).
Asking Maks about what he expects about his return home, he stated that he worries about not just himself, readjusting, and the changes that he’s made, but others as well – his friends and family.
“My friends,” Maks says, “they didn’t stay the same all year. They changed, a lot. And I did too.”
Change is a constant through people’s teen years though, and Maks mentioned worries about his family and how they will deal with him, and how he will deal with them once he is back home.
“It will be hard to adjust to home rules,” Kuzhdin said. “Here, I have a great host dad that lets me do anything as long as it doesn’t harm me .”
Back at home, “I’m really afraid that they’re going to view me as a kid,” he said. “The same kid I was a year ago.”
Despite the worries and concerns though, both Kuzhdin and Speedie chalk the year up as a success.
Speedie said that some of the most fun that he’s had with Maks has been showing him new, and often contrasting, experiences.
Speedie took Maks to St. Louis and Chicago. Maks went to Baltimore as well for a trip from Better Understanding for a Better World, BUBW, an honor which he earned for organizing a Skype chat between his classmates here and in the Ukraine, one conclusion of which was that despite the differences, high schoolers are basically high schoolers in spite of geography.
Along with visits to the urban areas, Speedie stated that Maks went from one extreme to another, when he took him to hang out at his brother Jimmy’s place in New Minden, “a true afternoon in the country experience.”
“When you go back home,” Speedie asked Maks, “what will it be like not being ‘small town famous?’” Maks just laughed.
Speedie said on Maks’ first night in the U.S., they got dinner at Buretta’s and stated that Maks was floored at people Tom knew and would talk to or join in conversations with. Maks quickly got the hang of it though.
There’s plenty Maks says he has liked about America in general, and he speaks highly of the warm welcome he’s gotten from people in Nashville in particular.
There are some things he still finds a bit weird though:
• No options for ice, or rather, the omission of ice, in beverages.
• Students being forced to borrow money to go to college.
• Teenagers working after school.
• Windows that slide up and down to open.
• “I still can’t get used to Americans driving everywhere.
What does the future bring for Maks?
“First, I’d really like to come back and see my family here,” he said.
He also stated that he is applying to educational opportunities in Belarus and Georgia (the Georgia in eastern Europe, not the one in the southeastern United States).
Maks mentioned a general interest in traveling in connection with school, as he gets ready to finish with high school and move on to University.
As for career, Maks is interested in journalism or communications work, as well as work in service and policy, either with government or Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
Tom asked Maks what he thought was the best thing about education in the United States was, and Maks’ answer was something he said was both the best, and possibly the worst thing: the ability to choose certain classes.
Maks said that he really enjoyed his classes in journalism, psychology and foreign languages.
The downside though is, “as a teenager, you might not necessarily make the best decisions,” he said.
“In Ukraine, they have at least basic knowledge in every single area,” he said.
The really tough question from Speedie to Kuzhdin though was, “what about the prospect of less frequent burgers?”
Maks laughed and said that he would need to consider moving closer to a McDonald’s.
This hasn’t just been an educational, fun year for Maks though. Speedie has had a great time, and recommends taking an exchange student to those others who are thinking about it.
“If you have the room, yes,” Speedie said. “It’s been a hugely positive experience for me.”
As for the kids that come over, “it’s a very competitive program, and Maks, as well as other the other kids, are pretty well prepared and ready for the experience.”
June 5 will be a sad day when Maks bids his American family farewell and boards the plane. However, with the Internet, the fact that Tom likes to travel and Maks is already planning future trips around the world, it likely that they will be staying in touch, and probably will see each other again.
When asked whether he would consider a trip to visit Maks in Ukraine, Tom said yes, but Maks quickly proposed meeting somewhere else, still seeing his American family again, but perhaps getting another travel experience at the same time.
“It’s been a fantastic experience,” said Speedie. “Maks has been great.”
“It was a great year,” Maks said. “If I could do it again, I definitely would.”
This is the third or fourth story we’ve done on Maks, and as Speedie noted, he isn’t the only exchange student to spend their year at NCHS. The others are similarly experienced, intelligent and worldly.
The answer is simple: Maks has become a friend of ours too. When he heads home, while it won’t be anywhere near the change for us as it is for Tom or Maks, we will still miss him.
Maks has done interviews with us, but has also job-shadowed for a day here (and on a deadline day, no less – he probably picked up some rather interesting American phrases). He came out and spent time with us on our customer appreciation day and visited for our small employee Christmas party – he and Nashville News freelance reporter Alex Johannes even pushed my kids around the office in our little red wagon, which they were of course, delighted by.
We’re glad Maks has been here. This has been a positive experience for more folks than just Tom and Maks – myself and other staff of The Nashville News included.
I have also asked Maks to write us a little story in the fall sometime as he adjusts to life and school back at home. He’s agreed, so please, keep your eyes peeled for that as well.