Our Lady of Mercy Academy’s principal Sister Grace Marie shares classroom time with new students Maria Ruban, left, a resident of Kiev, Ukraine, and Ruta Vetra, whose family resides in the City of Jurmala in Latvia. The two girls are juniors at the Newfield school.
It’s not listed as one of the courses provided to students at Our Lady of Mercy Academy but, fact is, international relations has become the focus of the entire student body, faculty and administration at the all-girls college preparatory school in Newfield.
The enrollment of two foreign students will have that effect.
The start of the 2011-12 school year marked a milestone for OLMA when two young women – Ruta Vetra and Maria Ruban – enrolled at the school. Vetra arrived from the City of Jurmala in Latvia. Ruban came to America from Kiev, Ukraine. Both 16, they are members of the junior class at the Gloucester County school.
“We were thrilled when we heard from the Diocese (of Camden) that the young ladies’ families were interested in enrolling the girls at our school,” said principal Sister Grace Marie. “It’s been quite some time since we have had a student from another country here at OLMA. But it’s been a wonderful experience for everyone; the two girls, our students, teachers and staff.
“They have acclimated well to their new surroundings,” Sister Grace added.
According to Oleg Ruban, the search for an American school for his daughter was prompted by his own experiences in the United States during previous visits to this country.
“This is paradise,” said Ruban, who accompanied Maria on her trip to America to choose a school.
“America provides wonderful academics and it was our dream to see Maria attend school here,” Ruban added. “We looked at many schools but when we saw Our Lady of Mercy Academy, we knew it was right. The school is not too large. It seems like a family.”
During his visit to tour OLMA, the elder Ruban was asked to address the junior and senior classes. During the discussion held in the school gym, he talked candidly about his growing up in the communist era that defined the former Soviet Union, a time when speaking out against the government could end in death. He also described the impact of the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident on April 26, 1986, where “people are still sick and dying today because of what happened 25 years ago,” he said.
“It was riveting for the girls and teachers to hear him speak,” said Sister Grace. “You can read about those things in school but to hear it described by someone who lived through it .…”
For the two girls, the transition into the American education system has been softened by their knowledge of the English language. Both students excelled in their schools back home and have fit in well at OLMA.
“I enjoy the challenge (of the OLMA courses),” said Vetra. “School is not meant to be easy.”
As for Ruban, while leaving her mother, Tetiania, and father behind on the other side of the planet has not been easy, she cherishes the opportunity to be in America. The use of Skype to communicate on a regular basis has helped ease her homesickness.
“This is what I have always wanted,” she explained. “We grow up (in the Ukraine) reading about life in America and it all seemed so wonderful. But it is much better than I imagined. People are so friendly and very helpful. I am so happy to be here.”
As part of their “initiation” into the American way of life, both Vetra and Ruban were provided a tour of area “hotspots” by their classmates. Trips to Wawa and Applebees were part of the plan.
“When I arrived, all the girls kept talking about Wawa and Applebees,” said Vetra. “I didn’t understand what a Wawa was. Now I go there quite often.”
That’s just a small part of maintaining positive international relations.