Global Outreach

This article was posted on: December 5, 2023

Ukrainian exchange students share their faith and culture in our diocesan schools

Our diocesan Catholic high schools work to educate roughly 6,800 students each school year through our school systems and stand-alone rural parish schools within our communities. Counted in that number are not only diocesan faithful but also student visitors coming from all corners of the globe. One program that sends students to our diocesan high schools is called Global Outreach.

Started in Menasha in 1990, the program’s website explains, “Global Outreach is committed to building a civilization of love in Central/Eastern Europe as well as in the United States through the formation of young, dynamic, Catholic servant leaders who are committed to rebuilding the Church and society.” The fall of communism in the region led to Catholic families seeking a safe and faithful secondary educational experience for their children.

Utilizing the structures of the Catholic Church and its educational institutions, Global Outreach was conceived as an avenue for these families, who survived great persecution, to “share friendship and faith in the new era of religious freedom and inspire one another as fellow Catholics. It promises to be an opportunity for Catholic families, schools and parishes to participate creatively in the new evangelization.”

Each year, an application process begins for Czech Republic, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine students. Those chosen represent the Church in their home country, traveling to Nebraska and Wisconsin, where host families open their homes and hearts to these students, who study at the local Catholic high school. The Diocese of La Crosse has been a part of this program since 1998, creating a richer learning community for both native and exchange students in the sharing of culture and friendship.

During the 2022-2023 school year, eight Global Outreach students attended our diocesan schools. Two of these young women left not only their home countries, families, friends and schools but were away during a time of great unrest in their countries. Viktoriia (Vika) Kuchma and Valeriia (Valery) Riasnova from Lviv, Ukraine, were chosen to study with Global Outreach and were placed with host families in Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire, respectively. 

Vika on graduation day from McDonell
Central Catholic High School


Vika describes her home in Ukraine as a “warm family circle, very much valuing grandparents” and spending much time with her parents, brother and extended family. When she was young, attending Catholic grade school, Vika learned about Global Outreach. Growing up, she aspired to be an exchange student with the program one day. It seemed “such a big unachievable dream” to her. But, during her sophomore year, she applied and successfully completed the rigorous process, becoming the first Ukrainian exchange student to represent Global Outreach.

Coming off the coattails of a worldwide pandemic in 2021, Vika, who was 16 years old at the time, prepared to say goodbye to her family, friends and the only home she’d ever known to be away for 10 months. Departing that August for Central Wisconsin, she had never even been on a plane before. But her desire for this experience was so great, she endured the flight alone, even transferring planes twice before reaching her final destination.

Vika enjoys the company of Sophie, one of her host family’s dogs.

Vika joined the Bushman family in Chippewa Falls where she attended McDonell Area Catholic Schools with her three host sisters. Some of her favorite memories were the “fancy and magical” school dances, traveling to Florida with the Bushmans and finding new opportunities to pursue her interests in film. Vika went out for cross country and track, where she experienced high school sports and had the chance to meet new friends.

Vika shares some of the most noticeable differences between Wisconsin and Ukraine: “Here we drink everything with ice,” she laughs. “And here, people are generally more friendly. Clothing styles and school are much different. Teachers are more relational, and students can choose classes here in the U.S.”

Comfort in Faith

A cultural faith tradition she experienced for the first time while in Wisconsin was eucharistic adoration, through which she enjoyed “talking to God directly,” and found peace in the profound silence it offered.

In the spring of 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. “It didn’t feel quite real,” Vika explains. “I was so anxious and scared for my family.” She admits that she was also sad and angry. “It seemed surreal to watch it on the television,” she said. During the first couple of months of Vika’s stay in the fall of 2021, she shared that adjusting to life here was hard, and she had to lean on her Faith. Now again, seeing the escalating unrest in Ukraine, she relies on her Faith to comfort and guide her. Wondering and pleading with God, “What will my next year look like?”

Gracious Families and Future Plans

The opportunity arose for Vika to remain for a second year to study at McDonell Central Catholic High School through the Global Outreach program. After much coordination, Vika visited home and then returned to Wisconsin for her senior year (2022-2023). She was placed for half the year with host Michelle O’Connor and the other half with Chad and Larissa Wilson, giving her a wealth of new experiences and relationships. She continued to make the Midwest a home for herself, so much so that she decided to attend college in the United States.

In Ukraine, college students live at home and study at the university in their local region. But Vika liked the idea of residential college life in the States. She was accepted and plans to major in film studies at Winona State University, where she began this fall. She hopes to continue living abroad, still maintaining a close relationship with her family and home country in the years to come.

Attending the GO summer camp in Slovakia in July, Vika “graduated” the GO program and became a GO Alum.


Valery was close with her parents as an only child in beautiful Lviv, Ukraine. Together, they took part in many activities: skiing, swimming, games and attending Mass. Like Vika, Valery had always aspired to study abroad and was greatly supported in her efforts to achieve a spot in the Global Outreach program. But unlike Vika, Valery left Ukraine when it was already in the midst of conflict. She explains, “I was worried for my family’s safety all the time, but because my city is in the west, I knew it was the safest city you can be in.”

Valery was sent to live in Eau Claire with Emily and Emilia Jaquish and attended Regis High School with Emilia during the 2022-2023 school year. At Regis, Valery played tennis, soccer and joined the dance team. She enjoyed watching Badger games, going to Lake Superior, school dances, sleepovers, celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas and experiencing the American traditions while sharing some of her own.

Having come from such a big city, adjusting to life in Eau Claire was initially difficult for Valery. American food and the more sedentary lifestyle than she was used to were a change of pace, though sports kept her moving. She explains there was little fast food in Ukraine, and culturally, they do much more walking. They also spend a lot of time outside being active. In Ukraine, young adults can only get a driver’s license at 18, so having her classmates in Wisconsin drive was strange to Valery. Amidst the adjustments, she enjoyed participating in all the new experiences during her stay.

Valery and the Jaquishes traveled to the North Shore during a family vacation.

Memories of Her Relationships

“Saying goodbyes is always hard for me,” Valery admits. “I get attached to new people easily.” Even though it was difficult to leave her new friends, host family and the American experience, she still very much missed her family and home in Ukraine.

Returning home this summer, Valery says it almost “seems that the year [abroad] never happened.” Her life is returning to normal, but she will always treasure the year spent here in Central Wisconsin and all the relationships she built.

Global Outreach is always looking for host families. If your family is interested in opening your home to  host a student like Vika or Valery or would like more information, contact Barbara Tota-Boryczka, executive director of the program, at or call 920.540.3085.

Story By Amy Eichsteadt
Published in the November/December 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine

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