Russian exchange student brings joy to Palm Coast family

01_JerolineMcCarthy01When that “bundle of joy” arrives, the agony dissipates. Tenderness from both parents kicks in. But, in this case, something they thought would take four weeks turned out to be nine months.

“It’s like giving birth. We’ve had her for nine months,” said Sybil Dodson Lucas, while shifting gears to an ad at the library, asking for people willing to host foreign exchange students.

“I thought it was such a brave thing for a young person to do, and I wanted to make sure that one of those children had a safe home,” said Sybil.

Sybil Dodson Lucas and John Lucas show off their foreign exchange student, Sofya Ulanova.(JEROLINE D. MCCARTHY/DAYTONA TIMES)
Sybil Dodson Lucas and John Lucas show off their foreign exchange student, Sofya Ulanova.

So she and husband John agreed to host an exchange student. They signed up for four weeks, but it’s been nine months since 16-year-old Sofya came to live in their home from Russia. The couple encouraged Sofya to stay longer.

Lives with family
In Russia, Sofya lives with her mother and father, Natalya and Vadim, and brothers Yasha, 8, and Ilya, 5.

She’s successfully completed the “Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX),” spearheaded by the U.S. Department of State for competing in different academic levels and rivaling others seeking entry as exchange students.

Sofya was allowed time to make a decision on whether to come to the States, realizing that family and friends would be left behind, and knowing that the United States represented a different culture.

“I chose to come because it’s …an experience that is given…only once in your life,” said Sofya. “The American government pays for everything.”

They were Skyping when Sofya first laid eyes on her room, and became excited seeing the swimming pool, and checking out John and Sybil (the names she calls the pair) prior to arriving in America.

On their arrival at the airport, “I had no idea what they were talking about,” said Sofya. “I just kept smiling and nodding.”

While English is taught in schools early on in Russia, she found it particularly difficult at first to understand her classmates because of their use of slang, but she caught on quickly.

Different culture
She had gone outside her comfort zone because Russian students sit together for the duration of their 11 years in school, and view each other as family. Russian schools take it down a notch because American kids attend school for 12 years, while choosing their own seats in high school, and opting for their own curricula. Associations and sports are non-existent in the Russian schools. And Sofya finds the way that classes are conducted in America to be easier.

While attending Flagler-Palm Coast High School, Sofya is afforded the opportunity as a junior to graduate now and finish the one year in Russia. Sofya’s dress is all ready for sashaying at the prom.

Despite hectic schedules in the community and at church, John and Sybil frequently have out-of-town guests coming over, while enjoying the company of their nearly four-year-old granddaughter, Sophia, who lives in Palm Coast. Gaining knowledge has been key to John and Sybil in raising a family.

Active schedule
Anyhow, I saw John waiting for Sofya at the high school. She could have been anywhere from her yoga club to the Leo Club, Future Business Leaders of America, or at a dance class studying jazz, ballet, or hip-hop.

“I have more than 100 volunteer hours,” she said. She’s achieved honors in chemistry and anatomy.

And she’s planning to become a heart surgeon or oncologist in a developing nation after completing medical school in America.

John and Sybil’s granddaughter Sophia is a blend of Russian and African-American. She looks to Sofya as a big sister and exchanges the Russian words she has learned attending a Russian daycare.

Sofya vacationed with John and Sybil and going to places of interest in New York – Times Square and the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, and entertainment by the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall – while developing contacts from Sybil’s alma mater at Columbia University.

The nine months since Sofya’s arrival have all been a joy!


The Walk-A-Thon health-walk sponsorship, on behalf of Women’s Day at First Church, will take place May 17, 7 a.m., at Lehigh Trail on Belle Terre Parkway, between Royal Palms Parkway and the fire station.

If you’d like to join the women for the Walk-A-Thon, call the church at 386-446-5759. First Church is pastored by the Rev. Gillard S. Glover.


As always, remember our prayers for the sick, afflicted and bereaved.

Birthday wishes to: Gillard S. (Trés) Glover, III, May 18; Joy Eurie, May 19; Ernest (Toney, the barber) Robinson, Donna Banks, May 21. Happy anniversary to David and Joy Eurie, May 16; Arthur and Loretta Pete, Stanley and Phyllis Henderson, May 19, and Sidney and Violet Honeyghan, May 20.



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