4,934 Miles from Comfort Zone


Photo by: Karwaan Kotwal

Due to the intensification of war-time conditions in Ukraine, senior Christina Pavlova packed up her bags and reluctantly parted ways with her family to chase opportunity. All on her own.

The sun rose on Uman, a small suburban town in Ukraine, as it did any other day. What differed this particular morning for Christina Pavlova was the way her mother barged into her bedroom, hastily waking her up, and with remorse, informing her that the war in Ukraine finally broke out. “I heard explosions outside my windows. I think it was the most terrible feeling I have ever felt,” said Pavlova.

    After she woke up, Christina watched the scene outside unfold. She stood still and breathless, with the only movement in the room being the shaking of the curtains and glass that framed her kitchen window. “I saw them -the fire explosions- and they were not really far from my house at all. I started walking around the house very nervously because I didn’t know what to do,” said Pavlova. 

    On Aug 8, 2022, Russia launched a missile attack on the Uman district in Cherkasy Oblast, a province located in central Ukraine. “The missile fell and somebody was killed. Somebody was dead because of this,” said Pavlova. The missile hit a street in front of a pizza parlor in Uman and directly interfered with a civilian biking down the road. “When I woke up, I could barely understand what was going on. My best friend called me, crying and shouting because she was so scared. I said ‘don’t worry’. And then I realized what was really happening.”

    In light of the situation, Pavlova’s parents set out to keep her as safe as possible in an environment that will facilitate growth. “When the terrible circumstances in Ukraine occurred, I went to Bulgaria. I stayed there for almost three months by myself,” said Pavlova. In those three months, her parents worked to keep her secure, calling back on previous connections to maneuver her to a prime position. “My story is interesting because my dad was an exchange student in 1993 and lived with a host family, who he was able to contact. Now I live with the family of his host father’s brother.”

    Pavlova made a home with the McMahans. Her two host sisters, sophomores Angelina and Claire McMahan are students at Potomac Falls, and have been able to help with the transition over into American public school. “I flew by myself to the United States. After I checked in, I walked through a hallway and saw [my host family] with sunflowers and balloons and a poster that said ‘welcome Christina,’” said Pavlova. “It was such a wonderful moment. I felt so relieved.”

    “My biggest support is my host family. They help me with everything that I’m going through. It’s really hard to get used to all that’s happening – to be alone in a new country and experience something new every day,” said Pavlova. In so many ways, her life turned on its axis to fit the standards and routines of a foreign country with a foreign lifestyle. 

    The school system is perhaps one of the biggest distinctions between her home country and the United States. “I had like 18 classes per year, with seven or eight 45-minute-long classes per day.” These classes were not personal selections, either. “Here, I can choose my subjects and have just four of them per day. It’s so different from my home,” said Pavlova. “There is so much freedom to choose what you want for yourself.”

    “I also had the same people in every class; 30 people who I’ve been studying with for 11 years, every day. And they didn’t change. No new people,” she said. The contrasting structure of the school system is one of her favorite aspects of American public school because she gets to meet so many new and different people, all the time.

    Pavlova is fueled by the vibrant social settings and interactive classes that surround her. “I really gain energy by being around people, but I think that because I’m in a totally new country, in a totally new environment, with new people and an unfamiliar language, I can seem reserved. But I’m really outgoing. I want to make friends and be open and participate in different activities,” said Pavlova.

    A notable contrast between Ukraine and the United States, Pavlova pointed out, is the sports culture. “Here, sports are so popular and so many people play them. We didn’t ever take it as seriously because back in Ukraine, people mostly played sports just for fun. I lived in a small town, so our sports were never really developed,” said Pavlova.

    In consideration of the endless opportunities and pathways presented to her, Pavlova’s biggest pursuit is to get as involved as possible and immerse herself completely. She’s joining clubs like the Senior Advisory Board and Key Club, alongside managing the varsity girl’s volleyball team. “I love volleyball, so being the manager is really fun. I track the score, do my job, and get to socialize with people. I played the sport in Ukraine, so being in that environment is comforting.” 

    She misses her family, her friends, and her hometown. “I stay in touch as much as possible, but it can get difficult with the time differences,” said Pavlova. In a situation where her life was flipped upside down, she looks at the glass half-full.

    “If I stayed in Ukraine, I wouldn’t have grown up as much as I did in this time since leaving. Mentally, I changed, and I am so much more independent now. My mom used to cook for me, and now I can do it myself. I realized so many new things. I think I’m stronger now, and maybe more confident too. I’m trying to step out of my comfort zone, and now I really understand what a comfort zone is.”

    4,934 miles away from her home, Christina Pavlova makes one for herself.