The College of New Jersey Logo

Apply     Visit     Give     |     Alumni     Parents     Offices     TCNJ Today     Three Bar Menu

As the war in Ukraine hits the two-year mark, TCNJ students and faculty provide solace to their Ukrainian peers through virtual cultural exchange

As the war in Ukraine hits the two-year mark, TCNJ students and faculty provide solace to their Ukrainian peers through virtual cultural exchange

For students at Sumy University in war-torn northeast Ukraine, life has been anything but a fairytale for the past two years. But for a few hours each week, a TCNJ professor and his students offer a respite. 

stuart carroll
Carroll in the classroom at TCNJ

As part of the U.S. state department’s Virtual English Language Educator ProgramStuart Carroll currently teaches the English language to 75 Ukrainian students. He also creates opportunities for cultural exchange between Sumy and Ewing by hosting a weekly conversation club and inviting the Sumy students to participate in projects in his TCNJ classes.  

“It’s been so fantastic to have these connections,” Carroll, associate professor of elementary education, said. 

Among other projects, he recently asked students in both countries to create videos to share popular fairy tales — the fanciful stories that have long been conduits of folklore and mores — as a virtual cultural exchange. 

“I had a great chance to practice my speaking skills and learn more about American traditions,” said Yana Zhylenko, a Sumy student who plans to be an interpreter and translator. Yana played the mice in acting out the Ukrainian folktale of The Rooster and Two Mice. TCNJ students showcased western fairy tales like The Ugly Duckling and Snow White.

The fairy tales “were an excellent tool for sharing a country’s culture,” said Polina Kuchmieieva, a Sumy student.

Carroll teaches the Sumy students virtually during the week and says it’s not unusual for their classes to be interrupted by air raid sirens.

“They are bombed and shelled frequently … they lose power and internet,” he said.

Still, the virtual connections provide an escape. On Saturdays, a conversation club on Zoom allows students from both countries to enjoy light-hearted chats while practicing conversational skills. And for the most part, students have steered away from talk of war. 

“We talk about everyday life: jobs, school, holidays, food,” said Justin Holliday ’24, a TCNJ history and secondary education major who joined the conversation club about a year ago. “It’s interesting seeing what their way of life is like.” 

The Sumy students are working now to write and illustrate their own original fairy tales, and Carroll has plans in the works to share the Ukrainian stories with refugee students in area elementary schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

— Patricia Alex with additional reporting by Emily W. Dodd ’03


School of Education
Education Building, Suite 102
The College of New Jersey
P.O. Box 7718
2000 Pennington Rd.
Ewing, NJ 08628