From Ukraine, 10th Grade Student, Parkrose High School

[Blashishin, 15, came to the US at age four in 1997, with his family, who are Seventh-Day Adventists. His mother runs a cleaning business downtown, and his father runs a stucco business.—eds.]

"We came to the US for religious freedom. Our religion prohibits us from working or driving a car between sundown on Friday and sundown on Saturday—but in Ukraine, people who refused to work on Saturdays were being fired. So some Adventists from Russia and Ukraine started moving to Portland and California. We have more freedom here.

"Ukraine is getting more civilized now, trying to respect people's rights—but before it was terrible. My grandfather, for example, was jailed for his beliefs. There's more freedom here in America, because nobody cares what religion you are. Everybody is just happy that you're a person.

"People ask if I feel like I'm missing out here by not being able to go out on Saturdays, because a lot of people do... but I don't feel like that. We just all go out on Sunday instead. One of the best things about being in America is being able to watch the NBA. I've always liked the Pistons but since Portland got Greg Oden I might start going to a few Blazers games. My dad is a big fan of the Blazers, too, so we can go together.

"Apart from the religious freedom, the biggest difference for me in coming to America was noticing that you could touch stuff in all the stores. In Ukraine or in Russia, if you pick something up in a store, they think you're trying to steal it. Likewise in Ukraine they could never run video rental stores—people would never return the videos. It's funny how much more trust there is here.

"Having said that, when I first came to the US I also noticed people snitch a lot more in class. In Ukraine, it was unheard of to snitch—people would never do it, because they are all one big family, they live together in such close proximity outside of school. But when I came here I had to copy other students' work because I was struggling, and they would snitch on me. It took me a while to get over that. Also, here it's all about what social group you're in. Whether you're one of the popular kids or one of the nerds.

"My parents want me to go to college, and I'd like to go to PSU and study business to become a stockbroker or something like that. My older brother barely finished high school but I got a solid 4.0 all the way through middle school. I'm slacking off a bit now that I'm in high school, but I want to do better this year.

"I go back to Ukraine with my parents once a year—the best thing about going back to my hometown is that your money goes a lot further there. Twenty dollars buys a PlayStation2!" (MD)