As a 10th grader at the regional state high school in Poltava Oblast, which was no different from others except for the intense English language studies, I enrolled in the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program. The FLEX program allowed me to study at a local American high school while staying with a host family.
The selection process was as tough as it gets. Thousands of students from my region wanted to discover America. In the third and final round we were interviewed to determine if we were fit to spend a year in American society.
One of the questions was: What would you do if your classmate asks you to share your answers on a test? It’s hard to believe now, but many of my studious classmates answered that they would share, because back then it was considered an insult to say no to a classmate. Sharing – even to cheat – was considered a part of friendship.
I was lucky enough to be forewarned by my cousin, who already lived in the U.S., about the right answer. Likewise I was lucky to be selected for the program, unlike those who said they would cheat. (The interview was just one part of the selection process.)
During my academic year in the U.S., my discovery of studying without cheating surprised me even more. Not only was such dishonesty taboo, but each student’s paper was checked for plagiarism from the Internet. And when one of my American classmates was caught copy-pasting homework, it became a shameful incident, causing him many troubles.
Seeing this, I wrote essays from the start, a contrast with my Ukrainian school, where some students used to simply copy essays from compilations of texts written in accordance to a school program sold in local book markets.
After returning to Ukraine, I entered Wisconsin International University, where American as well as Ukrainian curriculums were taught. While around half the students were FLEX alumni, the other half had just came out of Ukrainian schools, and often found it challenging to pass a test with an American teacher. Many simply could not imagine that teachers would actually flunk students for cheating. Some students had to repeat courses after failing the first time, as they didn’t prepare for the tests and counted on cheating to get them through.
Graduating from Wisconsin University, I pursued a master’s in economics from Kyiv Taras Shevchenko University, one of the country’s most reputable — or so I thought.
It felt like I was back to my Poltava Oblast high school, or even worse. Cheating was so advanced at Shevchenko University that it amounted to organized crime.
Preparing cheat sheets was so well-structured that one class had an email box with answers for all exams from previous students. In case new questions arose, this group would split the questions among themselves for preparation.
These students just had to copy the cheat sheet to pass exams. I don’t know how teachers would give these tests with a grade, since all of exams were perfect copies of the textbook.
Again, my studies with Wisconsin University gave me an edge over Shevchenko University. Most of my Shevchenko classmates were ignorant when it came to PowerPoint presentations, writing cover letters, resumes and passing job interviews. While these skills were stressed at American-style Wisconsin University, they were superfluous to Shevchenko professors.
Another disappointment with Ukraine’s leading universities was the professors’ authoritarian attitudes towards students. In contrast to relations between students and teachers at my American school, some professors at Shevchenko would say intimidating things to students, keeping them in fear.
All in all, there should be no wonder why Ukraine was ranked 152 out of 183 nations by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The mentality of cheating is so deeply ingrained in this nation, almost from the start of life.
Nevertheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel. As Bill Bradley, the former U.S. senator who initiated the FLEX program, put it: “The best way to ensure long-lasting peace and understanding between the U.S. and Eurasia is to enable young people to learn about democracy firsthand through experiencing it.”
Kyiv Post staff writer Maryna Irkliyenko can be reached at email@example.com.