Cultural connection: A student from Ukraine finds a mentor in the cafe

Cultural connection: A student from Ukraine finds a mentor in the cafe
Posted on 10/06/2022
Dilara Usmanova and Maya MurtazayevaDilara Usmanova, a sophomore at Mehlville High School, arrived on campus this year as a refugee of the war in Ukraine. She doesn’t speak English yet, but she’s found a friend in school food technician Maya Murtazayeva. 

Usmanova’s family initially fled to Turkey before her aunt helped to organize travel arrangements to the United States. Usmanova, who speaks Ukrainian, Turkish and Russian, is the first refugee from the war in Ukraine to arrive at Mehlville High School. Without the ability to communicate, the transition was difficult at first. 
Dilara in classImage: Usmanova plays a game with classmates to learn how to express feelings and emotions in English.

“The teachers are super nice and friendly,” said Usmanova through a translator. “I used to cry and the teachers would tell me that everything would be OK and that they were here to help.” 

On her first day of school, Usmanova went to the cafeteria for lunch. The School Food and Nutrition Services staff asked where she is from, and they realized that she and Murtazayeva would be able to communicate.
Dilara visits Maya in cafeteria
Image: Usmanova visits Murtazayeva as often as she can to talk, including each day during her lunch.

“I asked what nationality she was, and she said Turkish,“ said Murtazayeva, who is also Turkish. “I said welcome in Turkish, and we hugged each other. It was so emotional.” 

Murtazayeva wanted to help Usmanova because she remembers what it's like to be a newcomer to the United States.

“I was in the same situation 17 years ago,” said Murtazayeva. “It’s so hard when you don’t know the language or anyone around you.” 
Dilara and Maya
Image: Usmanova's friendship with Murtazayeva has helped to make her transition to life at Mehlville High School easier.

Staff at Mehlville High School – and throughout the Mehlville School District – strive to create an environment that is welcoming and safe, so that all students feel like they belong.

“We want our students to know that when you walk through the door here, you have people who care about you and want you to be successful,” said Sara King, Mehlville High English learner teacher. “That begins with that first piece of establishing a relationship.” 

Since her first day, Usmanova continues to build on her English language skills, and she’s found students in school that she is able to communicate with. Each day at lunch, however, Usmanova connects with her first friend, a woman who knows just what it’s like to be in a new country where you don’t know the language. 

The Mehlville School District strictly prohibits discrimination and harassment against employees, students or others on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, or sex including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity and other characteristics protected by law. The following individuals have been designated to handle inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies: contact Adam Smith at 314-467-5006 or [email protected].