Svitlana was born in Ukraine and raised in the capital city of Kyiv by her single mother. She earned a degree in International Tourism from Kyiv National University and went on to earn her Master’s and Doctorate in the United States. After years teaching at Georgia Southern University and Texas A&M, Svitlana now works as the VP of Development and External Affairs at The International Center. She is also the President of the Ukrainian Society of Indiana and a certified yoga instructor. Svitlana currently lives in Carmel with her partner and their Westie pup, where they enjoy going on long hikes and coffee dates.
Moving to Indianapolis: A Place for the Uprooted
I still remember when my ex-husband made the decision to relocate us to Indiana. In my last-ditch attempt to communicate my resistance, all I could say was: “I just don’t want to!” But my argument was as baseless as it was final.
Back then, I dreaded the move. My ex-husband had explained all the benefits—that Indiana has a low cost of living, a high level of safety, and an excellent education system. However, as an international globetrotter with no kids in sight, I just wasn’t moved by those advantages. (No pun intended!)
Over the years, I’ve traveled the world, lived in various countries, and worked in four different states. I was born and raised in Ukraine, until I came to the United States to pursue my graduate education. In 2008, I landed in a Master’s program at East Carolina University where I had several Ukrainian mentors and friends in the international student community.
Then, my doctoral study at Penn State was even better. Pennsylvania’s beautiful terrain was reminiscent of the hills around Kyiv. The Penn State Ukrainian Society fulfilled my longings for home, and there was a stimulating atmosphere around the entire university. I even spent a semester in Germany as an exchange researcher at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena! It felt great to be back in Europe, riding trains everywhere, hiking in the hills of Thuringia, and knowing my family was only a two-hour flight away.
It was at Penn State that I first met my ex-husband. He had grown up in Zionsville, Indiana, and after we became close, he invited me for a visit. That trip was when my acquaintance with Indiana began!
Indiana was my first encounter with the Midwest.
I remember the first time we went to Indiana to visit my ex-husband’s family for the holidays. As we drove down I-70, I kept wondering where we were going. Indiana was a state I could neither picture nor locate on a map, and I believe many foreigners share that experience—at least until they know Indiana better.
I think the best way I’ve heard it said was during the International Visitor Leadership Program at the International Center. One of the participants said that: “Indiana is not a place I ever thought of coming to, but you made it seem as if this was the center of the world.”
During that first visit, I was quite surprised by the quaintness of downtown Zionsville. I delighted in Saturday morning trips to the Broad Ripple Farmers Market—a pastime that’s still a personal favorite. As a history buff, I enjoyed exploring the Indiana State Museum. The IMAX theater there was showing a mesmerizing 3D documentary about monarch butterflies, and the exhibit on Prohibition captured my imagination. I also spent some time hiking at Eagle Creek Park, which proved that Indiana had its own beautiful scenery and hilly terrain.
But despite enjoying the sojourn, I thought these visits were just that—short trips and mini vacations. It never crossed my mind that one day I would call Indiana home.
I was a globe-trotting expat before I became a Hoosier.
As I mentioned earlier, my travels have taken me across the country and all over the world. My first job as an Assistant Professor at Georgia Southern University landed me close to Savannah—a city of rich history and character. I loved exploring the city’s many culinary delights (ah, shrimp and grits!) as well as Tybee Island, known as the East Coast’s most charming beach.
Then, I moved to Houston, which was an explosion for the senses. They had real live rodeos, the best steaks and Tex-Mex cuisine, and even a little flair of the Old World! The German town of Fredericksburg and the Texas Czech Belt offered a strong connection to my European heritage. Houston is also home to a large Ukrainian Cultural Club, so I had no shortage of Ukrainian friends and celebrations.
When I moved to Indiana, I thought I was leaving all that behind. But faced with the inevitability of my Hoosier future, I decided to make the best of the situation and give Indianapolis a fair shot.
Now, I have come to love my life in Indiana.
Indianapolis is often considered an “under-the-radar destination.” But once you’re here, it doesn’t take long to realize why people love it here.
When I moved to Indiana, I settled in southern Carmel—just a mile north of Indianapolis while still near my job at Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation. During those first few days, I was immediately struck by how easy it was to get around. My neighborhood is conveniently nestled between US-31 and Keystone Parkway. So, I can easily drive to Broad Ripple for dinner or spend a day at the galleries in Downtown Indianapolis.
Most importantly, there’s no heavy traffic to slow you down! (And if you find yourself scoffing at that statement, I welcome you to experience the adventure of driving inside the Houston loop. I have seen heavy traffic.)
Carmel is known as the Roundabout Capital of the United States, and traffic flows smoothly throughout the city—unimpeded by stoplights and aided by excellent road conditions. It feels like a balm to the soul for someone like me, who received their first driving lessons on the roads of Eastern Europe. Those lessons were more like the Carmageddon video game than actual driving.
Now, after a few years as a Hoosier, I have come to love my life in Indy. I love going on long weekend walks with my dog on Monon Greenway, taking a detour on Main Street for coffee or some nitrogen ice cream. I’m always on the lookout for fun concerts at the Palladium or new exhibits at the Indianapolis Museum of Art—neither of which ever disappoints. And I quickly found my way to a few Eastern European stores that supply all the groceries and deli items my Ukrainian heart could desire!
Indiana truly is the Crossroads of America—and the world.
Over the past five years, the comforts of Carmel have slowly seeped into my bones. But it wasn’t until I started working for The International Center that I realized Indiana’s true cosmopolitan potential!
The International Center is Indiana’s premier non-profit in the realm of international affairs. From cross-cultural training to relocation services, The Center is both a guide to the world’s cultural landscape and a catalyst for international growth.
In my job, I’ve been able to observe how Indy businesses prioritize diversity and inclusion, while local advocacy groups help promote all facets of equity in the community. There’s a certain thrill in helping the Governor’s office with protocol during foreign delegation visits. It’s exciting to host groups through the International Visitor Leadership Program, and facilitating professional development workshops has shown me how globally-oriented our state truly is.
Everywhere I look, I’m just a few steps away from a new international restaurant with an authentic menu to explore. Almost every month, there’s a cultural festival at the Global Village Welcome Center or a traveling exhibit at one of our museums. Meanwhile, institutions like the International School of Indiana, the International Marketplace Coalition, and the Indianapolis International Airport truly stand by the “international” part of their names. They work tirelessly every day to make Indy a hub for world-class travel, education, and culture.
After all, Indiana already has a reputation as the Crossroads of America. But with Indy’s central location, our signature Hoosier hospitality, and a concerted effort to create a welcoming climate, Indiana is becoming the crossroads of the world!
Help the Ukrainian Society of Indiana raise awareness and support for Ukraine!
Indiana is a place for the uprooted to put down roots.
Unfortunately, the world is not always welcoming. Millions of people are uprooted by war and conflict—and they all deserve a place to belong.
I started my job at The International Center on February 22, 2022. We celebrated my birthday on the 23rd, and my homeland was invaded by its neighbor on the 24th. I watched as Russia attacked Ukraine, and it felt impossible to help. I knew there was a large Ukrainian community in Chicago, but what could I do here in Indiana?
Then, a miracle happened. The Ukrainian community of Indiana came together like never before and founded The Ukrainian Society of Indiana. We began collecting humanitarian aid, gathering for peaceful rallies, and raising awareness about the war. There was a palpable sense of belonging, as we created moments of joy amidst the tragedy in our motherland.
When we started The Society, I didn’t think any of this was possible. But now, The Ukrainian Society of Indiana has become a vibrant part of the Indy community. In the coming months, we will walk in the 500 Festival Parade as part of the Nationalities Council of Indiana, participate in the Carmel Farmers Market’s Celebration of Diversity Day, and even put on a Ukrainian Day Festival at Indy City Market.
If you told me a few years ago that these opportunities were available in Indiana, I wouldn’t have believed you. But I just needed to make an effort to look! Indy truly is a vibrant, diverse, and welcoming place. And if what you want doesn’t exist, you can create it, trusting that our community will support you.
Because that’s the beauty of Indiana. Everyone can create their own experiences here! You can find a community, make it your home, and put down roots—no matter where your original roots are from.