From Ukraine to St. Louis


Staggenborg Family

Staggenborg’s American family celebrates the holidays. Photo courtesy of Staggenborg family.

Gabby Abowitz, Photography editor and Art Director

Andrew Staggenborg (12) may look like an average high school senior. In reality, Staggenborg has faced many obstacles to get where he is today. From birth until the age of 13, Staggenborg lived in Ukraine, the second largest country in Eastern Europe, whereUkrainian is the official language. He experienced a tougher childhood than most students. During Staggenborg’s childhood, his mother passed away when he was only 4 years old. 

I really miss my mom, and it was unfair that I had a biological mom only for a short time. It’s hard to lose parents,” Staggenborg said. Though officially an orphan, he always had family to turn to. His grandma was his biggest supporter and guardian, and he is grateful for what he did have.  

“I never lived in an orphanage, but I can say that this is not fun. So enjoy what you have, and be proud of it, because there are a lot of kids who don’t have that,” Staggenborg said.

Staggenborg’s school in the Ukraine partnered with a program called “Circle of Friends,” which is an international exchange program for students to be paired with parents. While it is not normally an adoption program, that is what ended up happening for Staggenborg.   

“In 2016, [my American] mom saw my picture and there were four boys in the picture, but parents chose me,” Staggenborg said. 

Though officially adopted by the Staggenborgs, he still keeps in touch with his Ukranian grandma, aunts, and cousins, and misses them dearly. 

Learning English would be a big struggle for anyone, let alone a 13-year-old moving to a new country without any family. 

Although Andrew’s adoptive siblings went to South, Andrew came to PCH because we have the best ESOL program in the district. He enjoys going to Central most because of how much the teachers care about him and makes sure he has all resources available. 

His favorite things to do in St. Louis includes hiking at different parks all over St. Louis, his favorite being Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. Andrew also enjoys going to the St. Louis Art Museum and viewing all the artwork.

Staggenborg started his photography hobby while still in Ukraine. He photographed his friend, and she did the same in return and it progressed his love for photography and helped him improve his skills. 

“It’s so fun to take pictures, there is something inside of me which tells me ‘grab camera and go!’” Staggenborg said. Taking Convergence Journalism is what sparked his interest in graphic design, while creating infographics.

Staggenborg is also gifted in languages, his first being Ukrainian. Then he learned Russian because the two languages are similar and come from the same roots. Once coming to the United States, he had to learn English to communicate with his host family and it took him two years of being tutored to feel comfortable with the language. At Central, he also took Spanish 1 to challenge himself.

“My dream is to know 5 languages and be a polyglot. I can do it, but it takes time,” he said. 

Staggenborg shares advice he has for other people trying to learn English, or any language. 

“The big tip is to memorize words and try to use them in conversation,” he said. “Memorizing texts in English is also a good thing. I don’t have any tricks, but I think you should try to trick your brain. Try to learn at least five words per a day.”

Andrew is planning on continuing his education at St. Louis Community College-Meramec where he is hoping to earn a bachelor in graphic design to fulfill his dream of becoming a graphic designer and continuing his artistic career. He also enjoys playing the guitar and drawing. 

As of now, Staggenborg has traveled to a few cities in Ukraine such as Odessa, Crimea and Kiev. In the U.S., he has also visited Washington, Wisconsin, New York and Florida. His ultimate dream is to be able to visit all 50 states along with other parts of the world. 

Staggenborg enjoys the U.S. but misses more than just his Ukranian family.

 “I really miss walking outside on cobblestone streets. I really enjoy architecture and here it’s hard to find old places with architecture. Of course, how to forget about food? I miss Ukrainian food,” Staggenborg said.