Cartwheeling around the world: Nastia Piontkivska

Emma McDonald , Staff Reporter

Girl doing handstand
Nastia doing a handstand in front of the White House in DC. She has traveled to many countries around the world, so change is not new to her. (Photo Courtesy of Nastia Piontkivska)

For most people who have had the experience of moving, it can be hard and stressful. Moving to another place with new people and a new environment is hard and adjusting can be mentally taxing. However, for freshman Nastia Piontkivska, moving to a different country every 6 months has been a routine part of her life since she was born.

“So what countries have you lived in?” I asked Nastia during a sunny PE class on the Mason field. Although we had just finished the task of running 4 laps around the track in the sweltering hot air, she was extremely energetic and bubbly.  “I don’t know, all of them? It’s hard to remember. I’ve been everywhere,” Nastia said with a chuckle. Since she was born, she has lived in over 16 different countries and has moved over 20 times. Her mother works for the United Nations, and her father works for the World Bank. Nastia, her older sister Victoria who’s a senior this year, her younger brother and their parents speak a combination of 4 different languages to each other at home.

“At home, we speak Ukrainian, Polish, Russian and a little bit of French, but it is always mixed in with other languages. We almost never speak English,” Nastia responded. This fact was baffling to me as I always thought English was her native language due to how fluent she is. Nastia noted how hard it is to hold on to languages, as her French, German and Hungarian are not as fluent as they were when she was younger. However, she is fluent in over 5 different languages and knows how to speak 8.

Being someone who has never moved in my life, I cannot even imagine what it must be like to hop from country to country. Getting used to different cultures, languages, and people every half a year would be an amazing experience, however, I wondered if she ever had any negative thoughts about it.

“Ya know, you learn to get used to stuff. It’s hard to move on but you have to learn to start from a clean page. It is also hard to learn a whole new language in a whole new country.

I was already learning French and then I had to start learning English fluently before (moving to) America. In all the places I’ve been, I have never really had a ‘home’ country or place. No place has really felt like home to me. I visit Ukraine and Poland every summer to see old friends and grandparents, which is sort of like home-” Nastia replied with a smile. “You meet people and get close with them, and then you leave, but they stay in the same place. And it’s really hard to try and visit over the summer. I have to fight for the option with my parents to see my close friends again.”

Girl leaping
Nastia leaping in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo Courtesy of Nastia Piontkivska)

However, Nastia is going this summer to visit her old friends in Paris, Moldova, and Ukraine. “I managed to convince my parents to let me book a bunch of hotels to see my friends. I haven’t seen them in so long, and I’m so excited.” As Nastia talked more about her summer and finally getting a chance to see old friends, her face brightened up and I could just tell how ecstatic she was.

Last year in 8th grade I vividly remember during recess outside seeing Nastia practicing her gymnastics routines, and sometimes even doing 2 or 3 backflips in a row. I knew she was extremely talented, but when conversing with her, I learned more about her amazing talent as a gymnast.

“I started around 3 years ago in Romania. There my teacher really pushed me and now I am in level 9.” From experience as being a gymnast, level 9 is extremely hard to get to, even if you have been doing gymnastics since you were little. Having only done gymnastics for 3 years and already at such a demanding and difficult level, I knew she must have put an extreme amount of hard work to get where she is today in her sport.

“This summer I’m going to a gymnastics camp in Paris. I just really want to keep getting better and hopefully go to university for gymnastics. That is my goal.” Nastia said as we talked more about her passion for the sport. I was amazed at how after being to so many different countries throughout her life and the past couple of year, she has stayed with the sport. Her attitude in general about the constant moving and change was so positive which really inspired me. For being someone exposed to so many cultures and places, I knew just from our interview how much of a caring, knowledgeable and successful person she is already.