Name: Benjamin Barkai '22
Major: Materials Science and Engineering
Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
Scholarship: Vickie Lynn Durbin Murphy President’s Endowed Scholarship
You were the first in your family to be born in America. What has it been like to grow up with your Russian heritage in the United States?
It’s been interesting! Though my parents first landed in Texas when they came here from Russia, we moved to Arizona when I was about 4 years old, so the desert will always be home for me. Growing up, however, my parents wanted me and my brother to be able to communicate with our grandparents in Russia, so they taught us Russian, which is the main language we speak at home. When I visited them in St. Petersburg, I was introduced to a completely different environment. The vast, arid landscape of Arizona compared to the bustling, compact city of St. Petersburg really reflects the two different cultures I’ve grown up in. It can be difficult at times to straddle them both, but I think my experiences have ultimately equipped me to connect with people of many different backgrounds.
What was it like for your family to move from Russia to the United States?
My parents moved from Russia to the United States in the ’90s, and it was a whole new world for them. Coming from urban St. Petersburg to a rural area in Texas, they were shocked to be in such close proximity to cattle and other livestock. During their first few years here, they worked any job they could just trying to make ends meet. My dad was a licensed physician in Russia, but he had to basically start over in America. Now, he is back to practicing medicine in Arizona, but my parents both had to work really hard to build a life for us here. Their story has played a major role in how I pursue my own goals.