This trip changed my life, opening my eyes more to the world. Living alone in a country without knowing anybody and having only three years of Russian language under my belt was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it was filled with some of my most cherished memories with amazing people, including my now-husband who I met abroad. I shared Thanksgiving with my new friends and learned that many Slavic countries celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7 based on the Julian calendar. I also visited the infamous site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. I left Ukraine shortly before the war, which provided me with an intimate understanding of the political context. It’s been heartbreaking to know that my friends’ home country is being destroyed by the Russian occupation.
Ukraine has a rich history, so most of my favorite experiences involved visiting museums and seeing ballets and plays, even though they were in Ukrainian. You could tell there’s so much more to their story than many people realize. I will also never forget visiting Odesa to see the Black Sea; it was beautiful.
The most unique thing about Ukraine was the fervor of a developing democracy with a sincere desire to transition socially and economically from an authoritarian past as a vassal of the U.S.S.R. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union more than three decades before, it was still very Soviet-style. The architecture was geometric and uniform. Most people lived in apartments instead of houses, and most of the apartment-style housing had about 20 floors. There were some new cars, but most were older models from the ’60s and ’70s. In Ukraine, driver’s licenses are not expected like they are here, but the sidewalks and public transportation like metros and tramways made it easy to navigate the city.
My educational experience in Ukraine was very different compared to Texas A&M. I learned that our tuition in the U.S. is much higher than in European countries because their universities only have a few buildings with classrooms. There are maybe one or two student organizations and a small library, and study rooms are rare. They also don’t have collegiate athletics. In Eastern Europe, there’s a clear divide between student life and personal life, whereas here, students’ lives are intertwined with their university.
I’ve had to work part-time jobs since I was 16, so this scholarship allowed me to focus on my studies and immerse myself in Ukrainian culture without worrying about working to pay off my next bill. Spending time learning from the locals made my experience unforgettable.
By taking a position as an education abroad advisor at Texas A&M, I can give back to the university that gave me so much. This role allows me to pass my experience on to other students to help them have an even more enriching international experience than I did. Having traveled abroad, I can slow down and really listen to what students are interested in so that I can share beneficial advice with them.