What kind of person would I be if my parents hadn't left?
I was sorting out the papers that I would use to start the fire when suddenly, a glossy pink and purple notebook caught my attention. It was a diary that I got on my ninth birthday, and I could not believe my dad did not accidentally burn it. It had been over fifteen years I started it, and I was full of curiosity to recollect the time. The very first page was all filled with colorful drawings, the hidden talent i discovered when I was a kid, and elaborated childish handwriting that was easy to read.
"March 24, 2001 Sunday
Mom and dad called today. Mom said the language was pretty hard, but she got a book she would study. Dad said Italians were too loud and he did not like that. He made a joke saying that my mom herself was loud enough and he could not handle any more. They said they would be calling us once a week on Sundays. It is their day off and calls to Ukraine are too expensive to call more often."
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I recalled not leaving the house on Sundays so I would not to miss a chance to hear my parents. The moment they immigrated made me grow up faster, think and question most things kids in my age would not, and develop the traits that I otherwise would not develop. Before that, I was just a curious bookworm since the time I learnt to read. I was so proud of my newly acquired skill that I wanted to consume all of the books I could get. I was specifically interested in astronomy and history mysteries. Thus, all of my savings from helping my grandfather around the house and garden, barbie clothes sewing business, and school money were spent on the encyclopedias that would feed me some answers. When I was eight, my mom broke the news to me that they had to leave for Italy for some time. The shield wall of my childhood collapsed as if it were blown by the enemy bomb. Like the books replaced with the weapon in children's hands during the war, the questions about galaxies and Egyptian pyramids were replaced with the questions of social organization: Why did my parents have to go? How long would it take them to get adjusted? If they make more money there, why are they still unsatisfied? Is there a way to learn the foreign language faster?
Watching my parents for years, I could not help but wonder why my dad struggled psychologically more than my mom, and which factors were influencing their adaptation in the new country and culture. I first came across some answers while reading the letters they were mailing to us. My mom would finish up her letters with a list of conversational Italian words she was trying to teach us while my dad would complain about how hard it was to express himself at work due to his lack of knowledge. Therefore, to avoid the struggle he would put the headphones on and switch the music on so people would not bother him. In an attempt to teach us, my mom was learning and practicing new vocabulary by writing down words, phrases and sentences. My dad, on the other hand, was disconnecting with and alienating from people even more, which was affected by the psychological stress of new surroundings. His inability and lack of assistance to adjust to a new environment would eventually lead to him losing his job. Carefully analyzing these two diametrically different approaches to the same issue, I would understand that knowledge of the language and culture facilitates faster and smoother integration process into the new society for both immigrants and their environment making it a win-win solution. Since that time the idea of changing people's lives by creating mechanisms and solutions for social adaptation and integration was deeply rooted in me.
I kept on browsing through the diary, turning the pages of my childhood experiences.
Tuesday. September 11, 2001
"Today I was voted as a head of the class!Can't wait to tell my parents about it on Sunday! They would be so proud of me"
My passion now required a set of new skills. In the middle school I became the head of the class, leadership role that taught me organizational skills, improved my analytical thinking, and developed my soft skills. As a part of SGA, we came up with a program that was aimed at improving students' performance.It was structured around the motivation factor of recognition and social activities. The program was a success and the school performance in general skyrocketed. What was even more fascinating to observe was that students developed more humility and formed stronger bonds within the class. They started helping each other more since they knew that overall success depended not only on individual efforts, but the team results. Our class turned out to be competitive due to the internal leadership program that my mentor and I had came up with. We paired up low performing students with high performers who were to train them once a week in or outside the class.Interestingly, the rate of boys mocking girls decreased because now girls, for the most parts, were their trainers who looked for easier explanations in math, chemistry, and foreign language. Thus, the discipline level went up which took the right and caring leadership to achieve. Month after month, I slowly got to a page that was colored with flowers, fireworks, smiley and happy faces. Looked like it was a big day.
Tuesday. July 29, 2003
"It is the best day ever - my mom came back! She did not let anyone but my grandparents know that she was coming. She wanted to sneak in the house and surprise us, but we saw her walking down the street from the window and jumped out to meet her. My sister and I hugged her very tight and I thought "If I hug her tight enough maybe she wouldn't leave any more?!""
However, the cultural differences she experienced turned out to be stronger than my hug. Born and raised in Soviet Union, Italy gave her a gulf of fresh air and freedom - go anywhere, do whatever she thought was right, make decisions based of personal preferences, and express her opinion without being afraid to be punished or judged for it. I could understand it only when I get to visit my parents in Italy. At first, I was baffled by the cultural norms - while my grandmother taught me to close the door to our house for neighbors or my friends, the doors of Italians were opened for myself who was practically a stranger to them. That was when I learnt - there are no bad or good cultures; there are DIFFERENT cultures. Once that realization settled down in my mind, I was able to quicker to adapt to cultural diversity anywhere I went. There were so many more ideas and opportunities I was looking to try out and explore in college. However, higher education turned out to be disappointing to say the least. The teaching methods and leadership mentality seemed to be affected by soviet past - trying out anything new was risky. I felt like my childhood ambitions were suppressed by close-minded and insecure teaching practices. On the top of that, the crisis of 2008 gradually put my parents out of job, and by 2012 my family no longer had any savings that would pay for college. Even though I knew I had to interrupt my education and join the workforce full-time, I took it as an opportunity to save money to go to college in the USA. I was convinced that the landscape in Ukraine could change only if there was a strong leadership that would take the country to a new level, and the way to achieve that for me was to learn from successful educational practices that could then be implemented in Ukraine. Now, when the country is connecting to the West more than ever before, such a contribution could be life changing for the whole nation. I walked with a purpose, and I, as Dr.Beatrice Berry states "collided with destiny" in 2016 by becoming a student in the College of the Albemarle in a small community of the Outer Banks. The islander mentality of the community taught me to innovate and make a social change myself instead of relying solely on the government or a major decision on the upper level. In college I was taught that failing is a part of the studying process, and in fact can be one of the most effective ways of learning. I was thriving in this environment both as a student and as a leader. I undertook the Ambassador position to be a constant support for current and new students. President's role in the International Club let me touch upon issues of international students' integration into the new culture and implement innovative ideas as for the American students to recognize, respect, and support the cultural diversity on campus and in the community. My public speaking skills allowed to gather and ignite people around me to be better leaders who benefit the community. I learnt that developing humility, and applying creative thinking along with innovation could drive the social change.
Community college built a solid foundation for me to progress further and achieve what once was just a childhood dream. While touring the college campuses of Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Wellesley and attending the classes there, I clearly understood why I want to study in Seven Sisters colleges and how they can help me achieve what I have been working on. The educational approach of these colleges is student-centered which is why they provide well-rounded education or an idea of open curriculum. Students are given the freedom to make a choice of what they want to study, and under such circumstances they learn from practical tasks applicable in real life. This method generates true genuine interest, which grows more knowledgeable and aware students. Thus, I know I would not be restricted, but rather encouraged to study in-depth the immigration issues and adaptation solutions. The support is offered along the way: from meeting with teachers after hours and allowing self-scheduled exams to peer tutoring and mentoring programs. Most importantly, these colleges provide an inviting atmosphere and all-inclusive environment, where, as the Smith student-guide Ana Escobedo said, "even a creature from a different planet can find a place here". Being able to openly speak my mind there and try out ideas to benefit a college community and later even nations, I know I have found my place.
I closed the diary but already aboard Airbus A380. Thinking about memories and experiences that shaped the person I am today, I ask myself "What kind of person would I be if my parents hadn't left?". My pain of growing up without them was a catalyst for a personal change. More than that, it paved the way for the future interests and ignited the passion of making a difference for others. Moving even further from my parents brought me closer to the realization of my childhood dream to solve the issue that they once faced. As I look up at the flight attendant who explains the use of the oxygen mask I suddenly realize - there is a reason you put oxygen mask on yourself before you start helping anyone else. I did not and will not stop growing because personal transformation is the first step in affecting someone else's life.