Grad Story #33
Grad Story #33
Educational Foundations & Research, PhD
What is your hometown and background?
I’m from Lviv, Ukraine. It’s a big city next to the border with Poland and is where I did my undergraduate degree in Education before coming to the United States.
What brought you to the University of North Dakota?
I came to UND on a year-long scholarship in 2002 and enjoyed my experience so much that I decided to return and earn a degree in the States. Part of the reason I came back was because I felt very connected to this place where people really care and want to help you with your education. The university environment was very different to what I was used to in Ukraine– I could be a lot more independent and take classes that interested me rather than having a set program. I also got to know my professors and found that they were interested and willing to give their time to help students learn and succeed.
So when I came back to UND, I ended up earning two more undergraduate degrees in International Studies and German. I wanted to learn about other cultures and degree in International studies gave me a good interdisciplinary background on international politics, world history and geography, major world religions, and introduced me to the field of anthropology. As for degree in German, I was just taking classes in German, went on a short summer trip to Germany during one summer with my UND peers, and was encouraged by my professor to take more classes to do the full major. I loved all my undergraduate classes because they inspired me to keep on learning more about world cultures and languages.
You stayed at UND to do your Masters in Communication. What did you bring from your undergraduate experience to your Communication degree?
I wanted to explore the international field but from the perspective of communication. Like my International Studies, I really like the interdisciplinary approach of Communication program and each time I took a class I tried to gear it towards my interest in intercultural communication and how culture shapes an individual.
In my own personal experience as an international student, I was very transformed by my intercultural experiences. While working on my undergraduate degrees, I learned so much about myself and about other cultures, so I decided to dive into it and explore such experience from multiple perspectives.
For my Master’s thesis, I wanted to marry the theory with practice so I approached the International Center here on campus and asked them what were some of the questions they had that they would like to explore. They were interested in how to recruit students to study abroad and also how to best help them when they are coming back after their study abroad experience. I loved the second idea because I could relate to it personally since I found my own re-entry to the Ukraine after my first year to be quite challenging. I couldn’t really adjust well and I couldn’t understand why since I was ‘coming home’ to the people I loved and to the whole culture that was so familiar. I did not know how to adjust my new self to the old world. I also knew that I was not alone in my re-adaptation home struggle- my friends also had problems coming back home after studying abroad. Thus, I thought it would be an intriguing and important topic to explore.
The more I read about this topic, the more I realized that even though many people admit having reentry challenging, not much is being done to understand this problem. For my study, I interviewed and surveyed students who studied abroad for a semester or longer because I wanted to explore how longer immersion in a new culture affects reentry experiences. In my study I found that almost all of them had communication problems coming back and had a hard time reconnecting with their family and friends. I also found that students experienced changes in their cultural identity due to their cultural experiences and developed both critical and appreciative lenses on American culture and started to perceive themselves in a new light.
Did your Masters degree prepare you for your PhD in Educational Foundations & Research?
It definitely did. After conducting research for my Master’s and learning about the perspectives of students, I got very interested in the design of study abroad programs and how to enhance students’ learning before, during, and after their intercultural experience. I became very curious in how we, educators, can shape their experiences so they can learn even more. In my dissertation research I will be examining very specific programs: Faculty-lead Study Abroad programs. These tend to be very short but very intensive and how they are designed can really impact students’ learning.
Much of my interest in this is a direct continuation of my Masters, but at the same time, the classes I was taking in my EFR department really added to my research skills and expanded my knowledge on the foundations of education. One class in particular inspired me to look at all education from a different perspective. It looked at the brain and memory and how we learn – the chemistry of learning. In my dissertation research, I will be using this lens to apply to understand the design of faculty-lead programs. I’ll be interviewing faculty from a variety of institutions who develop these programs, and will explain best practices from the perspective of brain-based pedagogy.
Another important piece that has been shaping my research and experience as doctoral students has been my involvement with NAFSA-national organization of international educators that holds an annual conference for about 8, 000 people. I’m now on the organizing board for this year’s conference and had the pleasure of reviewing over a hundred session proposals. It has been a wonderful learning and networking experience. I had several presentations of my research at this conference and received very insightful feedback from professionals in the field.
Being part of this organization also provides me with opportunities to learn from international educators from around the world. This conference invites many internationally renowned keynote speakers like the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Muhammad Yunus (recognized for his efforts to empower women in some of the poorest countries by giving them access to small loans to start their own businesses). It is so inspirational to go to this conference!
You have been involved in a number of activities and organizations around campus, and are now heading up the Graduate Student Association (GSA). What do you feel graduate students most need in terms of support?
A couple of ideas come to mind. First, students need support in developing skills necessary to succeed in graduate school and in getting a job they want. The Association is now working on professional development opportunities for graduate students with topics like time management, writing, publishing and health needs. I think professional development is really important.
The second area is social. Graduate school is intensive and there’s a lot of pressure to study, research, write etc. But at the same time, we are all human beings and need to have social interactions. One of the goals of our organization is to have monthly social events. It’s a good way to meet people from different department, share your ideas, develop new friendships, and distract yourself from studying for a while.
Finally, I think that balance is really important – being able to balance the work with the social is key to a healthy experience. I’m working with the Health & Wellness Hub and we are beginning to look more closely at the health of the graduate student population. Graduate school experience can be very stressful and it is important to learn how to balance school, personal life, and health. Learning how to have a healthy mind and body is really important.
What is your best advice for a graduate student who is looking to EFR?
Get to know what is expected of you from your advisor. Find out the process of moving through your graduate school experience and develop a timeline. Make sure you have clear expectations.
Then start thinking about balance – carve out time to study, go to classes, and make sure you have time for fun. It can be very hard to keep motivated if you don’t. Finally, talk to your professors and ask them how they find balance – they’ve been there!
Where do you want to be in 5 years?
I’d love to change roles and become a professor. I’d love to be the faculty member who takes students abroad and gives them that experience. Also, I want to work with the international office, help design intercultural programs, and do research on students’ experiences. I would love to teach classes on experiential learning, brain-based pedagogy, and anything connected to cross-cultural learning. I think it is very important to teach students about intercultural skills, make them aware of who they are as cultural beings, and prepare them to be global citizens.