By Theresa Hoffmann
Diana Saltykova didn’t want an ordinary college experience. She wanted expose herself to as many opportunities as possible.
Diana went to Pocono Mountain West High School as a foreign exchange student. When she was there, she heard about the Cook Honors College at IUP. Anna Nadrodkiewicz, a Polish exchange student at the same high school, went to the CHC, and Diana also knew of a Russian student who went there for her undergraduate studies. Diana talked to them both about their experiences there to find out if the CHC was right for her as well.
“My mother encouraged [me] to study abroad, and she was particularly happy when I got my letter of acceptance to the Honors College... My dad was a little bit frustrated that I was leaving to the States since it is far. He wanted me to study at Mikkeli University in Finland, which was only four hours away by car, and where I got accepted into the business school. I think that the fact that I am so far away from my family and my culture makes me appreciate it much more and I learned to get the most out of my family reunions when I have a chance to go home.” Diana has also discovered that an education at a United States university is unique because students’ studies take them far beyond the confines of a campus classroom.
At first, Honors Core seminars were a challenge for Diana as a foreign student only just mastering English, but that extra push was just what she needed to learn how to, “shape [her] own opinion,” and become a more confident public speaker. “My first core unit, I had Dr. Botelho, and I absolutely loved her class. It was [a daily] challenge for me because I did not understand English as well as I do now... I had trouble doing the readings and writing journals, but Dr. Botelho always seemed very encouraging and helped me a lot... She always tried to speak to me a few words of Russian that she knew and would repeat them every class. It made me feel somewhat special in class in spite of my far from excellent English skills.” Diana says that HC seminars teach “you to engage in discussion and prove your point.” Another important part of HC seminars are the concluding class presentations. “I loved working on presentations because it helped me with my public speaking skills. For Dr. Begres’s Unit C, I [played] a feminist artist on stage and I was really proud of myself because I was able to express some of my views on [the] role of women in art in front of the whole class.” Already, the CHC was taking her beyond the traditional lecture-filled classroom to a world of open, scholarly discussion and exchanging of ideas. During that first semester, Diana realized that she needed a job to help fund her education. She decided to become a community assistant.
Diana became a CA her sophomore year not just because she needed money (CAs who are only in it for the cash are not a good fit for the job), but also because she wanted the work experience. It’s not common in Russia for teenagers to work, and Diana wanted experience working as a team with the other CAs. She learned much more than just how to be a team player; she learned how to manage her time wisely and how to fulfill her responsibilities, even when it was hard to be the bad guy and “yell at people.” These lessons have become all the more valuable to Diana as she continues to expand her horizons. “The best part [of being a CA] that I absolutely loved was socializing,” says Diana about her role in organizing fun events for her residents. It made her happy to know that she was helping people, and the work experience has set her apart as a well-rounded individual.
Also, during her sophomore year, Diana talked with Kevin Berezansky, the associate director of the CHC, hoping to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. “My junior year I want to do things, expose myself to new places and things.” Kevin was just the man to ask: he knows all about what experiences students need to get under their belt that will guide them in the right direction. For Diana, he recommended The Fund for American Studies (TFAS, founded in 1967, teaches students about democracy, free-market economy, international affairs, etc.) at Georgetown University. Now a junior, Diana is spending the Fall 2010 semester at Georgetown taking classes and working as an intern.
Diana is currently taking classes within the Public Policy Track: Economics, Constitutional Interpretation, and Public Affairs Internships Seminar. She finds Constitutional Interpretation especially interesting because, in the past, she has focused on European history and politics; this is her first class about United States government. Her seminar class fosters discussion about jobs and internships available in the D.C. area. The professor’s extensive experiences (among other jobs, she has worked in the White House) give the class an insider’s look at D.C. These classes all relate to her internship.
Diana devotes thirty hours per week to World Learning, a nonprofit organization focused on international education and development. The goal of the organization is to help working professionals from former Soviet republics expand their horizons by inviting individuals to live with host families in D.C. for three weeks. Diana says that “experiencing the strong American ideal of volunteerism encourages them to do things that they hadn’t thought of before . . . in their community.” While Diana was developing World Learning’s website, she came across a success story in which the organization “empowered [Muslim] women” whose homeland situation did not encourage them to become working professionals. Through her internship, Diana is learning all about how the nonprofit sector works, and she is getting an opportunity to experience the nation’s capital.
TFAS provides housing for students and interns involved in the program. Diana lives in an apartment with two other girls from different universities (TFAS takes on students from across the country, so Diana is getting a taste of it all, not just Pa. and D.C.), whom she also has classes with. She compares this to living in Whitmyre Hall at IUP: the “social experience [is] a lot of fun . . . I’m never alone.” Together with her TFAS friends, she is not only visiting the museums of D.C., but also exploring D.C.’s social scene and culture.
Diana has a lot more planned for this year. She’s going home to Russia for the month-long semester break. Then, she’s going to study in Nancy, France, during the Spring 2011 semester. Diana is taking advantage of the CHC’s Achievement Fund (an alumni-funded scholarship for CHC students) to spend January through June in Nancy studying French language, culture, and history. When she finishes the department’s French as a Foreign Language program, she will receive a diploma declaring her proficiency in French. Depending on how much her French improves, Diana may stay on through the summer and do an internship, preferably for a nonprofit or political organization.
Diana has some solid plans for the future that will certainly help her figure out what she wants to do with her life. These experiences will also help her get ahead in the workforce or graduate school once she finishes her bachelor’s degree. She’s come a long way from only just learning English to fully immersing herself in the American college experience, not just at IUP, but also at Georgetown where she’s taking classes and interning alongside college students from across the country. Her education is taking her far beyond the classrooms of IUP campus.