– Jessica Pacheco, American MA student on “Media Communications” in Ukrainian Catholic University about four years’ experience in Ukraine
American MA student on “Media Communications” in Ukrainian Catholic University
1. Where are you from?
Washington State, the USA.
2. Where do you study in Ukraine?
I study in the Masters of Media Communications faculty at the Ukrainian Catholic University. I plan to graduate June 2015.
3. What motivated you to choose exactly this educational institution? What documents did you have to submit? Was the application process difficult?
I chose this educational institution because I was told I would have the opportunity to continue my studies in both English and Ukrainian. At the time of my finding this program, my Ukrainian was not sufficient for collegiate level academics − despite my one year in the Preparatory faculty at Taras Shevchenko University (required program to continue study in Ukraine). I had also developed a little more than two years of media professional and volunteer experience while living in Kyiv. I thought the media communications program would help fine tune my professional and academic knowledge for a successful career in the future.
4. What are the fundamental differences or similarities between Ukrainian and foreign higher educational system you experienced during the first month of your study?
I would say that the differences may be in the methods in which materials are taught. In my program, for example, our faculty really wishes us to work collectively, which is also a great skill, but I am definitely surprised by how often we must work together. There should be a balance between individual and group work always. One’s success depends on a dynamic combination of both individual and group skills attained throughout life.
I would say, through my personal experiences, that I can see academic politics play a bigger role in a student’s daily life here that I am not quite used to when comparing to my experiences from back home. Maybe this has to do with the fact that my school is a small private school and young in its years, maybe this is simply based on personal factors subjective to students and teacher relationships − I am quite unsure. Nonetheless, I think this is a prevalent enough issue that it should be remedied, and this is for the sake of the success of the students, the institution, and the process of sharing knowledge in general.
As a foreign student, I also feel like my successes are less likely to be recognized by my institution than they would be back home. I think foreign students should be included in the scholarships available and given based on competitive academic standing. A foreign student should have the equal opportunity to obtain financial funding like that of national students if they are indeed pulling the proper and competitive ratings and grades. International programs will benefit investing in the students that wish to succeed, no matter where they come from. This is not asking for special attention, this is asking to be considered equally when during evaluation and scholarship distribution.
Another major difference concerning the academic programs here is that they are not offered as credit systems. Instead, students lack the opportunity to focus their specialization in their chosen field because they are made to take classes pre-chosen by the faculty. As a future media marketer, we had very few classes that provided me with the competitive knowledge in this field. Of course this difference and its potential to change is limited by the laws of the government and academic figures, thus I think these two players should consider changing academic programs to credit systems, so that students may choose the courses that they believe will provide them with the skills and practical knowledge they need to be professionals and competitive in their market.
A similarity of both educational systems is the grading systems. For example, general education requirements mandate that I should take a biology course despite majoring in linguistics in my BA. That grade in biology can impact me despite it not being within my specialization at all. The Ukrainian system practices the same method, in my Masters I was required to fulfill state required courses such as Tsivilnyy Zahyst and others. This seems to be a poor application as it creates a burden on my other merits. This applies to all students.
Another difference is that in Ukraine teachers with only MA degrees can teach entire courses and domains of study without being in conjunction with an actual PhD-holding professor. Whilst in the USA, teachers are typically PhD –holding and those with MA’s that are teaching courses are teaching those courses in conjunction with a PhD professor. For example, your theoretical courses (seminar) may be taught by your professor, and then lab (practical) may be taught by their MA teachers assistant.
5. How is your usual studying day going on?
Studying comprises of 12 courses per each semester (or more) for 1.5 years of study.
My practicum comprises of 2 months with an open schedule that you, as the student, organizes with your practicum advisor.
6. What have you known about Ukraine? What stereotypes have you had before your arrival in Ukraine (if any)?
I met my Ukrainian husband when I was 19 and while studying my bachelors in the USA. Through him, I learned many interesting, beautiful and difficult stories about the history of Ukraine. I remember watching Okean Elzy “Bez boyu” music video and hearing how rich the Ukrainian language sounded for the first time. I was amazed. However, before that I learned of Ukraine the first time in high school during my junior year chemistry class. Ukraine was a topic of chemistry because of the radiation reactor explosion that happened in Chernobyl. Otherwise, I did not associate Ukraine with any specific stereotypes, and no, I was not someone who confused Ukrainians with Russians and vice versa. However, I also didn’t know enough about the country to say I had very many strong opinions about it and its peoples either. I can say today, however, my life is forever changed by my four years’ experience here.
7. What thesis are you working on now?
I am currently working on my masters project.
8. What impressed you most of all in the features of the people’s mentality and the country you are studying in?
I have been impressed by the hospitality of certain peoples and families. I am also impressed by the cultural traditions and language. However, I say the same thing about every country and peoples I have visited. This is no more unique to Ukraine as it is to India or Holland, for example, and just to name a few. I am actually asked this question a lot, and the only answer I can come up with is that Ukraine and Ukrainians are all so incredibly different from one another, it is hard to say there is one mentality or value that is shared among everyone here. I think there are parts of this country that are more “European” so to say, whilst others seem like they are living in a blast from the past, preserving the nostalgia of a previous empire or era that they want to hold onto from their political history. Food is different throughout the nation, and thus language, traditions and culture are different throughout the nation. This really hit me from living in Kyiv, which is a mostly Russian-speaking city, to moving to Lviv, which is a mostly Ukrainian-speaking city, to traveling through Beregove where the dialect spoken there is something I can’t even wrap my mind around − it’s an entirely different language. Everywhere I have been, values are also different, and what could be a solid value today may change tomorrow depending on the demand of something within that community or place. In a village I have spoken with people who find it necessary to preserve their old ways of tilling the land and are unhappy with the changes happening around them that are causing their youth to leave the village, which inevitably leaves elders behind to tend the land on their own. Whilst in a city like Lviv, half of the population wants change to be more evident and are thus vocal about it and take the opportunity as an instrument to share their thoughts; for example, their values include traveling more and providing these experiences at more affordable levels for all peoples in their country − they find this extremely important. Then half of that same population disagree and think they are making evident changes by agreeing to the social norm or “opinion leader” of local politics − they believe the local politics are making adequate changes. I think, in essence, this diversity in every aspect of life here is one of the most powerful features of Ukraine, and likewise any nation, as it shows that we are very similar – we are all just humans trying to make our way through and with the circumstances and geography in which we are situated.
9. What are your impressions of the city, campus, higher educational institution? How have you organized your everyday life? Are there any preferences, bonuses for students of your higher educational institution?
All of the UCU campuses are very pleasant and very much comparable to many of the state-run American higher educational institutions. The cafeteria is awesome and the student dorms are incredibly comfortable and modern.
When I studied in Kyiv at Shevchenko University, the campus was very much rundown and in poor conditions.
I also visited a friend at the Ivan Franko university student dorms and was shocked to see that students had to invest into the upkeep of their own rooms with their own money (student budget) − which included electrical, renovations and sometimes payment to something as standard (for the western world) as centralization when the water wasn’t running. State funding should definitely do a better job at up keeping the living quarters of their students. A healthy student environment is crucial to their success.
10. What are five reasons for studying, working or living in Ukraine as for foreigners?
My main goal in even coming to Ukraine was to (1) learn culture and (2) learn language of my husband. (3) I feel like it’s important for me to have living abroad experience to be more competitive in my work field. Media takes people all over the world, and by showing my future employers that I have lived in Ukraine for four years, this experience of mine may show them that I am down to roll with the punches, try anything new and immerse myself in a peoples and culture so different and yet similar from my own. (4) maximize my capacity of the world and its peoples − understand life through different viewpoints and experiences (5) root myself in a country and peoples that is not as classic and famous as other destinations, such as Barcelona, France (in general), Germany and others.
11. What are the main values of the average citizen of your country and Ukrainian citizen? What are the similarities and differences?
First of all, I think there is no such thing as an “average citizen”. In America, we are so mixed and different, that average simply does not exist. And as we are so different, I think values differ tremendously too. In my country, it is hard to speak in general terms, because my national population is huge and can be broken down by societal regions, and within those regions, there are populous’ of varying backgrounds, heritages, histories, identities, subcultures, etc.. Ukraine is the same way, and comparing values of Ukrainian citizens hailing from the east with those hailing from the west would be like comparing apples to oranges. Comparing values or outlining the main values of people from one village with their neighboring village would also be difficult. So, I don’t really know about to answer that.
12. How do you think, what part of the civilization space Ukraine is? What are the main achievements and problems of the Ukrainian state?
What does it mean to be European? Is it a nation’s history? A series of historical events a nation goes through that is “like” the histories of European nations? Is it an ideology? A feeling or identity? I think it’s fair to say that Ukraine’s history is very much European, and this is proven by Kievan Rus, the Magdeburg law and other significant historical moments in the foundation of the Ukrainian nation.
In terms of identity and maybe a feeling of being European, I would say I have felt this mostly in the West, specifically in Lviv. Lviv to me is very much like Krakow, for example − an EU city in Poland.
Now, I believe at the political level, Ukraine is not European and definitely not Russian. I haven’t visited Russia, myself, but one should know that these are two totally different cultures and ideas that represent the perspectives and behaviors of individuals that hail from these nations. (Also, its important to say here that Ukraine was the first of 15 post Soviet Republics to open its borders to the world and today is part of a free visa regime with the USA and other nation, for example – this act is also symbolic to the steps this nation is willing to take politically to build its open relationship with the world).
I know that many people of Ukraine wish to be part of the European Union − to them, this western union is a symbol of democracy. I think this is great and I agree to some extent. However, I’ve always recognized Ukraine to have its own market strengths that if in the European Union system would possibly lose their value and benefit to Ukraine first and foremost. (I think the EU is one of the best things about Europe, but they do have some issues in their system and policies that are currently causing the smaller EU states to become more defiant − like for example, Greece and Hungary.) This is not to say that Ukraine should not trade with Europe and the world − I am not talking about Ukraine going into some period of isolationism or something − rather, Ukraine would benefit prioritizing its own lead and control within the country with proper reforms and western-like measures and in the meantime continue trade and relationships and travel integration programs and agreements with Europe and the world. But Ukraine can be strong on its own, it has everything it needs to do so (in terms of market concerns). Unfortunately, current politics are inept (yet trying) and society is left on their own without any protective body to support them, and the western world continues to look on without any affirmative action (well, ok, I should say the West is helping and doing things they haven’t done before, but in this case the action they are providing is truly never enough when you have the lives of brave heroes on the line every day) − and hello, look at how many Ukrainian volunteer insurgent groups are fighting in the East on the aid, medicine and finances given on behalf of Ukrainian citizens alone. Not only does this show that Ukraine militarily does not have the sufficient materials its needs to protect its borders, but this also says tremendous amounts about what this nation is capable of doing on its own.
On a closing note, I simply hope Ukraine will always remain sovereign, free and diplomatic – then we can talk about Ukraine and Europe as one.
13. Are you planning to return to Ukraine, to live and to work here? What would you like to bring into Ukrainian universities from the foreign educational institution you have studied in?
I will always return to Ukraine and be back and forth between my two homes – the USA & Ukraine. As much as I would LOVE to work here and build a professional career here, I believe there is no opportunity for me within the markets I wish to integrate. This is a sad thing for me because I have invested so much into developing and rooting myself a life here. The biggest challenge to this is that these markets are run by a very exclusive community and thus penetrating them is less likely to happen unless I am well connected with those within them. I believe this is possibly more difficult for a foreigner in terms of the process concerning the legality of working here. I hope this will one day change. Ukraine could definitely afford to obtain some “brain gain” as they say − Ukraine does, on the other hand, provide a lot of “brain drain” of its own peoples to other nations, and this is simply because of the challenge with opportunity here − it is very limited. One of my biggest dreams would be to play a role in education reform and media culture here and provide an outlook into the perks of foreign integration in the workforce (like how we’ve seen here with Ukraine’s IT market).
I have taken lots of out of my experience here. If these experiences and knowledge can be of help to someone or something sometime down the line in my life, either near or far, I would be most grateful to share them with others.