Halina Shatravka is an alumna of the 2017 CLS Russian program in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. She graduated from Fordham University in 2017 with a B.S. in neuroscience and is currently a student at Eastern Virginia Medical School, where she studies clinical reproductive science. Halina also works as a Junior Embryologist at the New York Fertility Institute. She aspires to conduct scientific research abroad and plans to apply for additional international fellowships and scholarships such as DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) and the Fulbright program in the next few years. Eventually Halina hopes to launch a research career within the fields of medical/scientific history, bioethics, assisted reproductive technology, and neuroscience.
Heritage Speaker in the Field of Science
I grew up learning Russian from my family members at a young age. However, after my parents separated, my proximity to Russian-speaking family members was severed. Formal language study for heritage speakers in the U.S. is difficult to come by since the range of language exposure and acquisition varies greatly from student to student. I applied for the CLS Program to receive more formal training to develop my Russian skills at a professional level so that I can conduct research in Russia, access Russian scientific literature, and communicate with Russian-speaking researchers in my field – reproductive technology.
Prior to the CLS Program, much of what I knew about Russia was through my family members’ experiences. My father spent six years in various Soviet facilities due to his political activities before emigrating to the U.S., and my mother was frequently detained by KGB agents as an American Human Rights Activist in the Soviet Union. So when I gained firsthand experiences on how Russia has changed since the time my parents remembered and experienced was interesting. My CLS excursion to Sibur Oil Refinery in Nizhny Novgorod was such a unique experience. It felt surreal to be in a place that probably was once off limits to foreigners; we explored the long walkways of the oil refinery, talking and laughing with the workers as we wore their uniforms and ate where they ate. My host family was very warm with me: they treated me and my other CLS housemate, Josephina, as their own by sharing stories for hours in the kitchen together, watching movies, shopping, cooking, and going to their dacha. I expected to be bombarded with questions about why my dad fled the Soviet Union, but I wasn’t at all.
Immigrant Life Under the Microscope
As an undergraduate student at Fordham University, I was involved in cognitive neuroscience research. My interest in the lives of former Soviet Union immigrants in the U.S. naturally led me to conduct a research project on how these people approached healthcare and social services in New York City. I focused on the influence of immigrants’ historical and cultural beliefs and the use of traditional folk remedies in their practice. I hope to pursue this research further with Russian speakers living in Russia in the future.
Diversity at Home and Away
When I met other students in the Russian program, I was truly surprised by the diversity of the group. Having grown up with a low-income single parent in the city, and having attended an underperforming inner-city school, I honestly thought that I wouldn’t fit in the program. The words “prestigious” and “scholarship” can be very intimidating. But the students came from different backgrounds and geographic regions across the nation and I learned a lot from them. When it was time to part, I parted not only with my newfound Russian host family and friends, but with my fellow Americans students. Meeting students from such varying demographic was encouraging because I could see that CLS is committed to real diversity. I shared with people I met in New York City that, while indeed competitive, the scholarship is accessible and possible for hardworking and dedicated students.