Who are your fellow students? It can feel like you are all alone in your studies, but across the nation, around the globe, students like you are also pursuing their AU education, and The Voice Magazine wants to bring their stories to you. If you would like to be featured next, do not hesitate to get in touch!
The Voice Magazine recently had the chance to chat with Oxana Kabardina (she/her) from Fort Vermilion, Alberta, Treaty 8 Territory, currently completing her first year of a Bachelor of Science, with a major in Human Sciences and a minor in Information Systems. She stated, “I’m happy that even living 500 km away from the closest university I’m able to pursue my dream.”
Oxana “came to Canada from Russia in 2009, responding to the government call for skilled immigrants to join the Canadian workforce.” She explained, “It was a lot of paperwork, and I had to prove my skills by showing my education, work experience, as well as the knowledge of English and French.” She applied to a nursing program at Douglas College in Coquitlam, BC, right after her arrival. She dreamed of being a doctor, “[u]nfortunately, the reality is that, for a new immigrant without a Canadian background, it is close to impossible to get into a medical school.” She explained, “I was happy to get my nursing license after four years in nursing school because I really like working in healthcare, and taking care of people.”
Oxana is currently “taking courses that would help [her] to get ready for medical school.” She explained, “Unfortunately, none of my community college courses can be considered for medical school GPA calculation, so I’m starting from scratch. At the age of 43 it is a bit scary, but I get a lot of support and encouragement from my circles, especially from doctors who know me.”
She “live[s] in Fort Vermilion, Alberta and work[s] at the local hospital, and also sometimes pick[s] up shifts in nearby town La Crete.” She continued, “This area represents the underserved rural Northern area, where healthcare is scarce and resources are limited, but the nature and landscape are so beautiful that it is totally worth it to be enduring all the challenges related to being so remote.”
Although her free time is “very limited,” Oxana enjoys gardening. “I’m obsessed with growing my own veggies (my husband and I have been eating plant-based for eight years). I am very interested in the concept of Permaculture; however, there is not much information on the principles of Permaculture in the extreme North conditions. So, I guess I’m trying to come up with my own ways of maintaining a sustainable garden up North. I have been growing stuff that is not even considered for our hardiness zone 2, like eggplants and watermelons.”
She continued, “Also, I know a lot about wild plants, berries, and mushrooms, so whenever I see something interesting in the woods, I try to get seeds to plant in my garden. We forage and make delicious teas and soups using rosehip, nettle, dandelion, chokecherry, fireweed, and many others.”
She credits nature with having the greatest influence on her desire to learn, explaining, “The exposure to the natural sciences made me a life-long learner. Each new phenomenon in biology, chemistry, physics, [and] psychology leaves me in a genuine awe. I’m always hungry for more knowledge. I still feel like an elementary school student who was just shown the very first chemistry experiment—so excited to keep learning about the world.”
In addition, Oxana mentioned that she needs “something to do in those 6 months when the snow and ice are covering the ground.” She enjoys needlecrafts, and is “an avid cross stitcher,” explaining that it “is a truly therapeutic hobby that helps a lot with relaxation and stress management.”
As for her experience with online learning so far? “I’m a big fan of online learning, which is probably related to the fact that I enjoy rural Northern life but at the same time I enjoy academic work. The fact that I don’t have to part with my lifestyle and my community makes me very happy.”
She continued, “My experience with Athabasca has been extremely positive. The challenges of not having an instructor giving you a 2-hour lecture of skimmed material with hints like ‘make sure you remember this slide for the exam’ leads to acquiring more mature learning styles, where you develop critical thinking that help to separate the knowledge into important and secondary. Also, you learn to integrate the knowledge yourself, because there is no one to spoon feed you these skills. Although this is extremely time consuming, I feel like I’m actually learning.
Also the flexibility of this kind of learning can’t be compared to anything else. When I decided to go on a humanitarian trip with a medical aid organization for more than 3 weeks to volunteer with Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced persons, I was granted course extensions so that my studies don’t suffer. I can’t imagine being able to do that with a conventional model of attending university.”
However, like many AU students, there was a point that Oxana wavered about continuing her schooling. “I am actually at this stage right now. It is May 2022; the world is in an active political and economic turmoil and it is very hard to plan a few more years of full-time study. The sense of stability is slipping through my fingers, so I’m in the process of making some hard decisions. Unfortunately, being an immigrant puts you at disadvantage at the times of crisis since there is no family/roots support system.”
Oxana’s most memorable course has been CHEM 217: Chemical Principles I, because “They send you a crate with all the equipment, glassware, reagents, acids, and bases, and it was so cool! There were videos on how to perform the experiments. Very thought through, and I really learned a lot this way.”
As for communications with her course tutors? “It has been quite effective for me, in cases I had to actually approach the tutors. But I did not have to seek clarifications a whole lot throughout my first year,” she stated.
If she were the new president of AU, Oxana’s first project would be “to concentrate on updating the courses with new materials, especially the courses on IT and health sciences. A lot of times we use old text books while the new ones are available.”
When asked which famous person, past or present, she like to have lunch with, and why, Oxana chose Marie Curie. She mentioned that she “went to her museum in Paris and … just can’t comprehend how what we know about the radioactivity could have been discovered with the technology they had in the 1920s. The instruments in the museum look so primitive. It would be amazing to spend a lot of time with her just figuring out how her mind works.” And the lunch? “Just coffee and some French pastry right in her lab, can’t waste time dining out.”
Oxana’s most valuable lesson learned in life was taught “by a spider in [her] garden.” She explained, “When its web was ruined by outside forces (clumsy humans stomping around), it made a new one, even better. It did not get frustrated, mad, angry, depressed. It did not go get doughnuts, grande latte, bucket of ice-cream, beer and pizza because it was so unhappy. It just started making a new web. This is the resilience right there. The best lessons are taught by nature.” She continued, “That lesson came in handy when our house was severely damaged in [the] 2020 Peace River ice jam flood by 5 feet of muddy waters. I can’t say it was easy, but there is no point in giving up, life must go on. Every day can be used to come closer to our dreams.”
As for her proudest moment in life? “When my friend, a physician, told me that she was sick with pneumonia for the second time in a month, I told her to quit smoking.” Although her friend was a doctor, Oxana still reiterated the dangers of smoking, and “she actually did quit! That was mind-blowing. She hasn’t been smoking for 4 years now. That makes me very proud, I’m so blessed to be in health care and have knowledge and skills to help people.”
The one thing that distinguishes her from others is that she “used to speak Japanese pretty well, [and] even passed level 2 Nihon-go Noryoku Shiken at one point.” Although she does not really speak now, she “still remember[s] some.”
As a final note, Oxana stated, “I would like to wish everyone (and myself) best of luck with their academic journeys! I am very excited about what happens next in my life, despite all the uncertainty in the world.” Best of luck Oxana!