Oksana Hirchak, a University of Iowa (UI) undergraduate student in psychology from Ukraine, was recently awarded a Global Democracy Ambassador Scholarship, sponsored by the Institute of International Education, to help Ukrainian students continue their studies, educate global peers on the fragility and importance of democracy, and inspire the world to stay engaged.
Awardees will be hosting events on their campuses, serving as ambassadors for democracy. Hirchak co-organized the upcoming “War and Resistance: How Poetry can Promote Peace and Democracy” event on Tuesday, March 21, from 5 – 6:30 p.m. in Phillips Hall 120. This multilingual poetry reading, which is being held on World Poetry Day, will take place amidst an exhibition of photos taken by Fulbright photographers who, like poets, captured the tragic and heroic, devastating and hopeful moments of present life in Ukraine.
Learn more about Hirchak through the Q&A piece below.
What prompted you to pursue your undergraduate studies at the UI?
The UI is known as an alma mater for Leon Festinger and Albert Bandura, whose contributions to the field of psychology I greatly appreciate. I became interested in digging deeper into the school they attended as graduate students. Later, I learned about the research conducted in the Department of the Psychological and Brain Sciences and other opportunities available for psychology students at the UI. That’s how I ended up as an undergraduate student in psychology here.
How do you get involved on campus and in the community?
I am involved in a lot of different activities that might not seem to be related to my major nor to each other. I am a student employee at Information Technology Services (ITS), a Ukrainian language tutor at the Center of Language and Culture Learning (CLCL), a teaching assistant for the Learning about Learning course in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, as well as a research assistant at the department’s Judgment, Decision, & Social Comparison Lab and Thrive Lab. I created the Ukrainian Conversation Hour, a language and culture club, that is open to UI students as well as to the general public.
How is your experience as an international student on campus?
Even though there are still many things to learn about American culture, I do not feel like I am a foreigner in the United States. I sometimes have to remind myself that I am actually an international student at the UI. It has been great to be a part of the university community, especially given the resources and support available to me. One example of such support I would like to mention are the emails I received from people when the war started. “Just let us know if you need anything” and “We are here if you want to talk,” reassured me that I am important and valued as a student. Not only were those emails from International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) and my professors, but they were also from my lab members and classmates, and people I didn’t even know well. If I had to pick one word to describe my experience as an international student, that would be GRATITUDE - gratitude for where I am and who I am with.
What is your reflection on winning the Global Democracy Ambassador Scholarship?
When I received an email from the Institute of International Education, I could not believe I made it. I was one of the 10 Ukrainian scholarship recipients who study in the U.S. At the same time, this is also a sign that I am doing something that matters. I am thankful to the organizers for believing in me and my potential. Not only did the Global Democracy Ambassador Scholarship give me a chance to meet other Ukrainian students, but I also met the co-chairs of the scholarship and pro-democracy activists around the world. Along with being a scholarship recipient, I am a democracy ambassador meaning that I have democracy as one of my values and want to act upon it. Acting upon a value is different for everyone. In my case, one of the examples would be organizing campus events where I could talk about Ukraine. I also want to invite other students and let them share their experiences and thoughts on why democracy is important.
What advice would you give to other international students on campus and prospective international students considering the UI?
I would advise to not be afraid to share ideas and opinions with others. The UI is open to hearing and supporting students. In my personal experience starting the Ukrainian Conversation Hour at the CLCL, I decided to talk to Claire Frances, director of the CLCL, about teaching Ukrainian in March 2022. After I offered my idea, she immediately said, “Yes!” That was how one more language was added to the list of languages taught at CLCL. Yet, there are a lot of organizations and initiatives students can join. All one needs to do is to find the student organization list on the UI website and ask them for more information or how to join. Asking ISSS is also a great idea. Helping students is their goal.
International Programs (IP) at the University of Iowa (UI) is committed to enriching the global experience of UI students, faculty, staff, and the general public by leading efforts to promote internationally oriented teaching, research, creative work, and community engagement. IP provides support for international students and scholars, administers scholarships and assistance for students who study, intern, or do research abroad, and provides funding opportunities and grant-writing assistance for faculty engaged in international research. IP shares their stories through various media, and by hosting multiple public engagement activities each year.