When I was studying at the National University of Shipbuilding back in Ukraine I had a couple of friends who had studied in the United States on an exchange program. They loved the country and were very pleased with the level of education there. They always shared their memories about beautiful campuses and nice, smiling people. So when I graduated with a Master’s degree in Information Technology, I decided to apply to one of the PhD programs in the US. I sent 25 applications to different schools across the country. The College of William & Mary was one of seven schools which sent me a letter of acceptance. At that time, all I knew about the College was that it had a small but very productive Computer Science department as well as a very old and beautiful campus. I was offered a decent Graduate Assistantship and I decided to go. I enrolled in the College of William & Mary in 2008.
I was as excited as I was scared to come to a foreign country where people speak a different kind of English than I was taught at home. It would be needless to say that I experienced culture shock. Everything was different. It didn’t matter that I had researched US nature, culture, people, and learned the language, living in a foreign country is something you cannot know until you experience it. When you come to the campus you realize that it’s not only you (Ukrainian) and Americans, but also all possible nationalities from the rest of the world. Everybody has his/her culture and language (often with strong accents!) and you just have to understand them. It was really helpful to have friends at the Reves Center with whom I could go on unforgettable trips to Virginia Beach, to Washington DC, to Charlottesville to see the home of Thomas Jefferson, to go skiing and skating, to enjoy the sunsets and sunrises of Outer Banks, NC and more. It made me feel that I was never alone.
During one of those trips I met a girl who was studying at the School of Education in the Counseling program. Because I was always interested in Psychology and Counseling, I was very excited to learn that you do not need to have an undergrad degree in Psychology to complete your Master’s in Counseling. After some consideration, I decided to change my major and help my dream of counseling come true. I very much thank my professors Dr. McAdams and Dr. Foster who trusted me and gave me an opportunity to develop my natural capabilities and become a counselor.
In my second year of the graduate program at the School of Education I began to work as a GA at the School Leadership Institute. The Institute develops programs for building school leaders on critical educational leadership and instructional issues. I loved the work I did and people I worked with. When Dr. DiPaola and Dr. Rozzelle offered me the chance to continue to work with them as a full-time member of staff I was very pleased.
I think the most unique thing about W&M is its people. They are always smiling, they have ears that are ready to listen and hearts that ready to help. They make you feel like you are at home, even when you are at school on the other side of the world. The experiences of being at W&M and in the US changed my life, and me as a person, forever. I have become a confident, well-educated woman who knows what she wants from life and how to make it happen. I now move confidently in the direction of my next goal: a doctorate degree in Higher Education Administration.
Natalya Kostenko is originally from Ukraine. She enrolled in William & Mary in 2008 pursuing a PhD in Information Technology, but in 2009 was overjoyed to learn she could switch tracks to obtain a Master’s in Counseling with the School of Education. In making this switch Natalya was able to make a life-long career dream come true.