By Raymond P. Diamond

Living and Learning, a seminar held at the University of Southern Maine (USM) on April 16, featured three internationally-trained professionals speaking about the struggles and successes they have experienced while at USM. Marina Chakmakchi, USM’s Global Talent Navigator, introduced the event, which was moderated by Nadine Bravo, a USM graduate and its 2023 commencement speaker, who will soon earn a graduate degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. 

Panelist Anna Garanenko, currently a student of psychology at USM, said, “The biggest thing you can do for yourself is to get an education. This is how you break the [glass] ceiling.” Her journey as an adult student has not been easy; her earlier education was in Russia, and her previous degree was earned thirty years ago. When she got to Maine in 2019 she had trouble getting her credentials recognized, and the pandemic pushed her to continue her education. 

Joelle Mikobi shared her experience as an internationally trained professional with a degree in social studies but with limited English when she arrived in the U.S. Working on her English while navigating the educational system was problematic for her. She feels that the linguistic struggle, as well as cultural differences, prevented her from performing to the best of her abilities at first. “Every class [you take] is an English class!” she said. 

Afghan-born Marzia Saidi arrived in Maine in 2022, after the Taliban took over the Afghan government. She talked about her troubles getting her educational transcripts from her home country, a difficulty all the panelists shared. The Taliban categorically refused to send Saidi’s diploma from home.  

Now majoring in Computer Science, Saidi emphasized the resources available through USM. She encouraged people to connect with the admissions office, teaching assistants, and the University’s Peer Career Guide Program, which supports students develop and achieve their career and employment goals.   

The event concluded with a collage workshop, facilitated by Sofia Aldinio, during which attendees made collages representing their educational experiences. The activity encouraged audience members to reflect upon their journeys in the context of the first-hand stories and experiences presented during the panel. Many of those present expressed enthusiasm at the opportunity to form a tangible representation of their lifelong educational journeys.