Dear girls of the world

Dear girls of the world: do not let your origin define your life

Dear girls of the world,

Do not let your origin define your life.

Especially now, when the world is going crazy trying to bring everything down to simple ‘where you are from’ question, applying the cliché stereotypes to determine your worth as a human being. It is our duty to break them.

“The best revenge is living well”, as my professor used to say.

We don’t choose where we are born, but we do choose how to live our lives.

I was born and raised in a post-Soviet Ukraine, a place that took a deep dive into inflation right after its split from the USSR. At that time, if you had something from abroad, like clothes or kitchen appliances, if was already cool, even though it could be coming from not so economically advanced neighbors like Bulgaria or Turkey. We would say it was ‘imported’ and, therefore, good. That lust for foreign things made it even harder to have a positive definition of life in Ukraine. The grass always seemed to be greener or the other side, any side.

I, honestly, never felt it when I was a kid. But when I started going to the middle school in the city, I felt the difference. In a country where everyone was more or less the equal amount of poor, there were not so many things to bring you down among the kids in your class. Unless you are not from the city. And that was my curse. I was feeling so ashamed every time someone asked me where I lived that it became my most hated question. I could not make my peace with the fact that I was from the village. This is where I felt like my origin failed me for the first time.

During my teenage years when I started having interests of my own (such as music and languages), I became insanely frustrated with the fact that I live in some unknown country where my favorite band will never come to perform until they become old, unpopular and desperate for cash. I was devastated – how lucky were those American kids who could attend any concert they wanted.

Everything cool and ‘happening’ seemed so far removed that there was no way I could even imagine going places and seeing things which I could only see on TV – like New York or Hollywood, or my favorite band, for that matter. My mindset was that it simply will never happen. And if I continued believing so, that would probably end up being the truth.

But that’s not how the story went. Somewhere along the way of my ordinary average Ukrainian life, I got it – some sort of self-worth. When I discovered my own personal identity and stopped caring less for what others thought about me, I allowed myself to dream big.

I was no longer that shy girl commuting to school from a nearby village who was extremely ashamed of where I came from. I ended up being the only girl from my class who got a scholarship to study abroad and I started seeing doors opening up in front of me.

Yes, it might be 25% origin, 5% luck, but the rest 70% is your own effort and dreams!

 

Once I started making some small steps to change the state of things, everything turned around.

And in societies like mine, getting a better education always seems to open more doors. This is not only because you get better work opportunities, but because you develop a healthy level of self-esteem, which used to be suppressed by the circumstances in your home country. And once you get that confidence in yourself, everything is back on the table.

Doing my masters abroad, I got to learn that I am not nearly as backwards comparing to westerns kids as I thought I was. I still remember that time when I was put in a workgroup with three older Swedish boys (they go to university at a later age in Sweden) to do a project. What could I, a 22-year-old Ukrainian girl without work experience, possibly contribute? No doubt, they must be smarter; they must know better. So most of the time I was silently taking in all the suggestions agreeing with everything group expressed. But once I was comfortable enough to open my mouth, I found out that I have given myself very little credit. They might be more mature, have better computers and slick hair, but I could write better English, was persistent in my studies and much more motivated to get a better grade. I was a spice in the mix that was adding something special – a different perspective. And quite to my surprise, my opinion and input were much appreciated.

The plus side to being a kid from a poor country studying abroad is that you always have more to lose, so you try twice as hard. You try hard to learn that foreign language, to integrate into a new society, to be a good citizen. And when you look back at that steep way you went through, it looks a hell of a lot more impressive simply because you started from the rock bottom.

Once you get to that point of seeing yourself as an individual first, rather than Ukrainian or Filipino or African, the individual that has the strength to cut through society’s stereotypes and go their own way, it will stop judging you, because judgment is bleak in the face of success.

P.S. After all the struggles in my life, I did manage to see my favorite band live and it was among the best concerts I have ever attended ☺

Lena

who is still traveling and seeing the world
[us_separator style=”dashed”]

If you have a chance, what will you say to girls all over the world?

This post is a part of the P.S. I’m On My Way’s Ambassadorship for Girl Rising – a global campaign for girls’ education and empowerment.

Girl Rising uses the power of storytelling to share the simple truth that educating girls can transform societies. Our mission is to change the way the world values the girl and ensure that girls’ education is part of the mainstream conversation.

[us_separator style=”dashed”][us_iconbox icon=”fa-pinterest” iconpos=”left” title=”SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT GIRL RISING!”]Hover the image on the left and pin to Pinterest![/us_iconbox]
[us_separator style=”dashed”][us_cta title=”Interested to write for this series?” btn_link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fpsimonmyway.com%2Fcontact|||” btn_label=”Contact Trisha”]E-mail [email protected] with subject “Dear Girls of the World Series.”[/us_cta][us_separator style=”dashed”]
[us_btn text=”Follow @psimonmyway” link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Finstagram.com%2Fpsimonmyway||target:%20_blank|rel:nofollow” style=”outlined” align=”center” icon=”fa-instagram”][us_separator style=”dashed”]

Lena is a part-time traveler and a full-time dreamer. Via her blog www.travel-monkey.com she aspires others to travel more while having a full-time job. A strong believer in dreams coming true and in healing powers of chocolate. Follow her on Instagram @travelmonkeycom.

Comments

  • Ravi
    May 2, 2017

    Being from Ukraine its easier to be assimilated in western world as IMHO there wouldn’t be a big cultural gap. Also freedom of movement, marriage (and other life decisions) and I assume somewhat safer neighborhoods are something you had.
    Lena, what would be your advice for lesser fortunate girls?

    reply
    • May 4, 2017

      Dear Ravi,
      Unfortunately, Ukrainians, though being in a European country, do not have freedom of movement. A lot of people think that Ukraine is a part of EU, but it isn’t, we still need to apply for visas every time we go to Europe.
      But this is besides the point. Society where I come from also likes to put boundaries of what is acceptable, that about being married and having kids in particular age, etc. What I found the most liberating is educating yourself and becoming an independent identity. Financial independence allows you to make your own decisions without bearing judgement of what you do. For me personally, school opened up a lot of doors, including studying abroad for free (my parents are not rich). Assimilating in the western world should not be an issue at all IF you want to do that, as I have a lot of colleagues from as far as India and they are doing great. But why is that your goal?

      reply
  • May 14, 2017

    Great post and love Ukraine (it a shame it is not free as other countries in that region like Latvia, Poland, Bulgaria etc). But people from there when they come to the west do work twice as hard and make a go of things. So glad you are still traveling the world. 🙂

    reply
    • Lena
      May 17, 2017

      Thanks, I love Ukraine too 🙂 Hope more people come to visit.

      reply
  • May 14, 2017

    I really love this – We don’t choose where we are born, but we do choose how to live our lives. Definitely education brings a lot of awareness but meeting new people, understanding their culture and traditions also makes you more exposed to this world. Most of all it is definitely your will power that can make any of your dreams come true! Travel does break all these shackles!

    reply
  • May 14, 2017

    A lovely post. I’m from the UK and I know we sometimes forget how lucky we are that travel is almost an intrinsic part of life here.

    reply
  • Victoria
    May 15, 2017

    YES YES YES! What a fantastic article and so true. Thanks 🙂

    reply
  • May 15, 2017

    It’s really great that you have found the strength to live your life on your own terms. Not limited by place of birth, but defined by your choices. An inspirational message of travel and growth!

    reply
  • May 15, 2017

    Absolutely wonderful post, and I think it’s equally applicable to boys as well. What we make of our lives is up to us and travel plays a huge role in it…

    Love that quote from your teacher too – “The best revenge is living well” 🙂

    p.s. On a different note, TV series from Ukraine are slowly becoming popular in India now 🙂

    reply
    • Lena
      May 17, 2017

      Yes, this quote stuck with me for the rest of my life.
      Which TV series?? I am so curious 😀

      reply
  • Jean
    May 15, 2017

    I have to ask – what band did you see and where? We have quite a few friends from ex-USSR and find them to be a lot more fun and adventuresome then our Australian friends.

    You are so right. It’s not about where you’re from but what you decide to do that defines you.

    reply
    • Lena
      May 17, 2017

      I was hoping to get that question, Jean:) It was Korn! I looooved them when I was a teen and had posters all over my bedroom.

      reply
  • Megan Jerrard
    May 16, 2017

    This is incredibly inspiring, thankyou for sharing your story and your evolution Lena – I agree I think a lot of the time success is rooted in confidence and self esteem, and for people who have those qualities, things like where you come from don’t matter. It’s sad that so much of the world feels that they are trivial because their country can’t compete on the world stage against large western nations. We need more people like you to speak their truth and break these barriers, because truly, everyone has the potential to succeed should they put their mind to it 🙂

    reply
    • Lena
      May 17, 2017

      Megan, I am so truly humbled by your words. Like most people, I thought I have no story to tell. This is very encouraging.

      reply
  • May 17, 2017

    Such an inspirational post! I love that sentiment that you should see yourself as an individual first and then your heritage second. It’s always important to remember where you came from, but it shouldn’t define us. And glad you were eventually able to see your favorite band live, Lena!

    reply
  • June 3, 2017

    Great post. I’m British and white but born in a poor area council estate and my parents never went to college. I have worked hard and managed to get a university education. Some people aren’t as lucky as me to have that opportunity, but luck is partly what you make it.

    reply
  • June 3, 2017

    Though I am not from Ukraine, I can relate to small societies thinking that anything imported is better and brings you “up” in class. This is how it was and unfortunately still is in South America. I agree, that in societies with this mentality, education is crucial

    reply
  • June 5, 2017

    Love this article…yes 70% (if not more) is up to one’s efforts, persistence and determination. Your teacher is right – the best revenge is living well!! Let’s do that consciously, everyday!

    reply
  • June 5, 2017

    Your story is exactly why education is so important. It opens eyes, hearts, and opportunities. Way to make it happen!

    reply
  • June 6, 2017

    Lena, your story is beautiful and inspiring. I love that you are breaking down stereotypes and encouraging others to do the same to make their dreams come true. You are an amazing woman!

    reply
  • stacey veikalas
    June 6, 2017

    Such a great article, my husband is Lithuanian so I totally get your point and where you are coming from. It was really interesting to hear his story and living under Soviet rule – and yes everyone asks where are you from ! We are so global and now true you should be defined by how you live!

    reply
  • June 7, 2017

    I definitely think the message behind this is true regardless of your gender. You meet so many people who give you the reasons why they can’t travel, but so many of these are far from insurmountable.

    I’m glad to read that you’ve been able to live your dreams despite having a less than ideal starting point. My Ukrainian co-workers can definitely relate, as their own travels have been stymied at times by their birthplace.

    reply
  • June 9, 2017

    It’s a lovely read and very inspiring. Education is the key to achieve what ever you want in life. Dream big and always believe in yourself.

    reply
  • June 9, 2017

    Stories like these always inspire me! Kudos for believing in yourself and making your dream come true. We can’t change our birth, but it’s we who can change and decide our destinies. More stories like yours should come out Lena! Keep going, girl!

    reply
  • June 26, 2017

    Awesome post and great perspective! Thanks for sharing xx

    reply

Post a Comment

Currently under construction but I’ll be back soon!

Follow me on