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 ☺
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.