by Guest Blogger Amanda Zirk
Ten years ago, Svetlana Pavlenko and her husband were invited by the Canadian Government to bring their skills, knowledge, and expertise to Alberta. This was the opportunity of a lifetime, so they left their friends, family, and jobs behind in Siberia to move to Canada.
When Svetlana arrived in Edmonton, she felt lost and isolated. However, after finding people who encouraged her to move forward, she became excited and motivated.
“Back home, I had earned my PhD at 25 years old and worked as an Associate Professor in Philosophy and English,” describes Svetlana. “Even though I have not been able to continue my academic career in Canada yet, I found a different outlet for my skills, energy, and desire to serve others.”
While working as a Project Manager at the Jewish Family Services in Edmonton, Svetlana’s first major accomplishment of her challenging adaption to Canadian society was working on the project Transforming Acculturative Stress into Success. This project was designed to help skilled immigrant women in their search to self-actualization in Canada. “The project became especially dear to me because it was created based on my own immigration experience,” explains Svetlana. “Its activities included not only information support but also support group experience, artistic expression, soft skills development, heartfelt communication, and much more.”
The project also had a huge impact on other women who had recently moved to Canada. “Two years after the project ended, I was at an event and was approached by a participant who told me that only because of the program, she had made the decision to make Canada her home. This brought tears to my eyes. It was the best recognition I could have received!” smiles Svetlana.
In her current role as Executive Director of the Jewish Senior Citizens Centre, Svetlana has utilized her academic background and has created a supportive community.
“I believe that we have changed the perception of older adults amongst youth (and vice versa) through the intergenerational projects we are implementing at the Centre,” states Svetlana.
Svetlana and her team, volunteers, sponsors, and members host informative events, plan group outings, and create cookbooks in an effort to build community and support. “My centre connects people: we hug together, we cry together, we laugh together – we are here for each other, thus, this is the community,” says Svetlana. Networking and connecting with others transformed Svetlana’s neighbors and members of the Centre from strangers into close friends.
“To all people who are searching for their new life in Canada,” adds Svetlana. “Be a Decision Maker – you are the only person who can change your life!”