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By Marina Kozyryev on June 12, 2017

I am a first-generation college graduate. My parents and I emigrated from Belarus to Sacramento, California, in 2003. Coming to the United States and adjusting to a new culture was hard. I learned a new language, was exposed to different customs and dreamed about the possibilities for my career.

I faced two futures. I always wanted to be a teacher, but my parents wanted me to be a doctor. And so, initially, I pursued their dream. I worked hard, mastered English and did exceptionally well in high school to be eligible for UC Davis.

I remember sitting in a large science lecture hall on my first day of classes at UC Davis not knowing what I should do next in my life. I was stuck between deciding between those two futures. Should I pursue teaching or medicine?

Becoming a doctor to respect parents’ wishes

At first, I chose to become a doctor. I wanted to respect my parents’ wishes and saw medicine as a field in which I could make money. I studied exercise biology (a major no longer offered), taking a broad range of science classes to fulfill my graduation requirements. I enjoyed spending time learning and making new friends. Studying frantically throughout the night allowed me to pass exams and to achieve that seemingly unattainable 4.0 GPA.

But, I faced a problem deep inside me. I knew that I would graduate and my college experience would be over. I knew that I would need to get a job, which would be in a hospital. And while I like to help people, doing it in a hospital didn’t spark a passion inside me. It was not something I wanted to wake up to, and it was not what I wanted my purpose in life to be.

Taking a risk to be a role model and educator

I shifted my career path in my last year of college, going against the will of my family and loved ones. I understood that I was taking a risk, but I was doing this for me. I knew that I could contribute to the success of young people by serving as a role model and an educator.

I graduated from UC Davis in 2012, and subsequently began working as a teaching assistant while preparing to apply for a master’s program in teaching at Sacramento State University. I finished my degree in 2015 and began working as a sixth-grade teacher in the Twin Rivers Unified School District.

Students often lack parents at home and financial support

Initially it was hard. The children in my class did not grow up the way I did. I grew up with two parents who loved and cared for me financially. Many of the children in my class started fending for themselves at a young age, and some do not live with their parents.

There were days where I was crushed emotionally, but I knew that I was fulfilling my calling. I saw the injustice and depression that show on these children’s faces. They didn’t want toys but rather someone’s attention and love.

Her goal is to empower students

By working with children, I try to empower them. It is my goal to ignite in my students hope and aspirations for their lives.

When I see a child believing that college is an option, I know that I made the right career choice. I was an immigrant, and with the help of my family and school counselors, I went to college and graduated. They can have a similar future.

Reflecting on my career decision, I am strongly convinced that you need to feel a sense of accomplishment in what you do. To be successful, you must pursue your passion. For me this was teaching.

Biology major prepared her for teaching

Did my biology major help me in my career? The short answer is “yes.” The structure and rigor of a science major at UC Davis prepared me to be ready for my master’s studies in teaching. And because our Twin Rivers district curriculum has more emphasis on the hard sciences, I am able to take science content that I am familiar with and simplify it for my students.

Just last week, we were studying the human body, and I taught about skeletal motor functions in an interactive outdoor jumping and running activity. The children loved it!

I hope my story will inspire you to pursue your passion. I challenge you to choose a career in which you can empower others, leaving a positive impact on their lives. Every little bit counts, especially in a child’s life. 

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