What Fulbright taught me?

The Lights that Never Fade. The Times Square

The Lights that Never Fade. The Times Square

Waking up from unusual sirens with a view of always illuminated Wall Street was my first wow of the Fulbright program. Three weeks of the pre-academic orientation in New York City flew by in a same tempo as the yellow taxis crisscrossing the avenues. From early morning until afternoon our group of around fifty people, from four corners of the world, had classes, training and community engagements. Evenings were left for the city’s exploration. What a life, the Fulbrighter life!

Arriving in Albany, upstate New York, for studies felt like a cold shower after the Big Apple experience. I liked the College of Saint Rose where I was to pursue my MA in Communications, but honestly I had some early doubts about being there for two years. Now I am in the fourth and final semester of my studies and I look back realizing that it has been one of the most fascinating two years of my life. Fulbright is not only about studies, it provides so many opportunities if you are ready to take the initiative.

I know a lot of Fulbrigters go to small student towns like I have, and if you end up being one of them – I hope you will find this blog useful. While you may be hoping for a placement in a renowned university in a big city, small city has a lot to offer too.

The College of Saint Rose gives hands on experience in radio and video labs. Interviewing Lisa Klein on her role in the renown "Vagina Monologues"

The College of Saint Rose gives hands on experience in radio and video labs. Interviewing Lisa Klein on her role in the renown “Vagina Monologues”

First, make yourself known on campus; meet your academic advisor as soon as you arrive. Follow this up with your faculty members, share your academic interests and remember that coming from a different part of the world allows you to offer a unique view. American Universities love Fulbrighters and if they accepted you, it means they are really interested to have you involved in the college life. Get involved in extra-curricula activities, check out clubs of interest on campus. Find your university international student association, it’s a great platform for representing your country and culture. When I arrived though, my college didn’t have one, but guess what I learned from Fulbright program? To take initiative in my own hands. Last month we had our first general meeting of the International Student Organization.

Discovering Adirondacks in upstate New York

Discovering Adirondacks  with then President of Eastern New York Chapter of Fulbright Association, Lynne Ogren, in upstate New York

Secondly, ask your Fulbright US advisor for the contacts of the local Fulbright alumni association. While you are still settling down and beyond, people who have been in the same shoes are your best supporters. I am incredibly grateful to the Eastern New York Chapter of Fulbright Association for their help, support and care during my stay in Albany. We celebrated American and internationals holidays together, travelled, climbed mountains and always had a lot of fun! It’s amazing to meet people who did their Fulbright ten, thirty and even fifty years ago! The most important thing is feeling a strong connection with them. Fulbright is not simply a program, it’s a big family.

Thirdly, engage with your local community by volunteering. Americans have a wonderful ‘give back’ philosophy. A short Google search reveals a wealth of local organizations from community gardens to street charity fairs. Community involvement depends on your interest and is probably influenced by your major. Studying Communications at Saint Rose is a very hands-on experience. During my public relations and journalism classes, I’ve got to meet with a lot of community figures from a mayor to neighborhood leaders. There is a great deal I learned from them and I look forward to bringing this experience to Ukraine.

Fourthly, definitely look for an internship in your field. Fulbright provides you with an opening to prove and develop yourself in a thriving environment of professionals from your field. I am interested in humanitarian issues, so I did my with the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). During my internship I improved my understanding of the US asylum system, refugees’ local integration and peculiarities of Communications specialists working for non-for-profits. My experience with USCRI professional staff members and interns provided me with knowledge I could not get from a book.

Debates during the Model UN on Crisis in Ukraine, caused by Russian aggression. By Kelly Pfeister

Debates during the Model UN on crisis in Ukraine, caused by Russian aggression. By Kelly Pfeister

Last but not least, think big! Monitor and attend conferences and events of your interest in other universities across the US. The fact that you are Fulbrighter raises your chances to be accepted. If you are in New York area, get in touch with the One to World organization. Last spring I went to the conference with them in Washington D.C. and it was definitely one of the most memorable events. Don’t forget to apply to Fulbright enrichment seminar during your first year. I was fortunate to go to St Louis, where I’ve got connected with more wonderful grantees.

Despite the fact that my MA program is coming to an end, I know that there are a lot of wows ahead, because Fulbright is a life-long experience. As a Fulbright alumnus, I am going to take an active part in welcoming Fulbrighters in Ukraine, and will do my best to make their experience as great as mine!

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Inconvenient Truth: Ukrainians are Left Alone in their Struggle against Ruthless President

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” John F.Kennedy

A man in a wheelchair is digging out pavement stones, used  by protesters for defense against  riot police deadly attacks. @Mustafa Nayyem

A man in a wheelchair is digging out pavement stones, used by protesters for defense against riot police deadly attacks. @Mustafa Nayyem

I woke up to another nightmare: more than 80 killed and over a thousand wounded in my home country Ukraine in Eastern Europe. I have found it unbearable to continue my daily routine here in Albany, when on the capital’s streets in Kyiv, where I used to live, riot police attacking peaceful demonstrators with live ammunition, when the roofs of the historic buildings occupied with snipers, when armored vehicles driving into the people, when former criminals paid by the government to loot, beat and kill pedestrians! All this is happening in the 21st century in the center of Europe! Ukraine hasn’t seen such violence since World War II.

The protests broke out on November 21st when Ukraine’s president halted signature of the long-planned Association Agreement with the European Union after the threat of trade sanctions from Russia. This treaty was supposed to bring Ukraine closer on its path to European integration.

Since Viktor Yanukovych became a president in 2010, Ukrainians have witnessed exacerbation of economic decline, rampant corruption in all spheres, police lawlessness, and deterioration of media freedoms and human rights. More than 24 percent of population live below the poverty line according to the United Nations Development Program.

Ukrainians looked to the EU in  hope for improvement in their living standards and basic rights: better investment climate, better healthcare, better education, better qualities of services and better environment. As the news of the president’s dramatic U-turn, crowds poured into Independence Square in central Kyiv to tell the president that he was wrong about kowtowing to Russia and changing the country’s foreign policy vector. The Square became known as Euromaidan, because Ukrainians stood up for European values of rule of law and freedom.

However, Yanukovych was not listening. He turned deaf and blind to the genuine concerns of his fellow citizens. Then in the early morning hours of November 30 he answered. Not with offer for talks and dialog, but by sending the riot police with excessively brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in early morning hours as they slept.

Hitherto unseen shocking violence led to massive peaceful protests across the country, demanding the president to resign. Protesters flocked to Euromaidan despite negative temperatures. They created self-defense units, organized canteen, first aid help centers and even a library and open-air university lectures! The atmosphere despite the brutality remained positive.

The riot police periodically attempted to clear the square from protesters. In weeks of protests Yanukovych made no move to meet the demonstrators. In fact, he further aggravated the situation by agreeing a Russian bailout worth 15 billion USD. And then on January 16 the cynicism of the pro-presidential Party of Regions reached its apogee when it passed draconian laws, which threw the country back in times of Stalin’s repressions.

This week after a period of relative calm, the start of the winter Olympics (usually a time when countries agree on Olympic truce), after Yanukovych met with Putin in Sochi for the six time in two months, the order was given to undertake an “anti-terrorist” nationwide operation, using deadly force against demonstrators on 18 February.

The images flooding our newspapers, TV and social media tell their own stories. Fundamental principle of journalism is to report the truth and world media attempted to by giving voice to the protesters, opposition leaders and the government. The statements of the latter proved to be nothing, but total disinformation a-la-Cold War-Putin style propaganda. The truth is simple: Ukrainian people from all over the country came on the streets in November to stand for their rights, for better life, for their freedom.

EU reaction "Can you be quitter? We can't sleep" Credit: Frédéric DuBus, Le Soir Magazine

EU reaction “Can you be quitter? We can’t sleep” Credit: Frédéric DuBus, Le Soir Magazine

As it always happens, the truth is not convenient for many players. It is not for the corrupt president Victor Yanukovych, whose son Oleksandr being a dentist turned into a billionaire over the course a year. It is not for the oligarchs (wealthy tycoons the backbone of the regime) with their property and business in the EU countries. It’s neither convenient for the European leaders who are uncomfortable about a thought of the explanation to their tax payers that their money is about to be spend on democratic and economic reforms in Ukraine’s. It’s not convenient for the president Obama, whose foreign policy has been complete failure in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s even not convenient for the UN Secretary-Genral Ban-Ki-Moon, who was one of a few international leaders at the Olympics opening ceremony, probably trying to talk Putin into any kind of solution for the protracted horrible war in Syria.

Ukraine is a member of numerous international organizations and human rights conventions, but all of them failed to prevent bloodshed in the country. Since November Ukrainians all over the world were pledging international community to impose targeted sanctions on Yanukovych and his supporters. But all they heard back was endless “deep concerns” and “worrying statements.” If world leaders addressed the issue before it escalated, we wouldn’t count dead bodies of the blossom of the nation now.

The history tends to repeat itself. Ukrainians were refused their right for state after WWI the League of Nations. Ukraine had to bear the yoke of horror and repression of the Soviet Union for 70 years. It relatively easy gained its independence in 1991, but now it is again on a brink of crumbling under the pressure from Kremlin.

Yanukovych must step down to stop bloodshed in Ukraine, a technical government shall be created before the early presidential and technical elections, UN and its financial agencies has to offer a comprehensive plan for Ukraine’s troubled economy.

It is already too late for returning the lost lives. The world community has its last chance to prove its reliability – to hold Yanukovych, the Party of Regions and his government accountable for the crimes against humanity at the Hague Tribunal. These are my thoughts as I go to bed tonight with another hope for a better tomorrow in Ukraine.

Although a deal has been reached since the article was drafter, I still worry about my home country. The early presidential election has been scheduled for the fall, Yanukovych remains in power until then. “You either sign this agreement,” said Polish Foreign Minister Radislaw Sikorski, “or you will have marshal law, military troops and will be all dead.”

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From Different Cultures to be of the Same Feather

ILEP students engaged into live discussions

ILEP students engaged into live discussions

Starting a college life is challenging already, but it’s doubly challenging for students who are attending school abroad. Everything is new to them, from language and weather, to housing and opening bank accounts.

So in order to make the transition simpler, a group of international students decided to start an organization that was created specifically for students studying aboard.
“My sense of otherness made me ask myself what I can do with other international students to feel as at home, while away from home,” said Michaelle Mugisha, an MBA graduate student from Burundi.

Bearing this in mind, Mugisha found support among other students and faculty staff to start the St. Rose International Student Organization, which aims to help international students to succeed in both their academic and social lives during their studies. Mugisha is currently serving as president of the organization.

Compelling ideas, vibrant discussions, and lots of excitement were in the room on Wednesday. This was the atmosphere of the first general meeting of the ISO.
Most of the participants met each other for the first time, and they came to United States from over 30 countries with different cultural backgrounds. They have diverse interests and majors, but the Saint Rose experience is what unites them all. Currently, there are 120 international students at the College.

“In my home university in Riyad, everything was different—students’ attitude to studies, campus life and everyday life,” said Rayan Alshaia, an MBA undergraduate student from Saudi Arabia.

He came to the US in August 2013 as a transfer student and a fellow of the Saudi Arabian Cultural Commission.

“At home, students don’t really care about homework and classes,” Alshaia said. “It’s all messed up—cheating is widespread. I don’t like cheating. I believe in knowledge more than anything. That is why I like it here a lot.” He also wants to capitalize on his Saint Rose experience by participating in the ISO events.

Albany’s freezing temperatures became a real challenge for Maria Concepcion Iglesias, fellow of the International Leadership in Education Program from the Philippines.
“Where I come from, it’s warm and warmer. Here is so cold that you just to have bundle and bundle,” said Iglesias.

Back at home, Iglesias has been teaching English as a second language at the Narvacan National Central High School in Paratong for almost 10 years. She came out one of six out of over 100 applicants, selected through a series of highly competitive interviews to receive a grant from the U.S. International Research and Exchange Board.

Iglesias hopes to enhance her professional skills as a teacher and also looks forward to being an active member of the highly diversified ISO and larger Saint Rose community. “I am very glad I learned about this organization at the beginning of my program,” she said.
Gariba B. Abdul-Korah, associate professor of history and ISO faculty adviser, has spent a great part of his academic life as an international student in different countries, including Norway, Canada, and the United States. When his international students shared their concerns and stories, he encouraged them to think about establishing an international student body.

“My advice to the ISO members is to take the initiative seriously. It doesn’t only bring them together, but also serves as their mouthpiece in raising their grievances and concerns with the authorities,” said Gariba. He also emphasized on taking the academic seriously to avoid running into visa problems.

In addition to helping international students integrate into campus life, the ISO is committed to raising cultural awareness on campus and looks forward to cooperating with other clubs in a number of planned events such as language trivia, United Nation Model conference, and international dinner night.

“A trivia during the International Language Week has appealed to me the most from the agenda. I like languages. I want to take part in it,” said Weber Kaizer de Freitas, ILEP fellow from Brazil. He sees such events as a great opportunity for knowledge advancement.”

While current foreign students pave the way for themselves on and around campus, Saint Rose plans to continue their recruitment campaign abroad.

“This spring I’ll be traveling to India and to several Persian Gulf countries, as well as to Canada,” said Colleen Flynn Thapalia, director of the International Recruitment and Admission Office.

Last year she visited several Latin American countries and took part in some online college fairs, which brought Saint Rose to the attention of students from all over the world, including African countries.

Thapalia elaborated that the College has been recruiting international students for many years, but it recently stepped up its efforts as part of an overall globalized approach, which includes sending U.S. students abroad as well.

“Everyone needs the skills to work and live effectively and comfortably across differences of language, culture, religion, etc.,” Thapalia said.

Thapalia, along with Andrea Haynes, director of the Office of Global and Field Studies, have been ardent advocates of the ISO establishment on campus. They helped with guiding the initiators of the group through a process of founding a new club on campus, while giving them confidence about ISO leadership.

“Michaelle Mugisha is a wonderful representative of the international student population. She started as an MBA ‘bridge’ student taking some undergraduate classes, before she undertook graduate-level classes studies,” Thapalia said. “So, she has a personal perspective on the needs of all students. In addition, she earned her undergraduate degree in India. Michaelle is a truly globally competent individual and sets a high standard in her academic work.”

The ISO first general meeting was a success, with a lot of events planned for the spring semester. The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 7. For more information, visit the ISO’s group on Facebook: St Rose International Student Organization.

“Culture is an important part of our lives and is the way we view the world; that is why ISO is a place where Saint Rose community can experience different views of world and enjoy different cultures,” said Mugisha. “Join us, appreciate the world’s beauty that lies in its diversity right here on campus.”


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Clashes in Ukraine felt in the Capital Region

This my interview to Channel News10 ABC 

By Meagan Farley:

Channel 10 ABC was among the first to cover Ukrainian protests

Channel News10 ABC was among the first to cover Ukrainian protests

ALBANY, N.Y. – The clashes in Ukraine are escalating, and a St. Rose student has a close connection to the people who are fighting.

Reports now show up to five people have died in the clashes that are taking place in Kiev.

Demonstrators are protesting against the nation’s president Viktor Yaanukovych.

Russia reportedly lured the country’s leaders with financial incentives in November to pull away from cooperation with the European Union.

Olena Sadovnik is from the Ukraine and currently studying at the College of St. Rose.

She said it feels like she is living two different lives.

“One is living here at college and the other is at home where I’m glued to my television screen,” she said.

Most of Sadovnik’s friends are living the nightmare that is unfolding in Ukraine as demonstrators pour into the nation’s capital to protest the government and call for the resignation of Yanukovych.

“They are students like me,” she said.  “Some are in school and some work.  They are not extremists or radicals.”

The Ukranian Parliament recently enacted strict laws. Many believe the laws are a way to silence the protestors.

“According to those laws, we basically turned into a totalitarian state,” Sadovnik said. “My Ukranian friends say I might not hear from them soon because the government might begin restricting internet usage.”

Meanwhile, Sadovnik is doing everything she can to spread the word about the violence in Ukraine in the Capital Region.  She organized a rally in Albany and traveled to New York City for a demonstration there.

As for her friends living through the clashes in Ukraine, she said, “They are very spiritual and they just feel like history is taking place right now.”

Video version is here

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#EuroMaidan in Albany, NY

#Euromaidan in Albany

No To Violence in Ukraine!

Mr Karpishka briefs Channel 13 about the peaceful protests in Ukraine  Credit: Olena Sadovnik
Mr Karpishka briefs Channel 13 about the peaceful protests in Ukraine
Credit: Olena Sadovnik

Ukrainians and friends of Ukraine in Albany, NY, gathered in front of the Capital Building today to show their solidarity with people in Ukraine and their opposition to the government violence. Support#Euromaidan!

Ukrainians are outraged at the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters by police in Kyiv, Ukraine early Saturday morning.

Photos from the rally No to Violence in Ukraine:

The US State Department issued a statement officially condemning the Ukrainian government actions: “The United States condemns the violence by government authorities against peaceful demonstrators in Kyiv today. We urge Ukraine’s leaders to respect their people’s right to freedom of expression and assembly.” [November 30, 2013]

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#Euromaidan in Albany

No To Violence in Ukraine!

Mr Karpishka briefs Channel 13 about the peaceful protests in Ukraine  Credit: Olena Sadovnik

Mr Karpishka briefs Channel 13 about the peaceful protests in Ukraine
Credit: Olena Sadovnik

Ukrainians and friends of Ukraine in Albany, NY, gathered in front of the Capital Building today to show their solidarity with people in Ukraine and their opposition to the government violence. Support#Euromaidan!

Ukrainians are outraged at the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters by police in Kyiv, Ukraine early Saturday morning.

Photos from the rally No to Violence in Ukraine:

The US State Department issued a statement officially condemning the Ukrainian government actions: “The United States condemns the violence by government authorities against peaceful demonstrators in Kyiv today. We urge Ukraine’s leaders to respect their people’s right to freedom of expression and assembly.” [November 30, 2013]

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Holodomor remembered in Albany

"They were hungry," Katrusia, 4, at the Commemoration Ceremony Credit: Olena Sadovnik

“They were hungry,” Katrusia, 4, at the Commemoration Ceremony Credit: Olena Sadovnik

The early November sunshine shone brightly on the Empire State Plaza. A stage with flowers, wheat sheaf and a steel cross, symbolizing the suffering and strength of Ukrainian people, towered above the gathered community. Ukrainian Americans from the Capital Region and guests came together Saturday to commemorate the millions of victims who died during the Ukrainian Famine Genocide or Holodomor,  in Ukrainian, in 1932-33.  Attention to this genocide has grown since Ukrainian independence in 1991.

Holodomor survivor Anna Kulbida, now lives in Niskayuna,  was only 8 when the famine, allegedly deliberately induced by Stalin, hit the eastern part of Ukraine in 1932.

“I remember myself slowly walking to school. There had been a horse dray with eight corpses riding in front of me, I didn’t want to get any closer to them, not to see them.. so I slowed down,” said Kulbida.

Anna Kulbida, Holodomor survivor at the requiem ceremony. White roses - paying tribute to those who perished. Credit: Olena Sadovnik

Anna Kulbida, Holodomor survivor at the requiem ceremony. White roses – paying tribute to those who perished. Credit: Olena Sadovnik

As the famine struck hard, mass graves became increasingly common. People had nothing to eat, all food had been taken away by the armed squads of communist party. Kulbida said that it was very difficult to find any food. Her father was one of the lucky ones, who was able to leave their village before the restriction of freedom of movement came into force in November 1932. It was designed to prevent villages from going into cities to seek food. Kulbida’s father left to the country of Georgia to find a job and support their family. From there he sent hard-earned money to his friend in Vladivostok, a town close to Russia’s border with China, who sent it to Ukraine. Kulbida remembered that they had to go to the neighboring village to pick up the money, to make sure that nobody would steal it.

“By the spring of 1933 I saw neither dogs nor cats in our village, they were all eaten by our people that winter, but not just their pets but their children, even the dead were dug up from the cemeteries and eaten,” said Michel Korhun, a Holodomor survivor.

Stefa Karpishka (right) ties a ribbon of sorrow to a young community member. Credit: Olena Sadovnik

Stefa Karpishka (right) ties a ribbon of sorrow to a young community member. Credit: Olena Sadovnik

To commemorate sacrifice of people who died during Holodomor, the organizer, Capital District Holodomor-Ukrainian Genocide Commemoration Committee, distributed black ribbons of sorrow during the event.

“We need people to learn about this untold tragedy,” said Andrij Baran, chairman of the NYC Capital District Holodomor-Ukrainian Genocide Commemoration Committee, opening the commemoration.

Former Head of the global Ukrainian World Congress, Askold Lozynskyj, spoke about the overwhelming evidences, which prove the engineered actions of the Communist Party in Ukraine in 1932-1933 as the genocide. Speeches and proclamations by NYC senators and assembly members followed. The Ambassador of Ukraine to the U.S., Oleksander Motsyk, send greetings to the Capital District from Washington D.C.

Ukrainians usually light a candle in their windows on the fourth Saturday of November as a sign of remembrance. Today Ukrainian Andriy Shevelyov who came to Pine Hills this summer with his family joined Ukrainian Americans community at this heart-wrenching event. Shevelyov’s grandmother Olena survived Holodomor when she was 10- years-old.

“I don’t like to initiate conversation with her about Holodomor. She always cries talking about it. There are things she is much more eager to talk about,” Shevelyov said. “I know that her body was swollen by hunger, but she survived.”

Today Shevelyov-Kulchynka’s family were faced by a challenge how to explain to their 4-years-old daughter Katrusia about Holodomor. After the ceremony Katrusia said that children didn’t eat, “they were hungry,” she pointed at the picture on the leaflet.

“Unfortunately very view people know about this tragedy that happened. Some may know it was a famine, and only view know that it’s real genocide and intentional murdering of the whole class of people,” said Baran. His parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1949. Growing in Manhattan, Holodomor was a frequent topic of conversation in Baran’s family.

“It was one of the reasons why I am in America and not in Europe,” he added.

Ukrainian Americans from Capital Region came together to ensure millions starved to death are not forgotten. Credit: Olena Sadovnik

Ukrainian Americans from Capital Region came together to ensure millions starved to death are not forgotten. Credit: Olena Sadovnik

The topic of Holodomor is politically charged and surrounded by historical and political debates. But It was not until the 1980s when Glasnost opened up the Soviet Union and the world learned about the forced collectivization and unspeakable atrocities of Stalin’s regime. The number of victims varies from three to 10 millions, depending on the calculation. The Soviet Union always denied the fact of Holodomor. In 2006 Ukrainian Parliament recognized Holodomor as genocide. Since then, the Parliament, supported by many Ukrainians and Ukrainian diaspora has actively sought international recognition of this crime as genocide. In 2003 U.S. Congress House of Representatives adopted a resolution on the Holodomor of 1932-1933 in Ukraine, which accepted it to be an act of terror and genocide against the Ukrainian people.  As of now, 24 countries have officially recognized Holodomor as genocide against Ukrainians.

The commemoration was followed by the requiem service in the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. At the end of the service the day turned dark, cold and grey, which seemed to reflect on the mood of this terrible tragedy.

“We will do our best that education about Holodomor becomes a mandatory part of the New York state education curriculum,” said Baran. “And by that we’ll do our duty to those who have died.”

A moment of silence. Holodomor commemoration in Albany.

A moment of silence. Holodomor commemoration in Albany. Credit: Olena Sadovnik

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Hands-on Pastor Building Community Spirit

Pastor Allie preaches on Sunday at First Lutheran

Pastor Allie preaches on Sunday at First Lutheran/Olena Sadovnik

 A marine biology student, Allie Leitzel, had been planning to continue her graduate studies in biochemistry of nutrition. But that had never happened as Leitzel’s engagement into campus spiritual life and her childhood experience of growing in a Lutheran church redirected her. Now an established pastor, Leitzel finds herself watching over a church in a neighborhood known for its high student population.

By the time our orders at the Green Leaf Cafe were ready, it seemed like everybody in the Cafe had personally greeted Allie Leitzel, a new pastor from the nearby First Lutheran Church at 181 Western Ave., Albany, NY. Watching her lively interaction with the staff made me curious, how does she know them? It turned out that despite being recent in the area, shortly after Leitzel arrived, she made a point to see nearby entrepreneurs. “I think it is very important to support local businesses. For example, at this place we usually order something for our community dinners,” Leitzel elaborated. She sees reaching out to the community as the Church’s priority.

The fact that Pastor remembered my name, made me feel very important”


Jessica Porcelli, left, and Giorga Rauso, right, working hard at the clean-up, organized by the Lutheran Church

Leitzel is an energetic and engaging pastor, who is attentive to people. Pine Hills’ resident, GiorgaRauso, an exchange student from Italy at SUNY Albany, recalled that the first time she met “Pastor Allie” she was quite impressed, as Leitzel was the first female pastor she has ever met. “It was very unusual for me, because after the service Pastor Allie gave me her hand and asked my name. It was very welcoming,” Rauso told. “I went to the Church for the second time and the fact that the pastor remembered my name, made me feel very important. I felt like joining the congregation for the neighborhood’s clean up in the afternoon,” she added.   

The neighborhood changed dramatically since the church was first here in 1929. Many people from the congregation no longer live here; it’s predominantly a student area. Carol Engelhardt, former Pine Hills’ resident, who has been with the Lutheran for over 20 years, told during the recent community dinner held September 30, that Leitzel is well received by the congregation. “Pastor Allie is very concerned for people, about their needs. She initiated these monthly dinners to meet people, who now live in this area,” Engelhardt noted.

Leitzel is trying to help the congregation to get to know their neighbors and begin to reach out and find out that there are really not a lot of reasons to be scared of this evolving area. “If you are an older person who has troubles walking, to be around young dynamic people must make you afraid you could break a hip or something,” Leitzel explained. 

Anybody from any faith or no faith is welcome to free community dinners. Next dinner is on October,28.

First Lutheran and neighbors are getting together at community dinner

First Lutheran and neighbors are getting together at community dinner/Olena Sadovnik

To reach out to new neighbors First Lutheran started to host free community dinners, followed by movie screenings every month since May. This turned out to be a good kickoff. Richard McElreath, choir member at the church since 2005, shared that “Every time we’ve had done it, it has been successful.” The attendance ranges between 40 and 100 guests, plus people form the church. “It’s something we are going continue to do.” McElreath noted that he likes a lot what the Church is becoming. “Our new pastor is actually doing a very good job. She is a very hands-on pastor. We are blessed to have her,” he added. 

The next community event will be October, 28. Leitzel emphasized that it is not like they are trying to make everybody become a Lutheran. “Anybody from any faith or no faith is welcome. It’s a chance to make us closer to each other,” she summed up. During these neighborhood events the congregation has also reached reaches out to its newest neighbors.

Since May, Leitzel with a church member Janice Logan started volunteering with the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, after discovering that a family of refugees from Burma moved in right across the street from the Church. “Janice and I both try to spend 2-3 hours with the family each week, usually an hour or more on each of two days. Helping them with English and tasks of daily life,” Leitzel stated. She also added that right now, they are spending a lot of time helping newcomers to do paper work and respond to letters and information from the schools. The family has four kids still in school.

Lutheran church is a thinking person’s church, they don’t tell you all the answers.”


Fascinating by the story about angel/Olena Sadovnik

While conducting the service, Leitzel pays special attention to children. Usually she asks the youngest to join her up front near the altar, where she sits next to them on the floor. There is always a little story or a riddle for them. Sunday, September, 28, she brought a costume of an angel to better explain to the children about Archangel Gabriel. Interestingly, Leitzel herself got acquainted with the Lutheran church during her childhood Leitzel grew up in Elizabethville, a small town in south central Pennsylvania. Her parents chose Lutheran for her. “Considering all churches in town, what my dad said was that Lutheran church is a thinking process church, they don’t tell you all the answers. They expect you to use your mind and struggle with things, come up with some ideas for yourself,” Leitzel said. Such concepts had appealed to Leitzel, who since has been an active Lutheran.

After graduation from the high school, she headed to University of Miami to become a marine biologist. Leitzel had been planning to continue her grad studies in biochemistry of nutrition. But that had never happened as Leitzel’s extensive engagement into campus spiritual life and her childhood experience of growing in a Lutheran church redirected her. Campus ministry introduced her to the wider church. For Leitzel, meeting students from different campuses at re-treats and on other occasions, had provoked many thoughts and queries. At one point during her senior year she called up her father and said: “Dad, I think I need to take a semester off my studies, because my heart is not in. My heart was at the campus ministry program.” Leitzel chuckled, saying that she never took that semester off, because her dad insisted that she finishes her studies, as tuitions go up. Shortly after graduation, Leitzel received a job at the campus ministry. It became a major turning point in her life. 


First Lutheran Church on 181 Western Ave/Olena Sadovnik

In 1987 Leitzel was ordained at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary in Ontario, Canada. In the last 25 years she served as a pastor in three different churches in Western NY, most recently for 13 years in Jamestown in Chautaqua County.  Because two congregations were merging, she agreed to look for a new call. “So, when I checked the First Lutheran’s web site, I saw the congregation that was welcoming everyone, including LGBT community. I said that these are things about the church that attract me, let me check it out,” Leitzel told.

In Evangelical Lutheran Church of America regional synod, in this case Upstate New York Synod recommends candidates to be considered for call by the congregation. But the final decision belongs to the church’s members. What happens is that the governing body of the church, the Council, appoints a search committee, which considers the Bishop’s candidates and decides whether to recommend him or her to the congregation. “The first candidate was rejected by the committee. Leitzel was the second candidate recommended,” Steve Carlson, president of First Lutheran’s congregation, explained. They went to hear her preaching at another church. Then Leitzel was invited to conduct a test service at First Lutheran. Following the service, the congregation voted almost unanimously, 97% to 3%, according to Carlson. 

Challenges of being a woman pastor

When asked about the challenges of being a woman pastor, Leitzel was apprehensive and did not want to focus attention on her. However, she explained that there are still congregations that cannot conceive of calling a woman pastor, even though it was in 1970 when the church started accepting women as pastors. Bishops are committed to women as pastors, but they don’t have the authority to say ‘you have to take this pastor’. This is one of those things the congregation has to decide. The First Lutheran said yes to Pastor Leitzel.

Find trusted people you can talk with”

Allie Leitzel believes that college years are a time when there are so many options for students. She encourages students to find trusted people they can talk with. People you can share your questions, whether it’s career and work, vocation, faith or anything like that. “Find people that welcome your questions, and will sit and listen and talk with you. And not just say this is what you have to fit. In the meantime, you have to find somewhere to earn your living. So, you got to balance,” Leitzel added. 

I like working here”

Pastor Leitzel is excited about the future. “I am here, I moved here. I like working here. If it continues to work out, I may be here at First Lutheran until I retire,” she disclosed. Allie Leitzel is married to Chaplain Barry Davis. She has three grown up children Alanna, 27, in grad school in Minnesota, Zachary, 25, working in NYC and Kaiya, 23, working in Minneapolis. He has one, Lacy, 23, working and studying in Pittsburgh. Leitzel’s husband teaches history at McDowell Intermediate High School in Erie, PA. “He is going to retire probably in the end of the school year and I hope he will move out and live with me. It what would be nice,” she said. But Pastor Leitzel has some years before retirement, so primarily she wants see how First Lutheran and her can continue to evolve in a ministry, a mission, and hopefully, get the church more deeply rooted in the neighborhood. “That’s kind of who I am.” 

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Case # 17-3039 or how a Ukrainian watch helped to catch a thief


The engraving on the back of my Kleynod watch

– So, who is big mama? Is that you?

With these words Detective Dean Halpin greets me in the cramped waiting area of the Albany Police Department. The next moment he graciously hands me a transparent evidence bag with my stolen Ukrainian Kleynod wristwatch.

A year ago when I was getting ready to pursue my studies in the States, I had pictured all kind of dazzling images of a fullfilling student life abroad. By no means I could imagine experiencing the work of US law enforcement agencies at first hand, as a victim of a burglary. Bad things happen everywhere, but you never expect them happen to you. In September my room was burglarized while I was away for the weekend. Upon my return MANY things were missing, including my Ukrainian Kleynod wristwatch.

It is very ironic that on the eve of my departure that weekend, I blogged about burglaries and posted tips for residential crime prevention. While leaving I made sure that my windows and doors were properly secured. Apparently, locks are not obstacles for career burglars.

During the investigation my watch became a key thread in the case. The matter is that the suspect was a known drug dealer and when the police got permission to search his apartment, they found nothing but my watch. Not surprisingly, the suspect’s wife claimed that the watch was hers and she can buy a dozen of them for me just around the corner, if I want. Little did she know that it was a birthday present from my dad. The brand of watch, Kleynod, are sold only in Ukraine. Another significant element in the case is that the watch has an engraving in Ukrainian, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet – different from the Latin letters in English.

Some time later I was called to appear in front of the Grand Jury to explain about the engraving. To an English reader it looked as a “big mama,” but in Ukrainian it actually says “від тата,” which translates as from dad. This core evidence destroyed the credibility to the claim that this was the watch of the thief’s wife.

Eventually the burglar admitted his guilt in this and other local robberies, including the church. The culprit has been convicted to 14 years in New York state jail. Apparently he will be able to earn 9 cents a day there. I was told that theoretically I could claim for the reimbursement of my other stolen things from this money. But given the maths, I would rather put this behind me, focus on my studies and enjoy life in the US.

Thanks to the good work of Detectives William VanAmbourgh and Dean Halpin, and Assistant District Attorney Matthew Hauf I regained my watch at last. Well done US justice system!

Lessons learned: get rental insurance and buy only Ukrainian! 🙂


Happy that regained my watch. With Detective Halpin. Photo by Abdellah Taibi

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Will women succeed this time?

Irina is cooking delicious dinner for international students

Irina is cooking delicious dinner for international students

An attractive slender blonde skillfully parks a huge Ford Flex truck in St Louis shaky downtown to pick up four international students, Fulbright scholars, for dinner. Irina, our host, on the way to the city’s business quarter quickly outlines her life story and shares why she swapped dynamic and fast expanding Moscow for visibly depressed St Louis. It turned out that one of the main reason is that the law firm of Armstrong Teasdale, where she is an attorney, is women friendly. Irina continues that the support she receives from other women in a still male dominated environment is extremely encouraging and motivating for professional development. However, not all companies in the US are women friendly, she sums up.

This revelation comes as a complete surprise. I am shocked. Before coming to the States, I had thought that women here achieved the top of equality. Yet the statistic says that women constitute 51% of the US population and 47% of the workplace, meanwhile only 4% are CEOs and 17% are board members. Plus women, mainly, earn 77 cents for every $1 for a man, states the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. I was therefore very happy to learn that the US is now experiencing a new wave of women’s rights campaign in the workplace.

A new generation of top-ranking women executives across the country are using leadership to change stereotypes about women at work. One of them is Sheryl Sandberg, who played a key role in turning Facebook into a multibillion-dollar company, notes The USA Today. Now she wants to build a new women’s movement. Recently Sandberg presented her book – Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. She argues that American business largely remains a man’s game.  Sandberg points out that women have made no progress in senior positions in 10 years. In her book, she suggests a new dialog on gender, “I want to change conversation from what women can’t do to what we can do.”

This is all very positive and welcomed in the US, but the situation is different in Russia, according to Irina’s experience. There women still struggle to make a mark and often ignored or overlooked in the workplace. Unfortunately, we have the same tendency in my home country Ukraine, which remains largely male dominated society. Hopefully, Ukraine’s stated determination to join the European Union will bring more gender equality before too long.

PS My St Louis experience was a part of the Fulbright Program in the US. Special thanks to Fulbright Midwest team for the unforgettable Enrichment Seminar!

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