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Migrant to Teacher, Writer and Doctoral Student

How Adult Education can Change Your Life

I am Oleg Chupryna, an economic migrant from Ukraine. I am delighted to be able to contribute to the exciting blog from the Maynooth University Department of Adult and Community Education. I believe that my story may help others to start a journey which brings meaningful changes and satisfaction to one’s life. By sharing my experience, I hope to help adults who are undecided, or even desperate, to see that there is always a light at the end of a tunnel; and that light is Education – no matter how old you are. One just needs to be determined and keep going despite any obstacles they may come across with. That is my firm belief, and as a famous quote goes:

The world is one great battlefield,

With forces all arrayed;

If in my heart I do not yield,

I’ll overcome some day.

[Charles Albert Tindley]

I am a Higher Diploma in Further Education (HDFE) graduate of the Department of Adult and Further Education (DACE), and I am currently enrolled in the PhD programme (part-time) in the Department of Sociology at Maynooth University. I also teach in a Secondary School in Dublin and am a guest lecturer at Maynooth University. But my journey to where I am now, began a long time ago in Ukraine, where I was born into a working-class family. After a Secondary School, which I did not like at all, I worked in a factory for a couple of years as a general operative until I was called to military duty where I spent another two years as a soldier. I still did not know what I wanted in life, but on returning home from the military, I knew what I did not want. I wanted neither to return to a factory or continue military service.

Although nobody in my extended family ever went to university before, my parents convinced me to get into the University access scheme for working-class people. I became a student of the Kharkiv State University, in the city of Kharkiv in Ukraine.

Five years later, I became a proud graduate with a 1st class degree in History and Social Sciences.

Consequently, I was offered a teaching job in one of the Universities where I was happy to work for several years, until the country’s and the family circumstances made me emigrate to South America first, and then to Ireland. People in Ukraine who lived through 1990s still call them the ‘merciless nineties’ as most of the people in the country were severely affected, many became unemployed, and many emigrated looking for a better life elsewhere. My own experience in this regard helped me better understand Irish people who, for generations, were looking for better life chances overseas.

Since I left my home I’ve had to work elsewhere to make a living. A salesman, construction worker, motorbike mechanic, gym instructor, bodyguard, and private tutor are just a few of many jobs I have done. But I always had a dream to work in Education, because teaching is what I am really passionate about and I was told I was good at it. However, during those years in emigration, I lost confidence in my ability to be a teacher again until one day a casual talk with an Irish person opened my eyes. She convinced me to go back to education and apply to the Higher Diploma in Further Education (HDFE) in Maynooth University, which I did and am very happy about it now.

However, during the HDFE, I came across a very stressful situation and a potential barrier to my future progress, which thanks to my determination and perhaps stubbornness, I eventually overcame. Almost at the end of the course, I discovered that I owed the University over five thousand euro. It happened because, as a foreigner, I was not aware of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the Irish higher education funding processes. As a result, I did not apply for the SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) grant in time. When I found about how it worked, SUSI refused my application, saying it was too late. Despite all my efforts, such as appealing their decision and looking for help from my local TD (member of parliament), I was not able to overcome the bureaucratic ‘red tape’. Eventually, I borrowed money and repaid my debt to the University and happily received my parchment a year after graduation.   

The HDFE course was crucial for my further career development and most importantly in restoring my confidence in my ability to be a teacher again, especially in English language environment which is not my mother tongue. While doing my Higher Diploma, I was also encouraged by my sociology lecturer to do a PhD as he believed in my great potential.  He also helped me to refine the topic for my research and recommended a potential PhD supervisor. Another staff member encouraged me to start my blog where I could share ideas and knowledge in my field of expertise; international relations, Eastern European politics and Ukraine’s politics in particular. Since then I have started the blog and I have written a number of published articles in RTE Brainstorm, the London School of Economics and Politics website, the Eurasia Review, and the Maynooth University Department of Sociology website. I am very grateful for their encouragement and the DACE contribution to my professional and personal progress.

I hope my story helps others find their professional development and personal satisfaction path.

Oleg Chupryna is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology, Maynooth University.

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From Direct Provision to Now: My Journey Home

By Zoryana Pshyk

Let me take you back to Christmas 2006. It was a time of uncertainty when life as I knew it was falling apart. I was living in Kilmacud House, a transition direct provision centre in Stillorgan, South Dublin. My husband and I were sitting at a bunk bed watching TV unthoughtfully attached to the ceiling. My neck was hurting… I was not in a good place. I had left everything I knew behind me and now was in this strange “lockdown” situation because everything in my life was controlled by somebody else.

For the next six years I lived in direct provision centres; places which “have been on lockdown for 20 years” (Lucky Khambule, Facebook post, Dec 15, 2020)  – where life stopped and time froze… So, the current feeling of ‘isolation from the society’ during the Covid19 pandemic is not new to me – maybe, that’s why it feels so comfortable and familiar.

Fast forward to 2020, and I am sitting in front of my Christmas tree in my home in South Kildare writing this blog entry. I have just finished lecturing my first module in the Philosophy of Adult Education with the Maynooth University, Department of Adult and Community Education (DACE) Higher Diploma in Further Education (HDFE), and I’m looking forward to reading students’ essays. The philosophy of adult education is very close to my heart: it gave me a framework to understanding my own life and helped me to find my life-path.  

When I arrived in Ireland, I had Masters in Philology, (the study of the history of language) but living in the direct provision system without the right to work or engage in education left me deskilled, with low self-esteem, and no confidence. It took eight years for me to “upgrade” my education credentials in Ireland to the same level as I had when I arrived. I worked hard learning to name my  world with Freire, and pushing the boundaries and transgressing together with Bell Hooks.

There were times during this time when I was falling apart, and my world was collapsing from the pain that transformative learning entails (Taylor & Cranton, 2013, p.40). It was also very physically, mentally and financially demanding. Over those years I have come to realise that our life experiences are like funnels that squeeze us into understanding the world in a particular way. They shape who we are, our relation to the world, and to those who share the world with us.

Learning with others and from others while reflecting on experience is the learning and teaching that resonates with me deeply. The Pandemic created a huge opportunity for learning – it’s even scary to think how in a few months we got used to this word! A situation that had never been known to us in our lifetime.

What can we learn from each other in this time? Can we learn what isolation does to us? What can we learn from those on the margin? Can we walk in their shoes this Christmas? Is the pandemic a humanizing experience for all of us, or is it a traumatic experience that will leave us all broken? Can we learn compassion? Time will answer those questions.

This Christmas is going to be a tough time for everyone, but especially for those who lost their loved ones. It is going to be tough for those who are self-isolating or cannot meet each other due to travel restrictions abroad. This Christmas, although sad and lonely, I am grateful that I can feel at home in Ireland. All my thoughts are with those who don’t have a place to call home, and cannot protect themselves from COVID19 due to crowded conditions in refugee camps all over the world. That amounts to almost eighty million people worldwide (Figures at a Glance – UNHCR). My thoughts are with those who are right in the heart of this country still living in direct provision – in 20 years long lockdown (Khambule, 2020). The Pandemic has already proven to us how unstable our lives and the world are. In the light of this learning, it is important to remember that everybody is a potential refugee.

I am looking at my Christmas tree decorated with painted pinecones, stars, angels, and felted wreaths; all sorts of decorations given to me by friends when I was still living in direct provision. The kindness and warm wishes they arrived with will always stay with me. So, every year, I decorate my tree with the memories of the deep gratitude I have to people who have been there for me over the years.

At the end of 2020 I invite you to share your well-wishes. Take a few minutes to reflect on the year that we are leaving behind and write down three wishes for yourself for the coming year. Select one of the wishes and wish it to someone else: your loved ones, or neighbours, or to strangers on the streets, or those less fortunate – gifting your wish from your heart to theirs. Let’s make the world a warmer place with love and well-wishes.

Щасливого Різдва! / Happy Christmas! / Nollaig Shona Duit!

References:

Taylor, Edward, & Patricia Cranton (2013) A theory in progress? Issues in transformative learning theory. European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults 4(1):35-47. DOI: 10.3384/rela.2000-7426.rela5000

UNHCR Ireland (2020) Figures at a Glance. https://www.unhcr.org/en-ie/figures-at-a-glance.html#:~:text=How%20many%20refugees%20are%20there,under%20the%20age%20of%2018

Zoryana Pshyk holds Masters in Philology from Chernivtsi National University, Ukraine, a Higher Diploma in Further Education and a Masters in Adult and Community Education from Maynooth University. Zoryana is an adult educator with a specific interest in Freirean approach. She is a core part of the Community Education team, Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB), and a facilitator with Partners Training for Transformation. Zoryana is a current representative of Newbridge Asylum Seekers Support Group (NASSG) on the Kildare Public Participation Network (PPN), as well as a chairperson of the Kildare Integration Network (KIN). She is an active participant in local community development with the emphasis on Social Inclusion and a board member of the County Kildare Leader Partnership.