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Ukrainian students reflect upon their time at Ivey

  • Communications
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  • Mar 14, 2023
Ukrainian students reflect upon their time at Ivey

L-r: Anastasiia Nesterenko, Kira Savchenko, Sofiia Shulga, Ulyana Kulchytska, Alina Byshynska, Oksana Kosendiak, Daniel Soluian, and Maksym Savchyn. The photo was taken at the Forks of the Thames in London during an outing to acquaint the students with the city.

War often forces people to make quick, difficult choices. For some university students from Ukraine, those difficult choices came with an opportunity – the chance to join Ivey’s MBA program on exchange so they can continue their studies in Canada.

For Sofiia Shulga, a marketing student from Kyiv, making the spontaneous decision to accept Ivey’s offer to enter the MBA program on exchange proved to be worthwhile.

“The offer was made in one day and I needed to decide whether to come [to Ivey] or not in 10 minutes. It was a really spontaneous decision, but turned out to be the best opportunity I received to improve my skills,” she said.

The exchange opportunity came through Ivey’s Academic Shelter Program, which was created  last spring shortly after news of the military invasion of Ukraine broke. Ivey faculty and staff worked with representatives from several Ukrainian universities to identify students in need in masters-level programs in business, finance, marketing, technology, or economics who were a good fit for the MBA program. Over a period of time, 10 Ukrainian students were offered the chance to come to Ivey on exchange. In addition to having the MBA tuition fee waived and their flights covered, the students received free learning materials, a stipend/scholarship to offset living costs, and free housing thanks to the generous support of multiple Ivey alumni.

As their time at Ivey comes to a close one year later, six of the Ukrainian students discussed their experiences at a recent roundtable session. Here are some reflections.

There is a feeling of community in London

Coming to a new country with so many unknowns can be nerve-racking, and Oksana Kosendiak, a 28-year-old student from Lviv, described the move as “really confusing and a shock.”

But it didn’t take long for her to feel more at ease as the Ivey and London community quickly embraced the Ukrainian newcomers.

“People were so welcoming. They were trying not to hurt us in any way, and were so cautious with their words,” said Kosendiak. “And there were small things, like [knowing] what we might need. People predicted what we might need and gave us everything. We didn’t even feel like exchange students. People here just made us feel like we were welcomed and appreciated.”

Kira Savchenko also noted how kind and supportive people were in helping her to adapt to Canada.

“What I like the most about Canada is that you can be yourself … Here, the community supports you and gives you all the possible opportunities and chances to make your transition smoother,” she said. “Everyone is ready to help you.”

Despite the culture shock and adjustment, all of the visiting Ukrainian students said they felt supported from the beginning and were impressed by the kindness of their MBA cohort colleagues. Whether they were offered rides to get groceries or just someone to talk to, the students said they always felt included and were invited to the program’s social events. 

“Not only did they appreciate us as individuals, they appreciated our feelings,” said Shulga.

Oleksandr Lisivka said that support extended beyond the university.

“I felt it in the university, in the streets, in restaurants – everywhere we went in Canada,” he said.

The Ivey case method experience

Each student saw coming to Ivey as an opportunity to grow academically, and expand on their business and decision-making skills. Ivey’s renowned case-learning classroom helped to bring this alive.

Ulyana Kulchytska, a Human Resources professional with more than 20 years of work experience, used to be content being quiet in group discussions, but experiencing the case method has changed her. 

“This year totally changed my behaviour,” she said. “Now I am speaking and participating and influencing the decision, whereas, before I would let the group decide.” 

Kosendiak also said the case method experience was a highlight and described it as feeling like she had worked for the greatest companies in the world.

“I love the discussion in the class. It was a chance to work as a marketer, a salesperson, or a CEO,” she said. When there are people from different countries and different cultures, that really diverse environment helps you to internalize the experience and brings valuable insights.  It helps you to change your way of thinking and grow not only as a professional, but as a human.”

Developing global citizens

Ivey’s MBA program has always endeavoured to provide a rich learning experience, attracting students with diverse skills and backgrounds from across Canada and around the world. Having the Ukrainian students in the program contributes to the class environment and culture in a positive manner.

“At Ivey we feel we have a responsibility to provide opportunities for those in need,” said Adam Fremeth, HBA ’00, MBA Program Faculty Director. “As an institution, and as a program, we are highly motivated to demonstrate our role in developing strong global citizens.”

The exchange students from Ukraine will even be invited to participate in Western’s convocation ceremony in June where they will receive a Graduate Diploma in Management.

What does the future hold?

While the path each Ukrainian student takes from here will be different, all said they will likely eventually return to Ukraine. Anastasiia Nesterenko, 23-year-old finance student, said she has gained a lot of knowledge this year at Ivey and would now like to use it to help her home country.

“I’m not a soldier. I cannot participate in the war physically. But I can help to improve my economy because I have a strong finance background. I can rebuild the economy from another perspective, rather than participate in war,” she said. “I want to spend the rest of my life in Ukraine. I have to help my country.”

Kosendiak also said she owes it to Ukraine to return and help rebuild the country.

“If all of the talented people leave, then who is going to help us rebuild and become an even greater country than before? I hope the skills and knowledge I gained here will be a valuable asset,” she said. “I feel a very strong Ukrainian identity in me, and I owe it to my country to come back.”

All of the students expressed their gratitude to Canadians for supporting them as well as sending aid to Ukraine and said it will all play a role in Ukraine’s recovery.

“We want to be a great country. We want to live the good life that we had before,” said Nesterenko. “Thank you for your support, and for supporting us.”