Too young to remember it herself, Karina Abramchuk was told life before America was more than hard.
Poverty, religious oppression and a lack of educational opportunities were all reasons her family fled Belarus in the late 1990s.
Abramchuk said her family would face consequences for going to a Christian church, either by drafting them or other means. As farmers, they worked for the government and were paid very little.
“Sometimes they would make soup and they would have one little sausage and 10 children, and they’d have to cut the little sausage in 10 little pieces,” Abramchuk said. “It was really, really poor back there.”
The 19-year-old’s parents wanted a better life for Abramchuk, her three older brothers and eventually her three younger siblings – two sisters and another brother. At six months old, Abramchuk and her family left their village in Belarus and arrived in America knowing little English and still very poor.
“In those countries, America is the place of opportunity, the place of freedom, the place of everything,” Abramchuk said. “Everybody wants to go there.”
But even in America, Abramchuk’s family struggled. They “started from the bottom,” she said.
Eventually, her parents found work and made a life for themselves.
Although Abramchuk had been living in America prior to starting school, she was enrolled in the English as a Second Language program because her family spoke Russian. Now, having lived in Federal Way for 10 years, taking years of Cambridge courses at Federal Way High School and Running Start, Abramchuk is grateful for the opportunities she’s had so she can pursue her career goal of becoming an international consultant.
Fluent in Russian, Spanish and English, Abramchuk maintains a 3.97 grade point average, is part of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at Highline College and won her first scholarship of $500 as a representative of the 2017 All-Washington Academic Team last week.
“The standard that I set is really high for myself, so my parents have that as the minimum standard, which is what my sister strives for, too,” Abramchuk said. “We set this really high standard and keep going at it so my parents already expect that of us, and they’re just figuring out how to provide the resources to help us go.”
While Abramchuk’s aunt attended college, Abramchuk and her sister, who is also in Running Start at Highline, will become the first to attend a university in her immediate family.
“Now that my mom’s been in America and she’s compared her life here to there, she said there’s so much more opportunity, so much more education, and whatever you want to do, wherever you want to go, it’s available to you,” she said. “Back in Belarus, there’s just no strive, no initiative, nobody really cares about trying to go far because of that communistic system.”
Abramchuk plans to attend the University of Washington in the fall and wants to study international foreign studies with a focus on business. She currently works at Highline’s writing center and studies language, lexis and grammar. Because Highline is so diverse, she also studies different cultures and often consults with students in their native languages.
“I feel that it’s very effective because then you can show students the differences between the languages, and they can learn much quicker,” she said, adding she hopes to work at the writing center at the University of Washington, as well.
A self-described “language nerd,” Abramchuk recently presented at a Canadian conference about the benefits of working in different languages.
When she isn’t planning her future, she’s heavily involved in volunteering for her church, the Full Gospel Christian Center in Bellevue.
Abramchuk, along with the church, has raised money for Ukrainian orphans and those who lost their homes from bombings. They continue to work with the Pilgrim Foundation, which “pulls” children out of drug addiction and drug addicted households in Ukraine.
After years of Skyping with family members, Abramchuk will visit Belarus for the first time this summer. She wants to see the place she was born and immerse herself in the culture.