07:30 AM

Ukrainian Immigrant Aims to Help Others Through Teaching

Olena Fleck Photo

Love led Olena Fleck to the U.S., and her experience here has ultimately led to a greater calling. Now, she’s looking to help refugees from  her home country adjust to life in America.

Making the Move to America

While visiting the U.S. during the summer of 2010, the native Ukrainian fell in love with an American. She still had two years of school left, but the couple decided they wanted to be together.

“We dated for two years back and forth. In the span of those two years, my husband flew to Ukraine to meet my family, and I flew to the U.S. to meet his,” she said. After graduating college, Fleck moved to Nebraska.

“Now I have been in the U.S. for over 10 years,” she said. “I am happily married to my husband, and we just celebrated our 10th anniversary in May.”

Building on a Degree from Ukraine

Though Fleck earned a five-year teaching degree from University K.D. Ushinsckogo, she only completed six months of teaching before moving to the U.S. That didn’t stop her from continuing to learn, and she began taking ESL classes at the local community college shortly after arriving in the U.S.

Her next step was moving on to Bellevue University to complete an ESL endorsement.

“I chose Bellevue University because the courses were three months, not six months. In my opinion, it's a great timeline,” she said. “It is the same amount of knowledge, only in less time, and Bellevue University accepted many of my credits.”

This flexibility in scheduling is intentional. “Bellevue University offers a variety of scheduling opportunities for teacher education coursework that benefits prospective students who are seeking initial certification,” said Director of Teacher Education Susan Alford. “We offer our education core classes during the day, as well as in a track that runs on Thursday evenings, which helps those who are working during the day.”

Fleck also said the faculty and staff at Bellevue University have made her experience a great one.

“Every person at Bellevue University is helpful and very considerate,” Fleck said. “I would recommend Bellevue University because of its wide variety of options and educational opportunities.”

The Teacher Education Program strives to be service-oriented, Alford said. “Our faculty work one-on-one with each student through field experiences, course requirements and student teaching to make sure they are successful through each step of the program,” she said.

The program also recently expanded to include elementary education (grades K-6) and Middle Level education (grades 5-9), as well as Special Education and English as a Second Language (PreK-12) tracks.

“These are all areas of high teacher shortage, so we wanted to expand our program to include opportunities for more teacher certification pathways,” Alford said.

Helping Those Who Need it Most

During her classes at Bellevue University, Fleck brought unique perspectives based on her own experiences. Her goal now is to help others who are new to the United States.

 “Ukraine's educational system is slightly different than in the US. Therefore, by learning about ESL students and education, I can provide firsthand information,” Fleck said.

She’s taken on a role as a translator at a public school, and with the tragic events taking place in Ukraine, hopes she can help its refugees.

“I really want to become a translator for refugees, and the reason for it is the same as why I want to become an ESL teacher,” Fleck said. That reason is helping immigrants adjust to a completely different way of life.

“The hardest part of my move to the U.S. was adapting to the new world,” she said. “It was a different experience even going to the store. A simple example is that we can buy an item, and if we don't like it, we can return it…and there are so many more little things that are different between countries around the world.”

Alford hopes that the Teacher Education Program can help more students like Fleck move forward in their new lives.

“Olena Fleck is a good example of how Bellevue University can help diverse candidates find a pathway to become a teacher in Nebraska,” Alford said. “Each person has a unique background when they come to us, and we give them the extra help they may need to take their previous schooling and apply it to teacher education.”

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