In Bohorodchany, a small town nestled in western Ukraine near the Carpathian Mountains, Oleksandra Babiy practiced making her grocery lists in English, envisioning herself succeeding in the United States.
“It was a town where you knew everyone, and it was really great growing up there. But I always wanted to experience a bigger city,” Babiy said.
Babiy studied information systems in English at Ivano-Frankivsk National Technical University of Oil and Gas, but her teacher told her she would have no chance of learning English. “That was a challenge to me, but by the end of the year I worked my way up from the bottom to the top level English class,” she said.
“I always had a doubt that I wouldn’t be an effective communicator, but I just put that behind me and put myself in the mindset to change that doubt.” Babiy brought that outlook to her lessons, and this June she will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from DePaul University’s College of Communication.
An effective communicator
Babiy started working for Northwestern Medicine in Chicago in 2008 after living in the United States for three years. She values loyalty and decided she wanted to stay at the job long term. “Working at the hospital as a patient liaison, I get to work with the people who I love and who inspire me,” Babiy said.
“At Northwestern Medicine, I routinely witness how effective communication positively impacts patient care. In health care, it is crucial to have an ability and expertise to communicate clearly in order to identify and address patients’ needs efficiently,” Babiy said.
Now, the 32-year-old Babiy’s plan after graduation is to pursue a master’s degree in health communication at DePaul, with the goal of working in hospital administration. She also wants to spend time volunteering to help refugees in the Chicago area.
Babiy’s love for giving back to the community stemmed from learning about DePaul’s Vincentian mission and heritage.
“I made a commitment to educate myself in the broadest way and develop strong critical writing, communication and reflective skills. Every course I completed at DePaul University was incredibly useful and enriching. I feel competent and prepared to pursue an interesting and rewarding career,” said Babiy.
“It is both my goal and a dream to become a health communication professional and team leader in the hopes of making a positive impact on public and global health.”
New life in the United States
In 2005, a nearly 20-year-old Babiy immigrated to the United States where her uncle sponsored her so she could attend the English Language Academy at DePaul.
“I still remember seeing the Loop Campus for the first time and meeting my teachers. They insisted on being addressed by their first names. They were so approachable. In Ukraine the teachers encouraged you to do well, but here it was beyond getting a good grade — they wanted you to be able to connect on a much deeper level,” she said.
Babiy felt that her knowledge of English at that point was only superficial, but at DePaul the teachers urged her go deeper, to reason and to not be afraid to express herself. They taught her English while at the same time providing her with the courage to grow as a young professional, she said.
“I felt that DePaul was such a great place. It was so easy to connect with everybody. We were all coming from different places; it was wonderfully diverse, but we were all pursuing the same goal of education,” she noted.
Babiy thought she would have to go back to Ukraine after her six-week course was over because her visa would expire, but then she met her future husband.
“If it wasn’t for my husband, I wouldn’t have made it so far. He is extremely encouraging in my pursuit of continuing my education.”
A family of educators
Babiy comes from a poor family in Ukraine. Even though her financial circumstances were not ideal, her parents always encouraged her to pursue her goals and work hard.
“I grew up in a family of educators. My mom is a history teacher and assistant principal and my dad is an author, ethnographer and historian. My dad is a very talented public speaker; he can walk into a room with hundreds of people and address the room confidently and without any notes. I wish I had more of those talents,” she admitted with a laugh.
When the opportunity to study in Chicago arose for Babiy they were very excited and encouraged her to go.
DePaul for the second time
“I had an a-ha moment when I became a citizen in 2010. The Honorable Maria Valdez, who swore me in as a citizen of the United States, urged all of us to take advantage of our new opportunity. She told us not to be afraid and pursue our dreams.”
The night she became a citizen of the United States, Babiy told herself she could not be complacent and that she must take advantage of her new opportunity.
“I knew it was going to be tough and expensive, but I thought there is nothing better I could be doing with my spare time than pursuing more education and earning a degree.
“I applied only to DePaul, because it was the place I knew I needed to be to continue my success. Communication was such a versatile and flexible field. I knew if I directed my efforts to learn how to speak and write and express myself clearly, and learned how to work on a team and independently, then I could apply those skills anywhere,” she said.
Babiy is a nontraditional student, something she wears as a badge of honor. Coming back to DePaul in 2010, this time to earn a bachelor’s degree in communication studies, “made perfect sense.”
Babiy will graduate this June as a summa cum laude — with highest honors. She went to school part time while working full time as a patient liaison at Northwestern Medicine.
“Reflecting back, my goal was to be excellent from the very beginning. My goal was to graduate as an A student. I wanted to be successful and I felt that working in communication and becoming a health communicator was a perfect fit,” Babiy said.