Editor’s Note: It’s not every day that you find yourself on the other side of the world. But that’s the reality for Maksym, an NIU accountancy major and native Ukranian (and pictured above, at the Grand Canyon). Maksym has lived in the US for the past four years. He’s an “NIU native,” meaning he entered the university his freshman year. Now a senior and on the brink of graduating in May, Maksym places his focus not only on his future but equally – and more intensely – on the unfolding crisis between Ukraine and Russia. Technology serves him more as a lifeline than anything, these days. He uses it at every opportunity to check news reports, emails, and social channels reporting on the situation in Ukraine. His parents and siblings still reside there, thankfully in the northern area of the country somewhat removed from current tensions. Nonetheless, Maksym and his family remain acutely aware of the rapidly changing world around them…from both sides of the planet. I met Maksym through a chance conversation in the hallways of Barsema Hall. I happened to be carrying a sweater with embroidery that, I would soon learn, resembled the national flowers and colors of Ukraine. This prompted Maksym to introduce himself to me and from there a conversation developed about his country, the importance of a global outlook, and his experiences at NIU. Out of respect to Maksym and his family, the following interview shares Maksym’s views primarily about the significance of a global outlook and his experiences at NIU.
Maksym’s Long view from the other side of the Pond
Michelle: Thank you, Maksym, for going out of your way to introduce yourself to me and for agreeing to share some of your story. To begin, I’m curious to learn how you landed at NIU – all the way from the other side of the world.
Maksym: In high school in Ukraine, I began looking at universities – just like most high school kids do. But my situation was a bit different. The reason is I played tennis professionally when I was in high school. This gave me access to a powerful resource. There are companies in Ukraine and in Russia that help find universities for professional athletes who are also students. Their goal is to match the needs and interests of each athlete-student – both in terms of sports and in terms of academics. This is how I found out about NIU.
Michelle: What was it like to be a professional athlete in high school…that’s such a young age. Did you travel?
Maksym: I traveled all the time. I played professional tennis in Ukraine and in Europe. Before I came to the US and NIU, I had traveled to about 15-20 countries. Travelling is something I became accustomed to. I began playing tennis at 9. I started the sport more for fun, but then I became very good at it, and later when I played professionally, I traveled a lot not only to compete but also to practice in different cities for a month at a time. In Ukraine where I am from there aren’t many places that support professional tennis players – that’s why I spent so much time travelling when I was growing up and also studying at the same time. Different cities provided practice facilities for tennis, so I had to travel there to practice. And then I also had to travel to compete.
Michelle: Sounds like a world view comes naturally to you. Did you find it difficult to fit in at any of these places? Even at NIU…was it easy or challenging or somewhere in between to fit in here?
Maksym: I am very used to being immersed in different cultures, different places, with people from all types of backgrounds. So, no, it wasn’t hard at all for me to be comfortable in those different cities when I was young and practiced tennis there, or even when I competed in different countries. The hardest part was missing my family. My family stayed in Ukraine. I traveled with the professional tennis team. Those trips were very focused. I suppose I grew up fast that way in terms of, you know, having an open perspective about different places and cultures, different people. With that experience, no, it wasn’t hard at all for me to fit in at NIU. Plus, I came here knowing what I was doing, what my focus was. I came here to study accountancy and I came here to play tennis. I lived in the dorms my first year here. I had a really good roommate who was also an athlete. He is majoring in law. He is from the US but he is very open-minded about different countries and different backgrounds. He became a good friend who made it easy to fit in because he wasn’t at all judgmental about someone from a different country.
Michelle: If you had only one recommendation to make – to a new student or anyone, really – about travelling abroad, what would it be?
Maksym: It’s really beneficial to have the proper mindset. Being open-minded to other places, other people, other experiences. It’s so important to realize that there are other ways to do things, to acknowledge that people even think differently and that that’s not always a bad thing. When you travel abroad, really experience the culture, even the food. For example, don’t look for a McDonald’s or something that you already know. Try something new.
Michelle:You’re about to graduate in May? Have you been on the NIU tennis team all four years of your time here?
Michelle: I’m sorry to hear about the sports injury, but I’m glad you found a way to stay involved with the sport. So you’ve been on a team and you’re leading a team. How would you describe good leadership and a good team?
Maksym: Leaders have to be responsible. A dictator isn’t a leader…they think they are but they aren’t. That type of leadership style takes away from others and avoids responsibility. A good leader is responsible and helps others succeed. A good leader also stands by their word. I can tell a strong team by how good the relationships are between the people on the team. They don’t necessarily have to be friends at all. But they have to trust each other. They are honest and respectful with what they say and they back up what they say. Good team members admit when they can’t do something and they find help. There is a saying in my country that translates into “You live age and you learn age.” It basically means you live through a period of time and while you go through life, you are always learning.
Michelle: What’s been your most meaningful experience here at NIU and just in general?
Maksym: My most memorable experience at NIU is sports-related. It would definitely be winning the 2012 MAC championship for tennis. That was so awesome. (Edtior’s note to readers: If you’re like me and had no idea NIU got the MAC championship in tennis in 2012, check out the hyperlink to an NIU Today story on it!)
Outside of NIU, it may sound odd, I don’t know, but in January of this year I traveled to Arizona.
I saw the Grand Canyon and actually stayed at the Grand Canyon overnight. It was an incredible experience seeing it. I don’t know if I can put it into words. But seeing that place changed the way I see the world – in terms of what people value. I was so engrossed in the moment. I stared at a clear sunset. It was perfectly clear. It all looked so unreal. I was so engrossed I watched the light changing and the way it reflected in the canyon changing until it was completely dark and it was morning. The sunset is really almost impossible.
I’ve never seen that image like what I saw at the Grand Canyon anywhere. It was so quiet, so awe-inspiring that you can’t help but feel yourself removed from the routine of life.
I know that experience changed me – it’s difficult to phrase clearly how. How much the impact will be, I don’t know yet. But I know it will be. Right now, even though I’m looking for work and hope to pursue a master of accounting science if I get a tennis scholarship or graduate assistant position, I can say the experience changed my perspective. I see the world differently now. It really made me realize how incredible things can be and how important it is to pay attention in the moment, no matter where you are.