Ukrainian Roots, Reaching Higher

Selena Barrientos December 11, 2015 0
Ukrainian Roots, Reaching Higher

It’s easy to be gravitated towards Boris Litvin, a 20-year-old college sophomore born in Ukraine and raised in Brooklyn. His pale complexion emphasizes the dark circles under his light forest green eyes. His smile, framed by his signature handlebar mustache, encourages anyone to approach him. “I can start a conversation with any stranger,” he says. “It’s great and liberating.”

Originally from Kyiv, Boris immigrated in 2000. “I remember the plane ride – it was nice,” he says. “This was before 9/11 so I could actually go into the cabin. I was this 5-year-old happy kid and I was told ‘Come to the cabin!’ so I was with the pilots and I slept for a while.”

Although Boris hasn’t returned to Ukraine he remembers his childhood. “In the old part of Kyiv there was a McDonald’s. It was two stories tall and it had a terrace that overlooked the river. I remember one time my mom and I ate ice cream there. I was 4 years old.”

The fall of the Soviet Union pushed the Litvin family to immigrate. “We had our own apartment, car, everything, but it was corrupt as hell. The mob was rampant. They wanted me to get a better education and future.” Boris knew, even at a young age, immigrating would mean leaving relatives behind. “Before we left I saw my grandfather for the last time.”

He has fulfilled his parents’ wishes, being their only child, by earning a full scholarship through the Macaulay Honors program. Boris is attending Hunter College and majoring in political science. “If I had gone to another college I would’ve taken out loans like everyone else, but I got a full ride at Hunter,” Boris explains. “I might as well not pay for undergrad and get loans for grad school which is what I’m going to do.”

Boris’ buzzing phone interrupts him. As he scrolls through the endless messages from various people he comments, “I hate my phone.” The café’s atmosphere matches Boris’ body language, always in motion. His eyes move rapidly looking around as his leg twitches under the table waiting to jump into action.

From across the small, round table I see slightly coffee stained teeth and smell nicotine scented breath. Boris prides himself with being a fast adapter. “The transition from Ukraine to the U.S. wasn’t hard for me personally.” Raised speaking Russian, Boris had to learn English. “In kindergarten I came in only knowing the ABCs, yes and no in English. Now I speak Russian and English at the same level without any accent. Except when I’m angry.”

While balancing a full course load, he interns at Millennial Strategies and is co-editor at the Tab Hunter, an online news site with student written and edited articles focusing on Hunter College. It’s no surprise Boris is constantly busy and wanted by someone.

The lack of time and energy’s evident in his tasseled dirty blonde hair he plays with so often in frustration. Boris has adjusted to this by mastering the art of multitasking at home. “I do homework while being on Facebook while watching videos on YouTube which playing my guitar while reading and get distracted taking naps.”

Although he was initially academically succeeding at Hunter, he was struggling personally. “The first semester went swimmingly well. I got a 4.0, I was making a bunch of new friends, and everything was going great. Then the second semester hit. During the winter I always get really depressed and emotional. I realized like ‘What’s friendship? What are all these people for? What I am even doing in this world? I kind of shut down. I wasn’t learning from any experiences.”

“The ‘Learn’ tattoo I got it because I wanted to be open minded.” Boris slightly gestures to his left bicep. Under his long sleeve the word’s inked in typewriter font. “People would tell me about their experiences and I would know at the back of my head just because it didn’t happen to me does not mean that it’s not true.” Despite knowing this Boris wouldn’t believe experiences happening to people that were far beyond their age. “Then I realized you know this is not my reality, this is someone else’s reality. I should learn from it so I got the tattoo as a reminder.”

Along with getting a tattoo, at the end of his sophomore year, Boris decided to give himself a break. “I’m going to focus on myself, do some self-exploration, and go out partying. I’m going to do everything for a semester, let it all go.” Boris recognized his humanity and decided to be a bit freer, but knowing full well school’s importance. “Then the summer comes and I’m like ‘Alright, I’m approaching my junior year. I need an internship, I need to pick up my classes.’”

Since September Boris has been interning at Millennial Strategies doing data entry and helping with event planning. “Millennial means it’s happening in the generation right now and they have this approach where they don’t just do political fundraising, they do event planning and strategy but with a perspective of a younger demographic.”

Although Boris didn’t nail his first interview for an internship it was a learning experience. “I showed up late and my resume didn’t really have much on it. It was kind of crumpled because it was in my bag so I screwed that one up.” Millennial Strategies was the second and last internship interview he had. “Right then and there I get a call at the very beginning of class and they’re like ‘Hey, welcome!’ It just happened.”

An internship’s meant to be a learning experience but Boris doesn’t see a future in politics. “I learned how to use Excel and political fundraising isn’t really a thing for me.” He does see a sliver of silver lining, but will continue heading forward. “I learned how political campaigns start, other than that the internship ends in December and I’m not sticking around.”

Boris sees brighter days ahead for the Tab Hunter. He thanks a friendship from high school for the opportunity. Mohamed Saleh, an assistant editor of the Tab Hunter, contacted Boris and asked him to join the new project. “I thought ‘I have nothing to lose and I need experience.’ I was one of the first people to join.”

Not long after editors and co-editors were being sought and Boris seized the chance. “I had an interview and it was myself, Mohamad and one of the Brits who came originally from the Tab. Apparently I passed so now I’m a co-editor.”

The Tab was launched in early September and in October there were 19,000 page views. Currently in December there’s 3,500 page views. “I mean we’re not doing as well as the other Tabs. We don’t have an actual campus, everyone’s busy but I feel like we’re getting somewhere. I’m really hoping we’re getting somewhere.”

Boris’ also a reporter who has published twelve articles with over six thousand page views. As a political science major Boris likes to write about Hunter student protests but also has written about student art work, eating preferences and current events at Hunter College.

Despite being a driven individual Boris insists he was simply lucky. “The internship and the Tab just happened. I don’t know how, just sheer fortune. I don’t know who or what to thank but I thank everything. Now I have four classes, an internship and I’m co-editing at the Tab.”

His mentality change could be the reason. Boris was able to ask himself tough questions and knew there needed to be a change. “I just thought if everything wasn’t according to plan or wasn’t towards the work you’re going to do, you were wasting your time and now I realize it’s not. As long as you’re careful, you’re not hurting yourself or anything else, you’re fine. Explore everything.”

Considering himself a history geek, Boris names Inglorious Bastards as his favorite movie, which reinvents WWII. Boris’ love for history’s also evident in his future plans for a pet, “I want to get a tabby cat and name him Teddy because Teddy Roosevelt’s awesome. I also want one because you know, I am a cat.”

Being open minded and non-judgmental are two traits Boris advocates which have given him good results. “I’ve become secure of who I am. I realized there’s no static, you’re constantly changing. It’s never going to be like ‘I know who I am and this is who I’m going to be to me for the rest of my life’ because it gets boring. There’s always going to be something that pops up.”

Boris’ a dynamic person who has learned and grown in a few years. He has been able to adjust to life’s different phases. While at the same time keeping in touch with his native Ukrainian roots. In retrospect, college has been a re-birth for Boris, realizing there’s more to life than judging and constraining ourselves to one mold forever.

College may be daunting, but we’re a generation capable of reaching greater goals than those before us. Even students like Boris, who have managed to keep up with expectations, acknowledges the difficulties but knows there’s a silver lining. With an encouraging smile Boris says, “It can get better because you’re not the only one going through this.”

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