Katerina Diatlova came to the United States from Russia with a passport, suitcase and $80 in her pocket.
All of her life she was desperate for the American dream, watching endless episodes of “Hannah Montana” and “Gossip Girl.”
She was part of the International Exchange Visitors Program initially, but the dream faded when the opportunities were out of reach.
“My family was 10,000 miles away. I had no friends, no car, no prospects of a good job,” she said. “I tried to fill the loneliness by partying, going hard and staying up all night. When I was making poor life choices there were people all around me. But I still felt lonely and worse about myself because of my choices.”
In addition, Katerina, 28, was in a dead-end service job and saw no way to a better life. Looking back, she says that she lost her sense of purpose. And she’d almost lost all hope.
But that all changed the day she walked into the admissions office at Tidewater Community College’s Norfolk Campus and a kind staffer helped her fill out an application and enroll in classes.
“That was the day that my whole life turned around. I don’t remember that woman’s name, but she believed in me, making it possible for me to go in a new direction. I know she was just doing her job, but I’m very grateful.”
Katerina started studying Business Administration but switched gears and pursued a degree in web development. This May she is one of the thousands of TCC graduates earning degrees and certificates during Commencement on May 8.
“While taking classes at TCC, the professors showed me the way to live. They were good examples and gave me direction without really knowing it. I just emulated their lives,” Katerina said.
Katerina earned a perfect 4.0 GPA at TCC and was part of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools.
“Years ago, I was not a good student and now I understand why. I wasn’t drawn to any subject. But when I found web development and coding, it was like learning a new, fascinating language and I was hooked.”
Katerina says she owes much of her success to her professors. “All of my teachers were willing to go out of their way to help. They made sure I was keeping up with the concepts. My interactions with them was my favorite part of the journey,” she said.
Katerina sends a shout-out to Professors Cesar Barbieri, Christopher Boyle, Gary Noah and Jared Oliverio for their patience, kindness and for sharing their passion for the subjects they teach.
While at TCC, Katerina was a volunteer for Computers for Student Success. She learned how to build computers and salvage parts. “This program is a win-win for students. Nothing is wasted. Those who need computers get them, and computer students learn and advance their skills.”
Katerina plans to be a software developer and would like to create and maintain websites. She is currently building her portfolio.
She is newly married to Matthew Thompson and has a community of friends that have become like family.
“People underestimate community college, but I know it’s a place to make your dreams happen,” Katerina said. “Words can’t really describe what TCC has provided. For me it was absolutely life changing.”