By MONICA JOSEPH
THE GOSHEN NEWS
In Ukraine, Olga Rabchuk was an acute care nurse in her local hospital. In Goshen, she was a custodian.
On Sunday, after years of little sleep, working at night and going to class during the day, Rabchuk, 34, will be one step closer to going back to what she considers her calling.
Rabchuk, a native of Ukraine, was among Goshen College nursing students who received their nursing pins Saturday and who will walk the graduation walk today during GC’s commencement. Achieving her goal took almost seven years.
When Rabchuck, her husband, Andrey, and their 1-year-old son arrived in the United States from Ukraine in 1999, they were not sure at first they would stay.
“I wanted to explore,” Rabchuk said. “But my family is still in Ukraine.”
Rabchuk had an aunt and uncle in the Goshen area, which is why they chose this small city to settle in and see what life in the United States was all about.
Rabchuk worked one other job in Goshen before taking a full-time position seven years ago as a custodian in the College Mennonite Church Chapel — a job she had until January when she needed these last few months to concentrate fully on school.
Rabchuk took classes and worked the day shift until several years ago when she had to have her mornings free for her degree’s required clinical work. Then she switched to the night shift and went to class during the day — sometimes bright and early in the day.
Rabchuk’s work supervisor, Jennifer Stutzman, praised the Ukraine native’s leadership skills and her commitment to do well at both school and work.
“Rather than asking for special favors or (asking) ‘Jen can I change my schedule?’” Stutzman said, “we had a night shift opening and she took it.”
There were times when Rabchuk did have to adjust her hours for class, but she took it upon herself to make that work for everyone, Stutzman said.
“Normally, she had a plan for that,” she said. “It has been a very good process for both of us. And she is also a wife and mother. To be under those constraints and still be able to keep her accountability ... it says a lot about her character.”
Rabchuk worked in the custodial department from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. for several years. During the day she took nine credit hours per semester, including attending hands-on clinicals. Between class and work, it was time for homework and caring for her family. Her son is now 14 and her daughter, 8.
After a time, a lack of sleep became the norm for her.
“I get maybe four or five hours of sleep,” she said. “Sometimes if I am very tired, 15 minute naps.”
There were times where the stress of it all became overwhelming.
“I would think ‘Why am I doing this?’” she said.
But did she ever consider giving up?
“Never,” Rabchuk said. “When I start to do something, I feel like I need to finish it. And I knew nursing was my passion.”
Rabchuk also credits the people around her as a big part of her ability to juggle work and school.
“I don’t feel unique,” Rabchuk said. “I always had nice co-workers and friends and family to support me. This is not only my success. The professors also really support me and help me believe in myself.”
She also credits her faith in God with helping her along her chosen path.
“God has a plan for you,” Rabchuk said. “If you have your eyes open and your ears open to realize when you see this plan. I felt with God’s help, I could do this.”
One of the biggest challenges in her path to a degree was the language barrier.
“When I first came here I could hardly read (English),” Rabchuk said. “I knew a little English. But I could not even recognize the numbers.”
The first two classes Rabchuk took at GC were sociology and English literature and writing.
“After my first class, I was thinking “Oh my, what am I going to do?” Rabchuk said.
She understood only about 50 percent of what the professor was saying, and especially struggled with the terminology specific to that course.
At the end of the class, however, Rabchuk had earned a B-plus.
“It felt like an A-plus to me,” she said.
While it would seem the medical and science classes the nursing student needed would be even more of a struggle, it was just the opposite.
“I took Latin,” Rabchuk said of her Ukraine studies. “When I came here, I had a hard time to buy groceries. But when I go to the pharmacy, no problem.”
Public speaking is still her nemesis. While fluent, English does not yet roll off her tongue without thought. But Rabchuk believes working as a nurse as a non-native language speaker can actually be beneficial.
“It helps me to stop and think ‘What are you going to say to this person.” Rabchuk said. “I see it as an advantage.”
Rabchuk still has one more class, which is only offered in May, to complete before applying for her nursing license.
But after her years of hard work, she has not yet sought out any nursing positions.
“I want to spend time with my family,” she said. “I felt sometimes that I abandoned them — with working, school and homework.”
But that break will not be long-lived, she said. Rabchuk wants to work in a critical care setting, in an operating room or in cancer care, where she believes she is meant to be.
“When I step on the nursing floor, everything changes,” she said. “It is my environment. My nature.”