Ukrainian students’ lives turned upside down
Alisa’s story:  

 ‘’Before 24th February 2022 I was a regular student in my last year of Ukrainian high school. Since I was 14, I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian. I'd been visiting a clinic for practice, gained experience, and planned to study at my local university. But 4 months before my final exams, Russia started a full-scaled invasion. Everything turned upside down. A biology test that morning was the last thing I was worried about. Our life priorities changed suddenly; my mom, my brother, and I suddenly had to leave our home.  

After fleeing, and finally getting to Scotland, I started thinking about my further education. My parents and I were concerned about the idea of studying in the Ukrainian university now. To secure the students, the education went into online mode. Although the online system was well established from the pandemic, it made it difficult for me to study veterinary medicine, as it requires lots of practice and laboratory work in real life. I still applied there (so I don't lose a year of studying), but I wanted to look for any other options as well. 

I was told that it was not an option for me to go to the local school, as by that time I've already finished mine online. However, the school certificate I got in Ukraine was not enough to enter the Scottish university either, because of the differences in our education systems. 

So, while looking for host families, I started searching for alternatives for my education. I found there are only 2 vet schools in Scotland, in Glasgow and Edinburgh, so I had to settle there. Then, I had translated all my qualification certificates, took an IELTS test and converted my school degree to a National 5 equivalent. Then the college search began.

While applying to 2 Ukrainian universities and 2 German medical colleges, I applied to Edinburgh College for "SWAP Access to Medical Studies" course. In normal circumstances, I wouldn't be able to apply, as I've just finished high school, but as a refugee I got a chance. 

The whole process was happening over summer, and the first semester started in September, so I had little time for everything and it was quite a stressful situation (not mentioning what happened at home).

But in the end, I got my results! I was accepted to both Ukrainian universities and both Scottish colleges; so I started attending Edinburgh College with the SWAP course and studied online at the same time. The teachers and students were really supportive of each other, so you always received any help needed. Then I applied to the Scottish universities and went through the interview process. 

Was it difficult, sometimes stressful and time-consuming? Yes. Was it worth all the hard work and trying? Absolutely. 

As for now, in spring 2023, I am finishing the SWAP course and the first year of Ukrainian vet school with a full scholarship. I also received 2 offers from both veterinary schools in Edinburgh and Glasgow (I was the happiest person on the planet when I found out!).

The most important thing is to have strong motivation. If you know why you are working hard and what you can achieve, it keeps you going forward, no matter how challenging. 

I always knew I wanted to get a good education, return home to my dad, and share my knowledge in my homeland. All Ukrainians are fighting now, and so am I. If I can't be back home now, I'll do what I'm good at here - study, and be useful in the future. 

My mom told me: "Stubbornness can make a second happiness". Now I know what she meant.

I am also endlessly thankful to Scotland, the SWAP team, Edinburgh College staff and my host family, who let me stay in Edinburgh with them! I hope they all know how much help they are for me

Mariia’s story:    

 <mariia.jpg> ‘’Three years of medical school felt all for naught as war tore through my home; mum was gone. For many in my shoes it would seem impossible to imagine what to do next; stay in a country besieged or spread my wings for pastures anew. Where would I go? How would I keep my dreams alive?    

My life packed in a cute green suitcase, I find myself in the sanctuary of my aunt. Some twenty years ago, she too made the difficult decision to uproot herself from Ukraine and take charge of her destiny in the UK, a decision I admired from the youngest age; I always dreamed of steering my life in this direction.    

I spend a whole Summer searching and researching and knocking from afar on the doors of any school who would do me the kindness of a chance. “No transfers for medicine”, they repeat, my skills and education invalid. Three years of medical school. Three long and hard and tumultuous years. I had to start again. How would I amass the qualifications? How would I gain access to this system which felt so oppressively closed off to me? At the end of the road, my future in doubt, I find myself in the embrace of exactly what I need; the solution laid out in front of me.    

That’s where SWAP saved me. Gave me a chance to show the system that I have what it takes. My skills, my discipline, my ability to learn – as valid here as anywhere. Just nine months and crash courses under the Scottish curriculum and the key to my future appears back into my hands. I can stand proudly, shoulder-to-shoulder, with my peers across this country and join them in the brilliant and bright and bold pursuit of education once more. Suddenly, I’m applying for universities who couldn’t accept me before. I’m building a future that seemed improbable.    

The sting of my lost years is still a misfortune, a stumbling block between me and my dreams. The grief for my departed mum still overwhelming. The displacement of my family and my people is a burn I feel every day. I never said things were easy. In my spare time, I volunteer with the NHS, translating for the Ukrainians who now call Scotland home. I do what I can. Because despite pain and hardship and improbable odds, my future is now mine.    

My destiny is mine.’’  
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