I was born in Israel, and my parents immigrated there in 1992 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. My mother is Jewish, and it was vital for her to raise my sister and me in our religious tradition, which she could not do as a small child growing up in Belarus for various cultural and political reasons. Life might have been just another Jewish success story for us if it had not been for the most unfortunate fact that my father’s struggle with alcohol addiction worsened drastically in the months following his arrival to Israel, adding a significant burden on my mother from which she tried to shield me as best she could – with only limited success. Before I turned two years old, my mother had brought the family back to Belarus because of the difficulties related to my father’s drinking.
Growing up in Belarus, my mother instructed my sister and me not to be vocal about being Jewish. She was worried that we would get bullied by our peers and mistreated by adults. She based this on her experience with discrimination, which she faced when she was younger. If you were Jewish, it was written on your official documentation and was impossible to hide. As a child, I did not understand why I could not talk to my classmates about the holidays I loved or why I sometimes heard someone called "Jew" as an insult. I felt inferior without having done anything to warrant it. I was raised to be proud of my identity yet taught to hide it. These experiences made me very conflicted, quiet, and shy.
Before returning to Belarus from Israel, my mother had been aware of this problem and its danger to my development. Still, she was desperate to help my father and needed the support and solidarity of my father’s family to help curb the damage done by his drinking. After returning to Belarus, my father did better for several years, but the addiction eventually caught up with him again. My mother did everything to help him and support us, as a preschool teacher for her day job and babysitting on weekends to afford another private clinic that promised to cure my father. And while it was a challenging time financially, the emotional toll of losing someone you love in this way was the worst, little by little, over an extended period, with periods of absolute disaster dispersed with periods of hope that always turned out to be without foundation. At some point, he began refusing any treatment and became abusive.
My mother always attempted to shield me from the worst of my father’s violent abuse. My being exposed and thus directly affected was inevitable, however, living in a small, one-bedroom apartment with thin walls. Once he became physical with my sister and me, however, my mother finally overcame her traditional sense of herself as a dutiful and loyal wife and divorced him. With the help of my grandfather, we immigrated to the USA when I was fourteen. When I ask for special consideration as a disadvantaged student, I think primarily about those first 14 years of my life. Still, this is relevant precisely as far as being ‘disadvantaged’ for the first fourteen handicapped me for the academic competition that would follow. At first, I struggled, and it was some time before I belonged among my classmates and found ways to express myself with full competency in a new language.
I soon became more comfortable, benefitting from an excellent ESL program and the support of my family and new friends. For the first time, I could celebrate my identity without constantly having to look over my shoulder. I finally began to feel at home. Her academic credentials are unverifiable in America, and my mother was condemned to spend the rest of her working days earning minimum wage as a teacher’s assistant. We were fortunate and thankful for the government assistance that we received. When I turned sixteen, I began distributing flyers and magazines on the weekends to try to help. By the time I turned sixteen, I had worked 30 hours a week and continued to do so throughout my years as an undergraduate student. At least to hear my mother tell it, I might have been able to have studied full time and devote myself to extracurricular activities and volunteer activities like my peers if my dad had not been an alcoholic.
My first few jobs didn't have set hours, and there were times when I had to choose between taking shifts during my classes or not getting paid for that week. Luckily, I always had someone to look up to. My mother's work ethic, perseverance, and dedication to our family will always be my biggest inspiration. As time passed, I learned to be more efficient with my schedule, and my grades improved. Before graduating, I could also successfully retake some of the classes where I received my lowest scores. In retrospect, I am grateful to have gotten real-life work experience alongside my undergraduate career. I cultivated invaluable skills and learned lessons that have helped steer me in the right direction.
I appreciate your consideration.
Disadvantaged Status for Dental School Alcoholic Father