When 26-year-old Anastasiya Hvaleva was growing up in Kyrgyzstan, she and her friends used to set up pretend businesses for their dolls and toys, complete with managers, employees, and customers. But the game became very real when, in grade school, Hvaleva watched both her parents lose their jobs after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and she took it upon herself to bring money in for the family by selling calculators door-to-door and to nearby stores.
“When I was seven I already understood what business could do for you in life,” she said. “I don’t regret anything.”
Nearly 20 years later, Hvaleva is about to graduate from Piedmont Virginia Community College with a degree in business, and a prestigious national award, and is anxiously awaiting acceptance into UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce. Despite having only been in the U.S. and speaking English since 2008, Hvaleva quickly rose to the top of her class at PVCC and has been named the 2013 New Century Scholar of Virginia. The annual title is given by the All-USA Academic Team, a program sponsored by USA Today, the American Association of Community Colleges, and the national honor society for two-year colleges, Phi Theta Kappa (PTK).
Except for an assumption that the entire country looks like New York City, Hvaleva came to the U.S. with no expectations. She said she was hesitant to make the move and delay her education, but unrest in Kyrgyzstan after the 2005 Tulip Revolution convinced her to extend her visa after a work conference and join her sister in Philadelphia. She began intensive English classes, then after meeting her husband moved to Charlottesville and enrolled as a business student at PVCC.
“I was a little terrified in the beginning,” Hvaleva said. “I was thinking, ‘How can I compete with all these American kids who have been speaking English since birth?’ But the professors at PVCC were so helpful. They believed in me more than I believed in myself.”
Completing two years at PVCC before transferring to a four-year university was a no-brainer for Hvaleva. It’s cheaper, for starters, and it allowed her to slowly integrate herself into the American education system, which she said isn’t even comparable to college in Kyrgyzstan. Not only has she maintained a 4.0 grade point average, but she is president of the International Club, Business Club, and PVCC’s chapter of PTK.
“They don’t encourage social and community life as much as we do in America,” she said. “They push strongly on education itself, and it’s more academic.”
In her home country, Hvaleva would have had little to no say in the structure of her education, and taken whatever classes were assigned to her after she picked a major. Here, she relished in the elective classes available to her, discovered a love for physics, and now wants to pick up a minor in statistics. Moving to the states delayed her formal education by a few years, but she said she wouldn’t change anything.
“After all the horror, it’s like I’m living in heaven or something,” Hvaleva said.