March 6, 2024

Featured Falcons: Sofiia Vaida 

The challenges of attending college in a country at war are all too familiar to Sofiia Vaida, an exchange student from Ukraine attending the University of Montevallo this semester. Between threats of missile strikes each day and constantly interrupted classes, getting a high-quality education has proven difficult ever since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of her home country in February 2022.   

Sofiia Vaida“When an air siren goes off, all students and faculty must go down to the shelter,” said Sofiia, who lives in the city of Lviv and attends Lviv Polytechnic National University. “There’s a big threat to people’s lives every day, but the faculty is trying to provide the best possible conditions.”  

Sofiia is studying at Montevallo as part of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD), which provides one-semester scholarships to outstanding undergraduate students from around the world for non-degree full-time study combined with community service, professional development and cultural enrichment. The program is active in more than 60 countries. 

“It was one of my dreams to study in the U.S.,” Sofiia said. “American education is considered to be one of the best, especially in the field of business. The system requires you to research and work as a professional employee in classes, even if you are still a student, which prepares students for the real business world.” 

Getting accepted into Global UGRAD was a lengthy process for Sofiia. She had to write two essays, submit a video component for the application, interview with the program coordinators in the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine and pass the TOEFL exam (Test of English as a Foreign Language). After being selected, she and about 300 other international students were assigned to universities across the U.S. 

“I didn’t know anything about the University of Montevallo and I didn’t know what to expect,” Sofiia said. “But I loved it from the very first day, and I’m very happy that I’ve made such good friends. They took me around Birmingham and around campus and showed me everything. The community is so welcoming and supportive.” 

Sofiia is a junior majoring in management, which she took an interest in after managing educational and environmental projects in her hometown in high school. Sofiia enjoys the autonomy and high level of involvement in decision making that management offers. It’s a broad field, but at her university in Lviv, her studies are specific to human resources management. 

“Helping other people grow is important, especially as an HR manager,” Sofiia said. “You can help them develop their skills and motivation and help them organize a clear structure of the working process.” 

In the future, Soffia aims to become a manager specifically in the education field with programs like Global UGRAD. 

“There are a lot of these programs that offer students a chance to travel and study in new countries,” Sofiia said. “They can learn something new and communicate with people from different countries. I would really like to be involved in this field, helping students travel across the globe and discover different cultures.” 

Having visited the U.S. before, becoming a student in America was not much of a culture shock for Sofiia. She recently got a chance to bring a little bit of Ukraine to Montevallo when she hosted Ukrainian Cultural Evening on Feb. 27 in partnership with the International Student Organization. An audience of about 40 students, faculty and staff showed up to learn about Ukrainian history, literature, language and modern art.  

“The participants asked questions and were very active in the discussion,” Sofiia said. “I was happy to see that many people are interested in Ukraine. I’m so thankful to the University for allowing me to share my culture with people. Even though I’m a foreign student and I’ve only been here for a month and a half, I already feel that I belong in this place.”