By Victoria Orindas (Corcino)
Moving to America as a teenager, I was excited and anxious at the same time. Immigrating from a small and oppressed Eastern European country, the Republic of Moldova, I was perplexed by the endless number of opportunities my new home offered me. Entering my junior year of high school, I was thrown head-first into American culture, forced to learn a new language in a few months.
Growing up in a post-Soviet Union country, I have endured the consequences of an oppressive political system and witnessed my community set aside our differences to unite and overcome numerous obstacles. Having this sense of unity taught me how to love my neighbors, to set my pride aside and ask for help when needed. Now being a pre-medical student, I heavily lean on my peers and advisers for support, the same way I counted on my neighbors during challenging times. Overcoming the fear of reaching out for assistance has fostered the courage I needed to pursue medicine, despite many barriers I encountered as a first-generation student.
As an immigrant I had to learn English, yet my love for languages developed since my childhood. I was able to achieve fluency in Russian, Romanian, and French. Now, living in Florida where most of the population are Spanish speakers and planning to practice medicine here as well, I began learning Spanish.
Despite my everlasting interest in medicine, I have always prioritized community service. Being involved in LEAD Scholars Academy, Burnett Honors College and Knights of Distinction programs provided me the opportunity to build the necessary communication skills I needed to grow as a leader and scholar as well as to gather the courage to act when times grew tough. Once the pandemic started, I initiated a biweekly event that consisted of handing out “care packages” to our displaced friends in downtown Orlando.
The care packages included two masks, a few healthy snacks such as fruits (bananas and oranges) or gluten-free crackers, hand sanitizer, a toothbrush, travel size toothpaste, and an encouraging note. During the implementation of this new service project, I was surprised to see how many students were eager to donate and get involved. We were blessed to receive the support of several local media outlets. Our efforts were highlighted through interviews and features on News 13, News 6 and UCF Today. Furthermore, we were awarded the “News 6 Getting Results Award” for the biweekly “care packages” event.
After months of hosting this event, I discovered a local non-profit called SALT Outreach. SALT Outreach was one of the few non-profits that had continued its operations despite the hardships brought by the pandemic. After volunteering with them throughout the summer of 2020, I witnessed first-hand how impactful their work was. From here, I approached their leadership team and collaborated with them to help expand SALT’s operations. In July of 2020, I partnered with SALT Outreach to start a chapter of this organization at the University of Central Florida, called SALT Outreach at UCF. Here, we bring together student leaders on UCF’s campus who strive to provide respect and dignity to Orlando’s homeless population, thus strengthening the mission of SALT Outreach. We aim to do this by providing free showers to homeless people via a mobile shower trailer as well as clean clothing from a mobile clothing trailer.
As an organization, we aspire to reduce barriers to the employment of the homeless by providing interview training and job application assistance to help restore the hope these populations may have had before times grew tough. As one of the leaders of this organization, I am grateful to have the opportunity to employ my leadership skills to initiate projects that benefit UCF students and our homeless friends in Orlando. It is even more humbling to receive so much support, whether that be through our partners or our work that has been featured on NSM Today, Burnett Honors College in Honors This Week, UCF Knightly News, Orlando Voyager, and SALT was awarded the 2020-2021 New RSO of the Year Award. Furthermore, I was proud to pass on the torch to the current President of the chapter, Kamilla Idelguzhina. The current e-board has partnered with over 10 RSOs on campus during Fall of 2021 and now holding the position of the Presidential Advisor I am honored to witness the drastic expansion of the organization.
SALT has numerous leadership and volunteering opportunities for current and incoming students. Through the offered services, we aim to provide students with a unique volunteering experience that will employ their skills for a noble cause. As of November 2021, we are a registered student organization at UCF consisting of over 250 active volunteers. In partnership with SALT Outreach, the chapter hosts 4 events weekly, in addition to monthly donation drives and socials initiated by the UCF chapter.
Now being a senior, I would advise the incoming students to start exploring RSOs in their first semester at UCF. This way they could be familiar with the available resources and the array of extracurricular activities UCF has. Furthermore, they would set themselves up for a successful undergraduate career by taking the time to look into activities that do not only employ valuable skills but might also spark an interest in another career option they have never considered before.
While exploring various interests, students should not feel the need to lose their authentic self to fit within the group/organization they joined. UCF has created a diverse and welcoming environment where every student is encouraged to preserve their culture and traditions while educating others about them. UCF has initiated outreach programs tailored to first-generation, immigrant, international, non-traditional students, etc. Being a student is not solely about academics and creating an impeccable resume. These years should be used to find their true self, understand what their values are, while seeking guidance, expand their network and hopefully find mentors.
As a student myself, I would stress the importance of using the Knights email as much as possible. Having the title of a student opens many doors considering that they have done so much to be part of this institution. All students should not shy away to reach out to practitioners in the field of interest using their Knights email. UCF has a wide network of Alumni. They will most likely help a student from their alma mater get the internship/job since they were in their shoes once. All we have to do as students is ask for help. As Knights, we stick together through thick and thin.