School hasn’t always been easy for recent Ardrey Kell High School graduate Viktoriya Berdan.
The south Charlotte Polo Ridge resident moved with her parents and sister to the United States in late 2000 from Moldova, a small European country centered between Romania and Ukraine, right in time for Viktoriya to jump into kindergarten at Nations Ford Elementary School.
But the 5-year-old didn’t know English, and though her sister was just a grade ahead of her, Viktoriya said she sometimes felt all alone.
“They threw me into kindergarten two weeks after we came here and I just had to learn,” she said. “I remember feeling frustrated because I couldn’t understand people at all.”
That’s all changed, as the 17-year-old recently graduated from Ardrey Kell High School and will be the second in her family to attend college. In the fall, she’ll pack up and move north to attend New York University to study chemistry and hopefully rekindle her passion for the arts.
Viktoriya’s family moved to Charlotte for better economic opportunities, Viktoriya said. Her dad, now a local business owner, started out working for a friend installing hardwood floors. He now runs his own hardwood floor business, something Viktoriya said has inspired her to succeed.
“He opened his own hardwood floor company in 2007, a very bad economic year. But now he is doing well. I’m really proud of him for that. It really inspires me to follow my own dreams,” she said. “He got his company off the ground really with very little knowledge of English. He’s a really self-made man.”
For Viktoriya, college has always been in the cards for her and her older sister. From day one in the United States, her parents, Yuriy and Yelena, planned for their girls to seek higher education.
But Viktoriya had no idea science would become her passion and the thought of working in a lab one day could bring her so much excitement. An avid reader, her passions always fell within the liberal arts, specifically English and history, until her junior year when something clicked in chemistry class.
“I was thinking I would major in English and all of my English teachers really pushed me toward that, but I wasn’t really sure what to do with that after college,” Viktoriya said. “I could be an English teacher, but I can’t really see myself teaching anybody. But then I found chemistry. I really enjoyed the labs and I realized that was a better option for me for later in life to become a chemist.”
Viktoriya decided to attend NYU because of her love for the big city, she said, and the school offered her $45,000 a year in scholarships from the school’s College of Arts and Science. Graduating with around a 3.8 GPA from Ardrey Kell, she hopes to major in chemistry and minor in the arts, another passion that took a backseat throughout high school. Viktoriya, who used to take lessons at Piper Glen Ballroom in south Charlotte, said she would like to take up dancing again, and hopes to use her skills in theater productions at NYU – though her dream goal is to one day work in a lab, preferably in the medical field to appease the wishes of her family, Viktoriya said.
“In chemistry class, I just really fell in love with (chemistry), and I just grasped it really quickly, which surprised me. I learned that I could do it well … enjoy it and never get tired of it,” Viktoriya said.
Viktoriya also was involved with the book club, debate team and ROTC at Ardrey Kell, where she said she learned to really open up and come out of her shell. But it’s the push from her parents that’s always kept her on track to succeed in school.
“My mom always says, ‘You’re going to graduate school because four years is not enough,’” Viktoriya said laughing, adding an undergraduate degree will not be the end for her.
Throughout her education with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Viktoriya also attended Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, Olde Providence Elementary and South Charlotte Middle schools.