Class of 2015
St. Petersburg, Russia
Loaded down with books, the 13-year-old Ilya Bozhenkov descended into the cavernous depths of the St. Petersburg subway system. After 40 minutes of hurtling through darkness, he emerged at a distant, suburban station, transferred to a bus, and rode for another hour deep into the countryside. From the windows, he watched as other children his age engaged in typical weekend revelry, walking and talking in animated groups or playing pickup games of soccer. As Ilya made the solitary two-hour journey to the home of his aunt, a language teacher, he was intent on a goal: to learn English.
At first, his family had been skeptical: surely he would not go on sacrificing his weekends when he already studied English for three hours a week at school. Moreover, he already had significant extracurricular responsibilities as a paid, professional soccer player on a traveling junior team that had placed first in international tournaments in Finland, Estonia, Italy, and Belarus. Even at age 13, however, Ilya recognized the doors that knowing English could open and had his mind set on fluency.
"Making this commute every weekend wasn't easy, but besides becoming fluent in English, I developed a sense of discipline that will continue helping me succeed in whatever I do."
In his first year of high school, Ilya was given the opportunity to prove himself when he was chosen to represent his school in the Russian National English Competition. Winning at the local and city levels, he went on to the regionals, but fell just short of qualifying for the final, national level. It was a setback that only strengthened his determination.
"The next year, when I won a scholarship from the State Department to study for a year in the US, I had to make a decision between soccer and academics. I might have made a career playing professionally, but you can only do that until your mid thirties. In the end, my desire to travel and improve my English won out."
Returning from the US, Ilya was equipped not only with an understanding of American culture, but with a refined mastery of the English language. Once again, he was chosen to represent his school in the English competition. This time he went all the way to the nationals and won first place in the entire country. As he completed high school, he was awarded the Golden Medal, Russia's highest scholastic honor.
"Achieving your goals can be difficult, but the principles behind it are simple: Stay focused. Persevere. Have faith in what you are doing. Don't let anyone tell you it's not possible."
This focus and perseverance in the face of adversity is precisely what led Ilya to apply to NYU Abu Dhabi. He had been told that, because he does not come from a family of privilege, he would never get into a top university. "There's a stereotype where I come from that to get into a good college you have to have connections, but I was able to prove this wrong. I got in on merit: I earned it," he says.
Ilya, who has already launched a successful enterprise as an electronics retailer, plans to study economics with the goal of pursuing a career in business. At the moment, he is taking full advantage of NYU Abu Dhabi's curriculum and applying his formidable linguistic skills to his next big challenge: Arabic.