The impact of war on people is immeasurable. Yet, nothing explained the grace we witnessed in Olena Zhyhalo, Ukrainian war survivor and Emeritus scholarship learner, as she recalls how life changed in 2022. “As a family, we always wanted to have a dog. And when we finally got one, it was a huge step for us. Our adorable puppy was with us for about four weeks when the war in Ukraine took a turn for the worse. So we had to leave, but we decided to leave with our puppy. To our surprise, he took it better than any of us. He lived with us in shelters and was happy as long as we were all together. His optimism in such adverse situations gave us hope,” says a reminiscent yet resilient Zhyhalo.
In 2022, Emeritus introduced the Ukraine Scholarship program to help war-affected residents rewrite their stories. This initiative was to help them rebuild their lives and careers that were interrupted and upended due to armed combat. Zhyhalo was one of the candidates to receive this scholarship, which she used to complete a Digital Marketing Intensive from Columbia Business School. As we sat down to speak to her, we understood how a seemingly simple digital marketing course impacted her life, giving her family a chance at a new beginning.
“I was in a tiny apartment with seven people and a puppy when I first saw the scholarship news. I didn’t have a place to sit and fill out the application form!”
The reality of war is not just on the frontlines. It is also in the day-to-day struggles of people like Zhyhalo, who had to leave the life they had carefully built in their country behind for safer pastures. Zhyhalo came across the scholarship news on social media after crossing over to the Czech Republic for safety. She also noticed that some Telegram groups formed by Ukrainians displaced by the war discussed the scholarship.
“I read several articles and news items online to ensure I understood the news properly,” she says, as it seemed too good to be true. But even after doing some thorough research, she did not apply immediately for the digital marketing course she had considered. “I have never participated in any competition. So initially, I was apprehensive. But then I thought, why not try; it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said.
Once she had made up her mind, she found a corner in that cramped apartment and gave herself an hour of alone time to fill out the application for a digital marketing course. The application included an essay on why she wanted to upskill, a rather moving piece of work that eventually got her the scholarship.
“When I started looking at job descriptions here (in the Czech Republic), I knew my qualifications would not be enough.”
Unlike many of her fellow Ukrainians who had to flee the country due to the war, Zhyhalo did not lose her employment back home. “We were already in a remote working model during the pandemic and continued with that. So I am still working as the SEO Team Lead at Green Forest Family Projects,” she explains. However, the job market in her adoptive country did present a few challenges.
“The European market is very different from Ukraine. And the taxes here are way higher. So to sustain my family and still pay the taxes, I needed to look for some freelance projects locally,” she adds. Apply. Also, promoting Ukrainian products abroad, Zhyhalo realized that she had some skill gaps that needed to be filled. Hence, upskilling with a digital marketing course was the natural next step. So as Zhyhalo was already pooling all her resources to keep the family afloat, Emeritus helped her invest in upskilling. And its impact resonated with the very core of the Emeritus mission – to make high-quality education accessible and to change lives.
“The Digital Marketing Intensive course from the Columbia Business School has been the best experience in education for me.”
Zhyhalo is not a fresher when it comes to upskilling. She has done many short courses and attended several webinars to hone her skills. So what makes the Digital Marketing Intensive course from the Columbia Business School stand out? In her own words, she found the brevity of the learning process most convincing.
“In one of the lectures I attended, the professor said that a marketer goes where his/her audience is. And that statement covers so many courses and webinars devoted to the topic of your target audience and marketing channels that I have attended to further my understanding of marketing,” she says.
Context is another aspect of the course that stood out for Zhyhalo. She explains how they started their learning journey from the origin of marketing with stone tablets and moved to Tik Tok, live videos, and cookies. “You start seeing the whole picture. And it enables you to analyze data and make data-driven decisions,” she explains.
“Learning again helped to plug gaps that I did not know existed in my knowledge of digital marketing.”
With a degree in linguistics and economics, Zhyhalo learned many of her professional skills on the job. It’s no wonder that she wasn’t completely cognizant of the skills gaps that existed in her knowledge of digital marketing. For instance, she wasn’t fully aware of the incremental value of performance marketing.
“I knew that ads impacted revenue and the customers buying decisions. But I did not know exactly how this lift is measured. Calculating that lift using tools is one of my biggest learnings from this course,” she explains.
In addition, Zhyhalo called out the following key new-age skills she picked up during her course:
- Strategy: Whether it was performance marketing or email campaigns, she learned the basics of putting a strategy together. This skill is valuable for anyone aspiring for a bigger role in their organization or industry.
- Critical Thinking: Reading and analyzing data and drawing the right inferences was another relevant skill for working in new-age organizations.
- Presentation Skills: This is a bouquet of skills needed to present ideas to a larger group. Without good presentation skills, great work can go unrecognized.
- Time Management: Juggling work, her daughter, a household, a dog, the pressures of moving to a new country, and her learning, Zhyhalo is now even better at managing her time.
“I firmly believe that knowledge is the key to overcoming any adversity, and the light of knowledge will always prevail over darkness.”
Moving to a new country in the middle of a war would throw even the toughest among us off balance. So, we asked Zhyhalo how she managed to make time for learning despite being in survival mode. “If you have to do something new in your career, you have to learn new skills and polish your existing knowledge. Regardless of the situation, those who prioritize learning are more likely to succeed,” she answers.
She goes on to tell us that she learned whenever she had a minute to spare. Those long lines at the customs for filing the paperwork actually gave her time to complete her assignments. She read the study material while waiting for doctor’s or veterinary’s appointments. In short, she made the most of whatever time she could find.
“I see myself working with data and customer experiences in the future.”
The outcome of continuous learning is growth and expansion in opportunities. So, we ask Zhyhalo what direction she wants her career to go. Position. Currently, she is focused on gaining more experience in promoting products internationally, particularly Ukrainian products, as she is confident in their competitiveness. “I am working on multiple freelance projects in Europe in addition to my day job. Want. And to me, it is important to work for a permanent team with professionals where we can grow together,” she explains.
Also, after substantial experience in content and SEO, she is now ready to move into data-driven strategy work that includes customer experiences. “Artificial intelligence is bringing about many changes in the digital marketing industry. I want to stay abreast of industry trends to stay relevant,” she finishes.
“We have faced forced immigration. We didn’t want to leave Ukraine. But the war came to our doorstep, and we made a choice to leave. So in the future, as a family, we will go wherever our careers take us. That is our priority,” she says in response to whether they want to move back to their home country in the future.
“Emeritus has been incredibly supportive of its learners, not just in the upskilling but also in career planning and job search.”
Acquiring new skills is only half the battle won. To put them to use, learners often need a suitable role where they can explore what they have learned. And thus, Emeritus is dedicated to coaching learners to scale their careers as part of some programs. Zhyhalo speaks of her experience with Emeritus career coaching with plenty of affirmation.
“Our course had a dedicated career coach, Carlos Baldizón Martini, who has been more than helpful. Carlos is a great coach and an even better person, always ready to provide valuable advice and support. I am grateful for the guidance and assistance I received from him,” she affirms.
“I have already recommended Emeritus to my colleagues and friends. I would not hesitate to take another course with Emeritus or recommend it to anyone looking to enhance their skills and knowledge in their field,” she says while adding some good news. Her mother and grandmother, who were stuck in a combat zone in Ukraine, were finally evacuated a few months back.
So, this story that started with war and forced displacement ends on a happy note with Olena’s mother’s birthday party, where four generations of women in her family could celebrate together, albeit in a country that’s their new home. The middle is all about rebuilding, which requires a firm will to rewrite the narrative of their lives and a tiny helping hand from Emeritus.
Learning with Emeritus
Emeritus Careers affiliated with the Professional Certificates offers a complimentary and optional career development course to participants and helps them access additional, individualized career coaching and resume referrals to employer partners. We have partnered with organizations like TTEC to connect with prospective employers. Brands who are looking to reach out to great talent like Olena Zhyhalo can learn more here.
By Anwesha Barari
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