A Chilliwack high school student who didn’t know a word of English when she moved to Canada from Europe has been given a scholarship for overcoming adversity.
Alisa Gusakova, 17, was recently awarded a $5,000 Horatio Alger Canadian Scholarship after sharing her story about how she started a new life in a different country when she was in elementary school.
Gusakova came to Chilliwack from Russia about eight years ago with her mother.
“It was a difficult transition, we didn’t know the language,” she said. “(And) it was hard financially.”
Because of the language barrier, her mother had a hard time finding a job even though she had the experience. And it was not easy making friends in school either.
“It was hard to go to school where you can’t really communicate with people.”
While her classmates would socialize together in groups, Gusakova watched from a distance. But there were some people who helped her along the way. There was one girl, whose parents were also from Europe, who would sit with her at lunch and “be there” with her, she said.
“She was very supportive. I feel like the support of her and my ESL teacher was very supportive. I feel like that’s what got me through.”
It was when she started middle school, a few years after arriving in Canada, that she felt like she finally belonged.
“You kind of start over again. You’re not the new girl who joined mid-year. You go into the new school with them so (everyone) is the new one.”
Now the Grade 12 G.W. Graham secondary student is getting ready to go to a new school again.
Gusakova has been accepted into both Simon Fraser University and University of the Fraser Valley for the Bachelor of Business Administration programs. She hasn’t yet decided which institute she’ll be attending – UFV is closer to home but SFU’s program is more advanced and includes international business – but what she has decided is she wants to give back by helping people financially.
“I would love to do what people did for me when we came here,” she said.
Gusakova is one of two Chilliwack Grade 12 students who were recipients of a $5,000 Horatio Alger Canadian Scholarship. Tegan Council, also of G.W. Graham, is the other winner.
The Horatio Alger scholarships are awarded annually to deserving high school students in financial need who have overcome significant adversity while demonstrating strength of character, strong academics, a commitment to pursuing higher education as well as a desire to contribute to society.
This year, 170 students were awarded $900,000 in scholarships by the Horatio Alger Association of Canada. Since 2012, $8 million in scholarships have been awarded to 1,338 deserving young Canadians.
“In a year unlike any other, it is a privilege to award scholarships to 170 remarkable students who have faced adversity and strived to overcome it,” said Prem Watsa, association president. “Horatio Alger Scholars are selected based on their commitment to furthering their education and giving back to their communities. They are beacons of hope for us all in these trying times and I wish to congratulate them all.”
Gusakova said she’s thankful for the financial boost for her post-secondary studies after a hard transition which started back when she was just nine years old.
“I really shows it wasn’t for nothing. I overcame this and people noticed it,” Gusakova said. “That money is really going to help.”