Elizabeth Mnatzaganian is a former Upward Bound scholar from Avery County and a recent graduate of AppState.
Please talk a little about your background prior to attending Appalachian.
I grew up in Avery County in NC. Many students I grew up with did not finish school and many more students did not pursue higher education. Many of my classmates did not think that going to college would be possible. With the price of how much it costs to attend college and how much time and work it takes, many of my classmates did not even think about going to college. My parents wanted something different for my life and my brother's life. They wanted us to go on to college and pursue our dreams even if at times it seemed almost impossible. Since I was in Kindergarten, I dreamed about going to Appalachian State University and pursing a degree in education. That seems a little crazy that at five years old I was already thinking about college, but I loved school and loved everything about school. I loved school so much that I wanted to have a classroom of my own one day. I dreamed about teaching every day of my life growing up. I practiced teaching every day. It went from teaching my dolls, to teaching my pets, to teaching real people. Teaching was then, and still is, my passion. I didn't know if I would be able to find a way to college as I got older, but I was so determined to find a way to make my dream a reality.
What dreams for your life and career do you have?
I have dreamed since my first day of Kindergarten of becoming a teacher. When I got to college, I knew I wanted to be a teacher but I didn't know what I wanted to teach. I bounced back and forth between the ideas of teaching art, teaching English, and teaching elementary school. I then decided to pursue elementary education as a degree, but since I first stated college my dreams for my life and career have expanded. I am now extremely interested in becoming an international teacher. I became really passionate about seeing the world and traveling when I went to college. I felt like I wasn't really living my life until I branched out and saw the world. I dream about teaching at international schools all over the world. I dream about teaching English, elementary school classes, and art. I dream about learning new languages and integrating myself in new cultures. I also dream beyond just teaching. I want to start schools in different countries making education accessible for everyone. I want to teach teachers on how to become a culturally responsive teacher and include everyone in the classroom. These are the dreams I have that I live and breathe every day.
What obstacles are in the way to achieving those dreams?
The dreams I have seem really far out there at times. I want to do so much in the world and help so many people, but at times I really just do not know how to do it. I can be my own obstacle at times questioning whether I will really be able to do those things or telling myself that maybe I have dreamed too far out there and I should think less about those things. I question myself all the time and whether these dreams are really possible. It's also extremely difficult to become an international teacher. There are not many resources out there or programs on my campus to guide me in the right direction showing me the exact steps I need to take to make this dream come true. It's a scary thought having a huge dream but not knowing how to make it possible or what steps to take. There are also a lot of negative connotations to being a teacher. People constantly tell me to not be a teacher. People tell me I won't make any money and that I won't get any support. I've had teachers tell me not to become a teacher. It seems like most people around me tell me not to pursue this field, but that is really hard when this is what I've been dreaming about doing since I was five years old. It is really expensive starting out as a teacher, especially when you are trying to become an international teacher. I have to buy my own classroom supplies and pay for my own plane tickets abroad and living expenses in that country. I need a Master's Degree to teach at the top international schools and at least two years of full time teaching experience. I have student loans to think about, and that is going to be difficult paying it off with getting a different currency in another country. All of these obstacles are in the back of my mind and it makes me question myself whether it is possible to pursue my dreams.
What resources have you had access to that have helped you overcome those obstacles?
I have been blessed to have had many resources in my life to help me overcome these obstacles. The support from family members and friends has had a huge impact in my life. Upward Bound and Student Support Services have helped me tremendously, and I would not be where I am today without their help. Professors and advisors in college have also been a huge support. They have provided so much encouragement and guided me throughout my college experience. College programs and organizations have also had a huge impact in overcoming these obstacles. I got involved in an organization called AIESEC all four years of my college experience. This organization sends students abroad to go on international internships, and the organization provided me with the tools and confidence I need to be successful. It is through AIESEC that I was able to have international teaching experience in Colombia, South America, which was an incredible experience. The College of Education at Appalachian has been constantly supportive and has pushed me to achieve more. It is through the International Student Teaching program that I was able to have another international teaching experience teaching in India. All of these people and programs in my life have provided me the steps and tools I need to pursue my dreams and overcome these obstacles in my life.
What role has the Upward Bound program played in your journey of education?
There are no words to describe how much the Upward Bound program means to me. I would not be where I am today without the help and support from them. Upward Bound has helped me become the person that I am today. When I was in high school, I had absolutely no confidence in myself or in my abilities. I did not think that college was a possibility and that teaching would be a possibility in my future. I had such poor confidence in myself that I thought that I would not be able to do anything in life. I was given a mentor each year in Upward Bound and I met with them each week. They not only helped me with my academics, but they also helped me with learning more about myself and building my confidence. They did not ask how I was doing because they had to, but they asked how I was doing because they really did truly care and wanted to do everything they could to help me. Upward Bound was the reason I was able to go to college. They helped me apply to colleges and provided me the tools and resources along with building my confidence to be successful in life. Upward Bound did not end when I went to college. They continued to play a huge role in my college career. They were always checking up on me, involving me in programs on campus, and they even helped me with providing me a job. I worked with Upward Bound in college as a Resident Advisor over the summer and worked with them throughout the year in their offices. The coordinators in Upward Bound helped me overcome personal obstacles I was going through in my life and helped me become the person I am today. Upward Bound has played a huge role in my journey of education and my journey through life. It will always play a huge role in my life, and I am really blessed to have had the support from the people in Upward Bound.
What inspirational advice would I give to someone who is facing difficulty achieving his/her goals and dreams?
The first piece of advice I would give anyone is to never give up on your dreams. You can make it happen no matter what obstacles come in the way. You can make your dreams happen no matter what others may say or when people try putting you down. If you have a dream, go after it and keep working towards it each day. Another piece of advice I would give to someone is to make steps toward your dream each day. It can take a lot of hard work, and at times you may not know how to even begin making steps towards your dream. Reach out to the people in your life that are there to help you and to encourage you. They will help you in the right direction. They want to help you! It's okay to ask for help! Keep making small steps each day and your dreams will seem more reachable with every step. It takes hard work, but never give up. You can do it if you believe in yourself and work to make it happen!