Elena Papko “I came to SMC to enroll my son. But then I started looking around at all these international people, and I realized, ‘Hey! I can do this too!’”

She was ‘Teacher of the Year’ in Algebra in one of the country’s biggest cities, with over three million people. Only one problem, though. The country was Russia, and the city was Novosibirsk, in Siberia. “Yeah, I’ve taught all my life, and I know that’s what I want to do again, now that I’m in America,” says Elena Papko, who arrived Stateside three years ago. “I mean, I know I’m a really, really good teacher because I ran my own private school in Russia. Teaching is just simply what I love to do,” she says in excellent self-taught English. Aah, but that pesky English language did give Elena a few fits…

“You know, I had to take an English test and I was absolutely scared, because I really didn’t know how to write. But then I made a 98 on that test! Can you believe it?” she says with a delighted laugh. “And that just gave me the confidence to get better with my English. As a matter of fact, I would love to someday teach right here at SMC. Now, I just want to be the best math teacher in California!”

Elena was awaiting the imminent arrival—from Russia—of her 17-year-old son. “He graduated from high school, so he’s going straight to SMC to study calculus. He’s very good at math,” she says with pride. “And I think we’re going to be studying together in the same classrooms!” Elena chose SMC for some obvious reasons. “All these international people! I even hear Russian spoken! Plus, I love how beautiful this college is. And how warm. It’s not much like Siberia!” she says with a laugh. “My mom wanted to bring me over a mink coat—which we need just to survive, back home—but I had to tell her, ‘Mom, I don’t think we’re going to need our mink coats anymore…’”

Read more stories from present and past years in the SMC Student Spotlight Archive.