With the world’s eyes turning to Sochi this month, a Selkirk College student is watching with pride as her motherland basks in its moment of glory.
Irina Smolina is a first-year Ski Resort Operations & Management Program (SROAM) student who is setting a course for a career in snow-capped mountains. With the Sochi Winter Olympics heading into its final weekend, the Moscow native says Russia has succeeded in its goal of capturing the planet’s attention.
Irina Smolina is soaking in her Canadian experience and loving her new surroundings on the Tenth Street Campus in Nelson.
“People have an image of Russia in their head and it’s usually formed by sources that are not entirely accurate,” says Smolina. “People know about Russia on the surface and it’s important to show people how we really are. I think a sports competition like the Olympics is a good tool to show the world. It’s a way to make good, quick and efficient connections with other people.”
Jumping Into a Career Change by Studying Abroad
Smolina’s arrival to the Tenth Street Campus in Nelson was brought about by a Google search. With a promising career in marketing underway at Adobe’s Moscow office, the 26-year-old was looking for a new challenge and a new direction.
“I had to think about what I really wanted to do,” Smolina explains. “Working in an office in Moscow, you don’t really have a life. You have to travel to your office fighting traffic jams and the work was pretty intense. My passion was elsewhere and I wanted to try something different.”
Smolina (front row left, blue jacket) and her SROAM classmates on a recent field trip high above the clouds at Selkirk Wilderness Skiing north of Nelson.
With a degree in marketing from the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, Smolina was looking for a master’s degree to fit her love of sport. Her internet search of schools in Europe uncovered programs more geared towards team sports than Smolina’s passion for snowboarding. One day she Googled “ski management” and a link to Selkirk College appeared.
“When I read about SROAM it was a really comprehensive program and covered everything you need to know about working for a ski resort. So here I am,” she says.
Canada Creates Sudden Impact
Smolina has traveled extensively for work and pleasure all across Europe and the Middle East, but when she left Moscow this past summer it was her first journey to North America. It didn’t take long for Smolina to form an opinion of her new community.
“I can’t say about Canada in general, but I am in love with Nelson,” Smolina says. “It’s so relaxing here, people are laidback and friendly. From the mentality of a big-city girl where everybody is in a rush and you don’t look people in the eye on the street… it’s so different here because everyone is taking their time and strangers say ‘hello.’ And the nature is amazing.”
In the first semester Smolina produced a video that highlighted the international flavour of SROAM.
Since arriving, Smolina has jumped head-first into her studies. Though she admits the first semester was challenging—language being somewhat of an issue—Smolina enjoyed the hard work.
“I studied a lot and didn’t go out,” she says of the first four months. “It was fascinating because what they promised on the website, I saw it in reality. It’s beyond what I expected.”
This year’s SROAM class has a United Nations feel to it with one-third of the group being international students. In the first semester, Smolina produced a five-minute video that highlighted the experiences of the students who hail from Argentina, South Africa, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Ukraine, England and the United States.
“It creates a special climate within the class,” she says of the international contingent. “In the beginning it must have been torture for our Canadian classmates to listen to us with all the different accents. But right now it feels like there are no differences with us, we are all friends.”
Sochi Rises Above Expectations
It’s been difficult for Smolina to be far from home during Russia’s big moment, but she has kept tabs through television and instant updates on her phone. Smolina feels it’s the right time for the world to focus on her home.
“I am happy that Russia finally has the opportunity to host the Olympic Games,” she says. “My parents told me about when Moscow hosted the Summer Olympics [in 1980] and for them it was fascinating. For local people, they took so much pride in this. My parents were volunteers; everybody was so proud and excited.”
The world has turned its eyes to Sochi and Russia has impressed.
The Sochi Games have not been without controversy. Before the torch was even lit, Smolina and her classmates used the Games as a learning tool in the classroom.
“There is a lot of controversial information about the money spent and concerns about the future use of the venues they have built,” Smolina says. “We talked about this in our tourism class and these are typical questions for every Olympic Games. This is nothing new to Russia and I think for developing countries like Russia—developing in terms of tourism—they really need this to boost the economy.”
Though still a ways from graduation—SROAM is a two-year program—Smolina says the Sochi Games may even provide her with a future opportunity in the industry she loves.
“I think I can go back to Russia at some point, especially with having hosted the Olympic Games,” she says. “The big resorts they have built in Sochi, they will need qualified management to help attract people back to those venues when the Olympics are over.”
Until then, Smolina is going to soak in her new surroundings to the fullest in preparation for a new career full of fresh air, deep turns and winter excitement.