Sunday, May 5, 2013
Olesya Vaskevich, a University of South Carolina law school student, cheerfully calls herself an international child, and for good reason.
She grew up in Kazan, Russia, before moving with her family to North Augusta shortly before her 16th birthday. As a USC undergraduate, she participated in a study abroad session in France.
Vaskevich recently was recognized with the John O. McDougall Family Law Award by the USC School of Law presented to the student with the highest grade in family law. She will graduate next month and has accepted a position with the Columbia office of the Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein law firm.
She has thoroughly enjoyed her experiences in North Augusta and now Columbia, but growing up in Russia was important to her, as well.
"I’m grateful for that influence as a cultural heritage for me," Vaskevich said. "I love history and reading writers like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. My mother and I liked to travel in Europe and Russia. I’ve seen it all, and I love learning about new cultures."
Her hometown of Kazan, with a population of about 1 million, is eight hours south of Moscow. Vaskevich lived with her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother throughout her childhood.
"School was very different over there," she said. "The standards are different and definitely harder. But the middle class has a lower standard of living than here."
She heard so many stories from her family about World War II, the rise of the Soviet Union and how everyday people didn’t know much about the Cold War.
When Vaskevich was 15, her mother, Kksanana, met David Pearson, an American on vacation. They later married and moved to North Augusta. They now live in Augusta.
Vaskevich soon enrolled at the city’s high school. She had few problems with the transition to America, as she had begun learning English in the third grade. The South Carolina accents did throw her off for a while, she said with a laugh.
"I like it more in North Augusta and in Columbia now," she said. "I like the people with everybody smiling."
Vaskevich said she had wonderful teachers and enjoyed French classes. At USC, she double majored in political science and French before heading on to law school.
"That was a whirlwind," she said, "different from what I expected. My favorite class was with Judge Joseph Anderson, the U.S. District Court Judge. It was an evidence class, and he made it just fascinating with his war stories, even at 8 a.m."
The USC School of Law doesn’t offer an area of expertise in family law, but Vaskevich especially enjoyed the class that led to her award.
"These are very human stories, very real," she said. "Lawyers are needed to help for unfortunate situations in divorce and child custody situations. You step out and see the big picture, that hey, we do useful things."