Wetenschap - 5 december 2002

Olga Elisseeva, an unstoppable optimist

Olga Elisseeva, an unstoppable optimist

AIO at the Laboratory of Physical Chemistry and Colloid Science

She looks a little like a Russian icon, Olga Elisseeva, a PhD researcher who came to Wageningen from Moscow University, where she studied chemistry. Olga considers herself 'a very lucky Russian girl'.

While on holiday in 1998 in Turkey Olga met a Dutch couple from Eindhoven, Ellen and Tom Brouwers. They became friends and Olga visited the Brouwers' home several times. She like the Netherlands so much that in 2000 she applied to come and do an MSc in Wageningen. Her Russian supervisor at Moscow University was not at all pleased when she heard of Olga's plans, urging Olga to continue for her PhD in Moscow.

"But I was so eager to go that I just applied to join the MSc in Environmental Science. Later on I changed to chemistry, because I prefer the subject," Olga explains. Olga's husband stayed behind in Russia. "In Moscow I was a PhD student. It was not so difficult to change subjects, but it was strange being a student again. When I left Moscow I was pregnant, so I also had to get used to the idea of becoming a mother and still being a student!"

A new country, a new university, housing problems and a baby on the way, not to mention no insurance or health care benefits. Quite an adventure for Olga, or anyone for that matter. "But I had so much help from my Dutch friends and the university. They were wonderful. That's why I count myself so lucky."

The department arranged a student flat for me at the Dijkgraaf and made inquiries about insurance for me, but no company would have me. And then Tom Brouwers, who worked at an insurance company, managed to get me insured. My daughter Angelika, who will be two in February, was supposed to be born at home, but she turned out to be too big. I had to go to hospital to have a caesarean." So the insurance was really important. For a while she needed help, and a district nurse came every day. Later on her mother came from Moscow and stayed for two weeks.

She continues: "Two months before Angelika was born I got an apartment in the Troelstraweg. The Brouwers painted the whole place and helped with lots of practical things." Olga's husband, a mathematician, also got a job in the Netherlands, as a programmer with KLM, although they are divorced now. True to the Russian mentality that everyone has to accept and bear his or her fate, she remarks: "It was tough, but it was a short period. Now things are going very well for me. I like it here very much."

During the interview she has to check on her 'experiment'. In her jeans and T-shirt with long blonde hair waving as she runs off, she indeed looks more like a student than a mother. Her daughter has been going to the day-care centre 'De Kleine Wereld' since she was six weeks old. "She is very sociable and communicative. Very easy and sweet, which makes my life enjoyable. In 2005 I will finish my PhD. Maybe I'll go for a postdoc then!"

Lydia Wubbenhorst

Olga Elisseeva: "I had so much help from my Dutch friends and the university. They were wonderful. That's why I count myself zo lucky." | Photo Guy Ackermans

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