Polina Anastassieva '14, MBA '20, writes about her authentic journey and cultural insights in novel
When Polina Anastassieva completed her memoir, "From Moscow, With Love," in the summer of 2017, she finished a profound project that was six years in the making. What began with her occasionally writing down different thoughts on life became a journey – a labor of love – where she shared personal experiences of living in both Russia and the United States, reflected on lessons learned, and encouraged her readers to follow their dreams.
During Polina's undergraduate career at St. Edward’s University, she started writing in her free time, as a way to express her emotions and process her experiences, but one by one, friends suggested that she combine her musings into a book, a format where she could share her perspective with a larger audience.
Her thoughts soon formed sentences and paragraphs, which transformed into the current iteration – a 152-page novel she is hoping to publish. "My reason behind writing the book isn’t to become famous or to show the world that I have something to prove, but simply to tell a story of how even the most unrealistic or unbelievable things are always possible," Polina wrote. "The only thing that I wish for the reader to get out of reading my book is that anything is possible in this world as long as one believes in himself."
In May 2017, a school of business professor connected Polina with Jonelle Seitz, the university’s former Online Writing Lab coordinator, for help with the editing process. The two sat down and reviewed each of the book’s 16 chapters. They discussed Polina's goals, her narration and ways to improve structure and flow. By July, she submitted a full and final copy.
This passion and talent for writing, however, did not begin at St. Edward’s University. Polina grew up in Moscow learning Russian grammar and literature. She attended the first elementary school that integrated Russian writing with an American-based system, where she studied social studies, science and reading in the style used in the states. At the age of nine, Polina became even more ingrained in American education. She emigrated from Moscow to Austin to live with her grandparents. Her mother was able to move permanently to Austin a year and a half later.
Polina’s family wanted her to have a better future and the ability to thrive in America. The transition was a culture shock, not only due to the distinct language barrier but also due to the lack of friends and connections with a Russian community. Polina relied on the support of her family and spent time diligently studying the English language.
That did not stop Polina’s grandmother, Tatiana Nikolaevski, who is a professional teacher in Russian grammar and literature, from homeschooling Polina. On the weekends, Tatiana Nikolaevski would give her Russian writing assignments, including writing techniques, short stories and narrative and descriptive pieces that forced her to practice her skillset. Polina officially completed the Russian high school program in these subjects. This training and attention to detail translated into the work ethic Polina employed to learn English. She soon became one of the top students in her class and continued writing short stories, participating in essay contests and perfecting her craft.
After high school, Polina attended George Washington University in Washington, DC for two years but ultimately decided to return to Austin and continue her studies. She enrolled in a few classes at Austin Community College and was again recognized for her writing prowess. One professor considered her essay on architecture and sculpture as one of the best papers and even asked Polina for her permission to keep the essay as an example for future students.
When Polina transferred to St. Edward’s University to pursue a degree in International Business, she received support from professors dedicated to her success, in teaching environments that were intimate and student-focused. "The professors are there – not just as a moral support – but they want you to succeed, they want you to understand the material," she said. "It’s not just – here’s an assignment and you write up something just because that’s part of our education system. They actually explain to the students why they are doing this."
Polina was never afraid to ask her professors questions if she did not understand an assignment or needed more clarification, and this trait has allowed her to expand her horizons and take on new opportunities. "It really makes a difference when the teachers and professors and everybody around you make you feel comfortable – that it’s okay to ask even if you don’t know," she said. "It has helped me so tremendously throughout all the years."
After graduating, Polina took on roles at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and at Apple, where she identified potential credit card or identity fraud. But in 2018, Polina decided to return to St. Edward’s University to pursue a Master of Business Administration. Through the program, she hopes to understand management on a deeper level and gain a broader sense of the various roles within an organization. So far, Polina enjoys the experience she is gaining through hands-on, group-oriented projects.
In addition to her current role as student, Polina works as a disputes investigator with Netspend, where she analyzes cardholder’s purchase history and contingent claim patterns and serves an expert on ATM transactions. Her busy schedule does not prevent her from dedicating time to write, though. Polina manages a personal blog, thezahir.net, which focuses on her international perspective. Whether it is her book or her blog, Polina hopes readers gain an understanding that no matter how different our life experiences may be, we are all connected and full of potential and possibility.
"Sharing my personal experiences, I hope that whether the reader is a student or an adult, they can reflect on what they’ve experienced, be more comfortable in certain situations or learn more about themselves," she said.