Great Professors: Victoria Somoff

Interview with The Dartmouth Review

Victoria Somoff (VS): I belong to what historians define as the Last Soviet Generation in that I grew up in the Soviet Union and then witnessed the moment when the Soviet regime collapsed. I was born in the Ukrainian Soviet Republic and it is now Ukraine, an independent country. In the 1990s, which was a very difficult time for all post-Soviet states, my family were granted refugee status by the United States and we came to San Francisco, California.

In Ukraine I was a university graduate student in the city of Donetsk, which is in eastern Ukraine. I studied at the department of Russian language and literature and I also taught Russian literature in high school. In San Francisco I tried to find a job teaching Russian but it was unsuccessful. At some point I picked up Yellow Pages and called every place that had anything Russian in its name including the Russian Hill School, which is a school in a neighborhood in San Francisco called Russian Hill. It has nothing to do with Russia so when I called them and offered to teach Russian, they were very surprised.

I couldn’t find any job teaching Russian and spent about a year working as a waitress and as a clerk at an office supply store. In the evenings, I was taking English classes at the City College of San Francisco. I began to seriously think about going back to Ukraine. It was a moment of distress, not personal distress since I had met good friends in San Francisco, but I wanted to continue with graduate school and studies of literature and just couldn’t see how it could happen in America. Most likely, I would have gone back to Ukraine but at some point an American friend told me that there was this great school nearby, UC Berkeley, and I should go and check it out.

For the full article please go to The Dartmouth Review