Q&A With Liza Ryabkina (Harvard '11)

How did you get started and what inspired you to play?

I started playing hockey as a result of my active personality. I was a very hyper child. My parents couldn’t deal me my need to move around and, fortunately, an opportunity came around to try ice hockey. At that time my coach Ivan Pravilov was looking to take on training girls along with boys and he invited me to the rink to see if I liked it. I fell in love with hockey as soon as I stepped on the ice and since then I have never looked back.

 

What is the hockey like in Ukraine?

In Ukraine hockey is very different from the one in the US. Not many play hockey because it is a pretty expensive sport and equipment is hard to come by. While in Ukraine I don’t remember once taping my stick or my shin guards, as we did not have tape or a place to buy tape even if we wanted to. For a while, I remember playing both righty and lefty just because we did not have enough of righty sticks. Here, I also often hear players complain about the ice conditions, however at the rink in Kharkiv half of the time our zamboni was broken and we just had to dangle through the piles of snow that would form.

Are there any all girl teams/leagues?

There are no all girl teams currently in Ukraine, and my coach was the only coach who took on training girls alongside with boys. I will be eternally grateful to him not only for being open-minded, but also because of his support and guidance when I decided to go to court as a result of the Ice Hockey’s Federation of Ukraine to ban women from playing in men’s leagues after they reach a certain age. The case did not make it far, as I would get a notice that my court date has been moved to the 17th and it will already be the 18th.  As there are no women’s teams, girls that do want to play hockey still have no way to compete, except to play abroad, however where do you find the money to do that? Because of certain peoples’ desire to not have women compete with men and refusal to start a women’s program many will never have the opportunity to do something that I have done, which has turned my world upside down and provided me with opportunities that I never imagined I would have.

You spent 2 years attending the Berkshire School in Sheffield, MA.  How did you end up at a prep school in the United States?

After a fruitless year of battling the administration in courts, I decided that it was time to find a place where I could continue competing while gaining an education. I contacted several people in the US who have been helping our team since we were little, and asked for their advice. After taking some intensive English courses and studying for TOEFL I received a scholarship from Berkshire and was on my way.

What was your overall experience like at Berkshire?

It was a tough transition period for me. Learning the language is not the hardest part, in spite of what many may think. The hardest part is to understand the culture: what to say and when, what is awkward and what is not, and what is an appropriate behavior in certain situations? Without having an understanding of how to behave in such situations you are simply misunderstood. My coach and her husband Lori and Dean Charpentier pretty much took me under their wing and helped me in any way they could to adapt to these changes. But, oh man, it was tough.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking of moving to a different country to follow their dream of either going to school or playing hockey?

I would definitely suggest staying open-minded. The less you allude to what is comfortable and the less you resist the change – the easier it is.

Talk a bit about your recruitment process and how you ended up choosing Harvard University.

I knew that Harvard would be one of my top choices as I felt Harvard provided the best opportunity to pursue my academic and athletic objectives. Its geographic location, its size and its proper balance between academics and athletics made Harvard a very appealing place to pursue my continued education. Coach Stone reached out to me and I decided to go on an official visit to see what the team was like and what the campus life would be like. I fell in love with Harvard from the first sight, however I also fell in love with Cornell. After revisiting both schools I still could not make a decision, but decided to go with my gut. And since, I have not regretted my decision once.

What are the academics like at Harvard?

Harvard is a place where you get challenged. You are given a chance to grow and learn. Academics here are challenging but extremely fascinating. There are a lot of not only intelligent professors but also students from whom you can learn.

What has been the toughest thing for you to adjust to since being at Harvard?

Most of the adjustment period for me happened in high school. However, if I was to pick one tough thing that I had to adjust to at Harvard is how unbelievably smart people are here. I continuously compare myself to other students and have to constantly remind myself that I am here for a reason.

What 1-2 things do you believe differentiates you from other players in the league?

My Russian/Ukrainian accent.

What’s your mindset during a game?  Do you have any pre-game rituals?

I do not have any pre-game rituals, except for the ones that we do as a team. Going into a game I just try to stay composed and have fun.

Are there significant culture differences between the United States and Ukraine?  If so, what are they?

I think I have touched a bit on this question in a few of my previous answers … but, there are many cultural differences mainly in the way people behave, make friends, interact, and what kind of lifestyle they lead. I remember my first year at Berkshire, I was really angry and frustrated with the fact that everyone would ask me how I was doing and would say hello, but wouldn’t truly care. Or that people had a tough time with confrontations, choosing to discuss an issue behind someone’s back rather then confronting someone and solving it. Pretty much the list goes on.

What do you miss most about home?

Food that’s for sure.

How often are you able to get back to your hometown of Kharkiv, Ukraine?

I try to go home at least once or twice a year.

What is the best advice you were ever given?

Life your life to the fullest; and whether in the game or in life be proud of who you see in a mirror at the end of each day.

Do you have a saying or motto that you live your life by?

My purpose in life is to be happy. Giving back and making those around me happier among other things is definitely a huge part of what contributes to my happiness.

What would be your ultimate achievement?

I think that the definition of an “ultimate achievement” changes for me with every year and at this point it is hard to say.

What are your plans once you graduate from Harvard?

Once I graduate from Harvard I am looking to work in consulting or investment banking.

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