From Russia to NYU |

From Russia to NYU

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

Without knowing a word of English, Emma and Liana Dagdavaryan left the life they knew in Russia and moved to Summit County.

“My mom wanted for me, the opportunity to pursue education. … I was so young. You hear of America as this dream place, so advanced and out of this world. … I was really excited,” said Liana who was 9 when they moved.

Now, at age 18, she is graduating from Summit High School in the top 10 of her class and will soon be on her way to New York University.

“When I got accepted, I cried,” she said. “It was so rewarding. It felt like such an accomplishment because that’s why we’re here.”

Liana is one of the first students at SHS to graduate with an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, a program offered worldwide that teaches intellectual, social and emotional skills to live and work in the rapidly globalizing world.

Before high school, Liana never thought she would be interested in studying politics. Then, through classes like the IB course on the theory of knowledge, she learned a new way of looking at conflicts and resolutions and has been drawn to learning more.

At NYU, she plans to major in pre-med, study French, Russian (which she speaks at the level of a child since she took on English at a young age), political science and international relations.

“I’m really excited to meet new people, different cultures, see what they have to say … to pursue my dreams and continue growing as a person,” she said.

When Liana started at elementary school in Summit County ” where her mom chose because she had friends here and was able to get a job as a housekeeper ” she was shocked by the students playing and sitting with their legs crossed on the floor. In Russia, that would not be allowed. It was much more strict, Liana said, adding that when the teacher came in the room students would stand in attention.

It was certainly a cultural change she had to get used to. Also, during the first couple years the language barrier posed challenges, but “everyone was really nice,” Liana said. In fact, the friends she made in third grade are still good friends today.

And like other children of non-native English speakers, at an age when most children don’t understand adult tasks like paying bills, as Liana learned English she was making those calls and translating for her mom. She remembers frustrating times when she was younger and those on the other end of the line would continually ask to talk to her mom. She would have to explain repeatedly that wasn’t going to work.

Now, her mom’s English is better, she has grown independent of her daughter’s help and when Liana leaves for New York, Emma will stay in Breckenridge where she works at City Market.

Since they arrived in America, the Dagdavaryans stay close with family over the phone, and a couple years ago, Liana went to Russia to visit. Her father and older brother and sister, who both have families of their own, as well as many cousins she is close with, live there.

“We’ve been gone almost 10 years so I’m getting anxious to go back,” Liana said, adding that she hopes to take a trip in the fall.

Lory Pounder can be reached at (970) 668-4628, or at

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