Gleb Coca was recently named graduate student of the year for the College of Business. Like many of the previous winners Coca was a hard working and bright student that gave back a lot to Creighton. Unlike many of the previous winners Coca was a major in a European Army.
Coca is from the Republic of Moldova, a country about the size of Maryland that is located between Romania and the Ukraine. He received his bachelor’s degree from Land Forces Academy, a military academy, in Romania before becoming an officer in the Moldovan Army.
He came to Creighton as part of the Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The program covers all costs of the trip and education, which is split by the participating universities and the State Department. The program even included current Republic of Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili, who graduated in 1994.
Coca said the program is widely advertised in his region and it is very competitive. Only about four percent of those who apply are accepted into the program. Once a student applies the International Research & Exchange Boards (IREX) works on pairing up the students with a university.
Coca said that when he was told his application was submitted to Creighton University in Nebraska he had no idea where that was.
“I knew about New York, I knew about California, but I didn’t know about Nebraska,” Coca said. “Then I started to research the university to see where it was at and learn about [the institution]. But the most helpful research was the conversations I had with [assistant dean for graduate business programs] Gail Hafer, my academic advisor. She really guided me through the entire process.”
Coca came over to the United States in August of 2010. He first went to Washington, D.C where IREX held an orientation for all of the recipients of the Muskie Fellowship. Coca and others were informed on what to expect in regards to culture shock, the differences between Europe and the United States and some issues that were unfamiliar to someone living outside of the United States.
“They informed us about identity theft and I thought how can they steal my identity?” Coca said. “It sounds normal [to Americans] but it was kind of weird for someone who was not aware that these things were going on.”
Coca said that at the orientation he was told that the American society was much more individually focused than it was in former Soviet countries, where all people are more community oriented. After hearing this he was afraid that he would have to do everything on his own. His fears were quickly vanquished however when he arrived in Nebraska.
“In soviet time people were educated to focus more on the community and basically disregard their personal interests,” Coca said. “People here give a lot to their communities here as well. I have seen and have been a part of volunteering programs that are awesome. [It’s incredible] how helpful people are, especially in the Midwest. I didn’t have great exposure to the East and West Coast, but here I was surprised at how helpful people are even though they didn’t know me.”
One of the people who helped Coca get acclimated to the United States was Hafer. She picked Coca up from the airport, helped him find housing and get his bank account set up. The two quickly formed a bond and have gotten very close in the past two years.
“We really developed a friendship; my husband, Gleb and I,” Hafer said. “He had some medical issues in January and I sat with him during his recovery and then brought him back to my house for a couple days to further recover. We even took him to Florida a few weeks ago for vacation. He’s just delightful and enthusiastic about everything.”
Coca said that he missed his parents and brother very much but that people like Hafer made the adjustment smoother.
“[Having Gail] made it a lot easier,” Coca said. “I think Gail is a living angel. I can’t imagine my life in Omaha [going the way it did] without Gail there to help me. She showed me the university, she showed me where I could find a place to live. It really makes a difference [to have someone that cares for you] when you are in an unfamiliar place.”
During his time at Creighton Coca served as a graduate assistant for the economics and finance department and also interned at The Burlington Capital Group. Hafer said that inside the classroom Coca’s experiences enriched other people’s learning.
“In the classroom he is able to talk about the economy in Moldova and the effect it has on lifestyle,” Hafer said. “I think his experiences have brought a lot to Creighton and he’s been able to enlighten people to what it is like in a former Soviet country.”
Coca returns home to Moldova in the middle of June and said he is eager to have a floor to implement all the new tools that he learned at Creighton in order to make a positive difference in his home country.
“I think the future depends 50 percent on what you want and another 50 percent on luck,” Coca said. “You might have a goal but you don’t know which way you are going to get this goal. Will it be like a difficult hiking trail or a paved highway? It will depend on the environment you are going to face, on the people you are going to meet on your way and on many other things that depend less on you. A lot depends on luck but what we should do is to go ahead and not give up our dreams or goals, despite how difficult we find our way to be.”
Hafer said that whatever direction life ends up taking Coca is sure to be successful.
“We’ve had probably five or six other Muskie Fellows and Gleb has been by far the most outstanding of all of them,” Hafer said. “They’re all very brilliant people, but he just wants to experience all that he can.”
“Creighton University is a great University,” Coca said. “It’s not the campus, it’s not the walls or buildings that make this university a great one, but the professors that make our education useful and interesting. Not to mention the office staff that makes our overall Creighton experience to be a great and unforgettable one. Gail Hafer definitely tops that list.”
Matt Entringer, copywriter for the College of Business