Across Three Continents

Reflections on Immigration, Education, and Personal Survival

by Katerina Bodovski (Author)
©2016 Monographs XII, 140 Pages
Series: American University Studies , Volume 73


Born in Soviet Moscow, Katerina Bodovski was twelve years old when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, coming of age as the «perestroika» and «glasnost» movement gained full speed. She would later arrive in Israel during the peak of the peace process during which time Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated. Her final move to America, months after the upset of 9/11, would also directly and indirectly shape the way her personal journey unfolded.
The unique feature of this work lies in the combination of autobiographical narrative and sociological analysis. By personalizing accounts of immigration, education, and family transformations, this book discusses the author’s firsthand experiences in Soviet Russia, Israel, and the United States. The book speaks to scholars of education by providing examples and patterns in educational systems of the Soviet Union, Israel, and the United States. Beyond academia, the book will resonate with immigrants who have experienced transitions between lands and languages. Furthermore, Dr. Bodovski utilizes her female perspective to illuminate different aspects of family life, immigration processes, and, finally, her experiences in United States academia as a doctoral student and a professor.
Across Three Continents: Reflections on Immigration, Education, and Personal Survival will be of specific interest to women, especially young women, who are trying to figure out the interplay between their family and professional life and what is possible for them to aspire for and to achieve. This text is ideal for courses focused on comparative education, women’s studies, Jewish studies, sociology of education, childhood, and immigration.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Eastern Europe: Russia
  • Brief Family History
  • My Childhood
  • School
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Postsecondary Transition
  • Personal Life
  • Departure
  • Nightmares
  • Part II: Middle East: Israel
  • Kibbutz Tzeelim
  • The Hebrew University
  • The Engagement
  • Life After College
  • Rabbinate
  • Military/JDC-Brookdale Institute
  • Work-Family Balance
  • Shalom
  • Part III: North America: My America
  • Penn State
  • Job Market
  • The Valentine’s Offer
  • “A Home at the End of the World”
  • Obama and Our Green Cards
  • Part IV: Insights and Discoveries, or the Way I See It
  • University Life as a Faculty Member
  • Why Immigration Makes You a Better Sociologist
  • Languages
  • Education
  • Women, Family Life or Is There “Another Exit”?
  • Children and Parenting
  • A Word About Love
  • Instead of the Epilogue
  • Notes



I’m grateful for the journey I’m on and for the opportunity to look at my personal story through the lenses of the discipline I have chosen as my intellectual home. I feel fortunate to have gone through the experiences that brought me where I am today. I’m grateful for the opportunity to write this book and for the chance for my book to see the light of publication.

I’m grateful for the people I’ve met along the way. Aaron Benavot and George Farkas are my mentors; they forever have my love and gratitude. I greatly appreciate my colleagues and graduate students in the Department of Education Policy Studies at the Pennsylvania State University, many of whom have been supportive of this project. Their encouragement and willingness to read the manuscript meant a lot. The Eurasia Special Interest Group of the Comparative International Education Society has been a forum that allowed me to explore my ideas and to become confident in using my voice in this somewhat unusual way. I’m incredibly thankful to talented and generous Hani El Hajj who designed the cover for the book. Norman Wengert is my spiritual mentor, I will be always thankful for his wisdom and guidance.

I’m blessed with amazing friends; they live all over the globe and to list them all would be a difficult task haunted by a worry of forgetting someone. I would like, however, to name the friends whose love and support in general, but particularly ← xi | xii → with the process of creation of this book, are priceless. Thank you for being my friends, Oxana Turskaya, Inbal Nahum-Shani, and Orit Yalon-Shuqrun.

I dedicated this book to my grandmothers Guenya Kelner and Guissya Oppenheim. I wanted to provide a space, however small, for recognition of women of their generation and of what they had gone through at that time and place. I acknowledge my parents Larisa Kelner and Boris Shteinfeld, and my uncle Slava Kelner, for their love, enthusiasm and support. Words cannot describe the love I feel for the greatest gift of my life, my son David. The last but certainly not least, I am forever grateful for my best friend, my partner and my husband Yosef Bodovski. Thank you for showing me what unconditional love is, for being who you are and for what you are to me. ← xii | 1 →



Hanukkah 2012

Sitting in our kitchen, my husband and I were discussing our trip to Israel for our son’s bar mitzvah in the coming summer. David overheard our conversation, came in and suddenly said:

“Mom, you should write a book.”

I was surprised. “What makes you think so?”

“You have an interesting story.”

“Thank you.” I think every parent would be flattered to know that their child finds their life story interesting. “But who do you think will want to publish it?”

“Well, people do it all the time,” reasoned my 13-year-old. “Besides, didn’t you say that you published 13 articles? So, you can write.”

I smiled. In a wave of vanity about two years prior to this conversation I had started a Word document on my computer with the title of the book and the table of contents. And so it was settled—I am writing this book.

Three continents, three countries, three languages. I developed a love story, a relationship with Russia, Israel, and my America,1 making a home for myself in each, one at a time. Like relationships with people, these are complex and multidimensional. Nothing is simple, nothing is clear-cut, black-and-white. All three include a rainbow of colors, amazing highs and painful lows. I approach this book ← 1 | 2 → the same way I have approached other beginnings in my life. Changing continents, I had a certain sense of what I would like to accomplish and a strong feeling it was time to go but rarely had an idea of how things would turn out. I had been operating within a great degree of uncertainty, deciding to move permanently to places I had never even visited before. In recent years I have found myself having quite personal conversations with students, graduate students, and colleagues. I always tell students a bit about myself at the start of every course. Whether these conversations take place in the classroom or over a cup of coffee, I am often aware of an expression of surprise and curiosity in the eyes of the person in front of me. Things that were trivial and familiar for me are new to others. At some point these responses led me to consider sharing my story with other people in the hopes that it may be relevant and interesting to them.

There is nothing heroic in it. I did not save anybody’s life, nor did I fight for my own. I’ve never been hungry or homeless; I did not have to escape a country in the midst of a civil war, and demographically speaking, quite a few people have followed the same geographic trajectory. Over a million people left former Soviet Union countries and came to Israel between 1987 and 2000. Although the majority stayed, about 10% left Israel, either to return to the former Soviet Union or to emigrate to the West (the United States and Canada; fewer to Germany, Australia and New Zealand).

Yet, I included the phrase “personal survival” in the title of this book. Often survival refers to events of epic proportion—survival of war, illness, or a tragic loss. I’m talking about a different kind of survival—the survival of one’s identity, of staying true to oneself, of being who you are and doing what you are here to do. To preserve this, occasionally one has to make bold choices and leave the environment in which that is no longer possible (be it leaving a profession, relationship, city, or religion). In my case, it meant changing continents.

So, what is so special in my story? I was twelve years old when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power. I came of age when his “perestroika” and “glasnost” gained full speed. I arrived in Israel at the peak of the peace process. I was there when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated; we were still there when the second intifada began. We came to America within a year of 9/11. All those well-known historical events directly or indirectly shaped the ways in which my personal journey unfolded. The author of one of the best-known books in sociology, The Sociological Imagination, C. Wright Mills writes:

The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and external career of a variety of ← 2 | 3 → individuals…. The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society (pp. 5–6).


XII, 140
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (August)
biography transition Green Card
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XII, 140 pp.

Biographical notes

Katerina Bodovski (Author)

Katerina Bodovski is Associate Professor of Education in the Department of Education Policy Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Bodovski received her master’s in sociology from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, and her PhD in sociology from the Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests lie in the intersection of sociology of education and comparative international education. She has published extensively in leading peer-reviewed journals and is a recipient of several prestigious research grants, including funding from the American Education Research Association, Foundation for Child Development, and National Science Foundation.


Title: Across Three Continents
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154 pages