O'Neill Library Assistant Liya Moshinsky (right) and her long-time colleague, Head of Acquisitions Elvira Reynolds. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
BC Is Where Her Heart Is
O'Neill Library has been more than a workplace for Ukraine immigrant
By Sean Smith
Growing up in Ukraine, recalls O'Neill Library Assistant Liya Moshinsky, you were taught that "Jesuit" meant a "bad person." Catholics were little better, according to the Soviet ideology of the era; in fact, they were supposed to be feared by Jews like Moshinsky.
But in Cold War Ukraine perhaps worst of all was to be even a non-religious Jew, Moshinsky says: "We were second-hand people."
So, 26 years ago this fall, Moshinsky, her husband Yefim and their two children immigrated to Boston to seek a new, and better, life. Moshinsky and her family found both and, ironically, Boston College - a Jesuit, Catholic institution - has been at the center of their assimilation into America.
This year, Moshinsky marked a quarter century of service at Boston College Libraries. Her daughter Elvira Spiegel also worked at BC for a while, while her son-in-law Michael Spiegel is a circulation assistant in O'Neill. Moshinsky's son Alex earned a degree from the Carroll School of Management in 1989 and is now a certified public accountant in New York City. [Yefim, a mechanical engineer, died last year.]
For Moshinsky, a staff member in the O'Neill acquisitions department, BC, and O'Neill Library in particular, has been more than a workplace. Here is where she learned her English and developed her computer technology skills - and, most of all, where she has found sustaining, long-lasting friendships.
Recounting her time at BC, Moshinsky talks of co-workers who took her out for seafood when she became an American citizen, who were patient enough to listen to her broken English and, most importantly, who made her feel like anything but a foreigner.
"I want to say to all of [my colleagues] how good they, and Boston College, have been to me," said Moshinsky in a recent interview. "They have given me the best. They have shown me how to eat lobster. They have taught me to speak."
O'Neill Library Head of Acquisitions Elvira Reynolds, Moshinsky's long-time colleague, said, "Liya is friendly and personable, a delight to work with. It took a while to get to know her, although she is an open person, mostly because of her lack of English. But as she became more comfortable with the language, you were able to get a better sense of her as a person."
In fact, Moshinsky's effort to learn English brought her to BC Libraries in the first place, through a federal ESL program that offered part-time employment. When a permanent, full-time position opened up several months after her arrival, Moshinsky - who at first knew little else other than "Hi" and "Bye" - had learned enough English to convince the library administration to give her a shot.
Developing fluency in English was, and is, a major milestone for Moshinsky. A philologist who graduated from the University of Kiev, she takes pride in her education and professional expertise. But Moshinsky says she has experienced the frustration, common to many non-native English-speaking people in the US, of being underestimated or disrespected because of their difficulty in expressing themselves.
"How do you say who you are if people can't, or won't, understand you?" she said. "There is a saying: 'I may speak with an accent, but I don't think with one.'"
Fortunately, Moshinsky has never encountered such attitudes at BC, and certainly not among her co-workers. Reynolds points out that learning a second language at middle age, as Moshinsky did, is no small task. Then again, she says, from the beginning, Moshinsky impressed everyone with her determination to be self-sufficient, whether in English or other aspects of her job.
"A few weeks after Liya started, I went in to see how she was doing," Reynolds said. "She was trying to move these 50-pound boxes of books; she didn't want to ask anyone for help."
Reynolds acknowledges that, later on, she was concerned about whether Moshinsky could adapt to the libraries' increasing use of technology. "But Liya was not afraid. She went right in there and learned how to use the computers just fine."
Moshinsky says, simply: "I did whatever I could, and worked as hard as possible. Step by step I improved. And I got so much help and support from my co-workers. They made me feel welcome, and they enabled me to do my best."