EKATERINA (EKAT) HAUFF
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology – Seated
Bachelor of Business Administration/Management – Seated
Tuv Province, Mongolia
Peace Corps Volunteer – Mongolia
RIGHT PLACE. RIGHT TIME.
When Ekaterina (Ekat) Hauff, 23, was born, her mother Natalia was 16-years-old and her father Andrei was 18-years-old. They were both poor high school dropouts in Cheboksary, Russia, a river port city of nearly 500,000, about 400 miles east of Moscow. By the time she was 12 years old, Ekat’s father passed away from complications of alcoholism. Two years later, she lost her young mother to street drugs. Present when each parent passed, Hauff was heartbroken by her losses.
Soon after being orphaned Ekat and her younger brother Nikita found themselves in a Cheboksary Orphanage, looking at a bleak future. That was until Michael and Heather Hauff of North Olmsted, Ohio, decided to add more children to their family. The Hauffs had three children but knew they had more love and opportunities to share.
One day, Heather saw pictures of children from the orphanage on a website. Ekat’s image stayed with her. After discussing adoption with family, Michael and Heather visited the siblings in Russia.
“Nikita and I agreed to join their family in the United States,” says Ekat. “I knew that despite my broken heart I had to do something to have a bright future and let myself live again. It took one year to process all of the paperwork for us to move to America in 2012.”
The timing was fortuitous as Russia banned adoptions by U.S. parents in 2012 and controversy continues to surround Russian-U.S. adoptions.
“After living in Russia for 16 years and observing all of the hardships in life,” she says. “I am very thankful to my family and can’t imagine where I would be without them. I’m glad that they decided to adopt me and Nikita seven years ago. This situation made me truly believe in God and that miracles do happen in real life.”
Once in Ohio, Ekat quickly learned English and graduated from North Olmsted High School in spring 2015. She started studying at Tiffin University in fall 2015. Just four years later she graduated with two degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management.
“When I was looking at the universities, I wanted a university with an international business program that would include study abroad,” she notes. “I heard that Tiffin University had a partnership with the Washington Center. Honestly, Tiffin University is great at letting students have different working opportunities. The only thing that students need is the motivation to do it all.”
And Ekat had that motivation. She graduated with two degrees, studied abroad in Berlin, Germany, and spent a semester in Washington, D.C., completing an internship with a legislative agency. She also worked as a resident assistant and peer mentor at TU during her sophomore and senior years.
“I am proud to be a TU graduate because Tiffin University is amazing and everyone who works there always wants to support you,” she says. “It’s like being part of a big family and despite your opinions or ideas, the family is always there for you.”
Her coursework and extracurricular activities at TU led to a stint in the Peace Corps. A 50-year-old international service organization, the Peace Corps places volunteers in disadvantaged countries to work at the grassroots level to create change that lasts long after their service. Projects may be in agriculture, environment, health, education and more.
To fulfill her two-year service commitment teaching English and working in community development, Ekat moved to the independent, democratic country of Mongolia in June, 2019. She chose the country – sandwiched between Russia and China – to be close to her native Russia hoping it may be easier to learn the language.
In Tuv Province, Mongolia, Ekat is both learning and teaching languages. “I love that I am not only assisting my community, but I also learn so much about others as well as myself,” she reflects. “I love that I am able to grow every day and appreciate everything that I have. I love that I can influence students to see the best in people and to always have smiles on their faces.”
While the move and language haven’t been easy, she’s enjoyed her host family. “Despite cultural and language barriers, we understood each other well. They could see that I truly care about children and my role as a Peace Corps volunteer. And, I could see their curiosity and love for me. We didn’t have to use words to express our respect for each other and we could laugh at some situations without words.
“After one situation, I knew I was in the right place at the right time. My host family has three boys (ages two, five and nine),” she says. “Those children brighten my every day with their smiles, questions and attitudes towards learning. The kids made me feel like I can truly influence others. The oldest was so motivated to learn English and wanted to spend so much time with me.
“One day he told me that he wants to learn English and that he will work for the Peace Corps when he grows up. After the conversation with him, all my doubts disappeared, and I stopped thinking and asking myself if it was the right decision to move away from my family.”
In addition to teaching English, Ekat helps run clubs such as the Speaking Club, Life Skills Club and Teachers Club. “I see so many students excited to have me in their classes, and they always ask so many questions,” she says. “But honestly, the best part that makes me happy every day is seeing students smiling and trying to use English to communicate with me. It’s sad to think that most of the students at my school have never seen a foreign person but now they have me.”
Moving to Mongolia meant adapting to the culture. Ekat lives in her own Mongolian ger. Known in other countries as a “yurt,” a “ger” is a portable, round tent covered with skins or felt and used as a simple dwelling.
“I have to fetch water, make a fire every day and live without showers. But this living experience is nothing compared to the happiness that I feel here,” she says. “The students at my school make me laugh and smile every day. Honestly, I have never felt so helpful and needed as I felt here in Mongolia on the other side of the world.”
“After living here for six months I can say that my life has been changed forever,” she says. “Now I know that my parents decided to adopt me because their hearts told them to do so. My heart is telling me that I have to be here, that I have to be patient and share my love and positive attitude with others.
“When I was a child, I never had a role model or something to look forward to, but now I can be a role model for children in my school.”
“My parents truly inspired me to live a different life and always help others,” she says? “I wouldn’t be who I am without their guidance and support. I am proud to be their daughter and I am forever thankful to them. I want to adopt kids myself once I have a stable job and income.”
When her stint with the Peace Corps ends, Ekat is planning to find a job at a non-profit or government agency in the United States. She also wants to get a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in international psychology.
The Washington Center Internship
ONE STUDENT’S EXPERIENCE
Ekaterina (Ekat) Hauff ’s internship with the Open World Leadership Center in Washington, D.C., helped her to see her future.
The Open World Leadership Center is an arm of the U.S. Congress with a stated mission to “introduce rising leaders of emerging countries to the importance of legislative functions in creating and sustaining democracies. This is done through the introduction of young foreign leaders to the American democratic governing systems and free-market operations at every level: federal, state and local. The Center also maintains a continuing relationship with the network of leaders it has enlisted, especially with those from countries crucial to American national security interests.”
“Before I came to the Open World Leadership Center, I was unsure of many things,” Hauff said. “I was not sure of where I wanted to work in the future. I was uncertain of how the skills I had could help me find a job. I was unsure of what career I could follow with psychology and business degrees.”
The internship semester in D.C. changed all of that. It exposed Ekat to a number of opportunities and helped her see what she may want to do in the future.
“It forced me to make professional connections and stay up to date with current issues,” she said. “I made multiple connections with people working in fields that I aspire to be in one day and learned various skills crucial to making myself a competitive applicant in future career postings.”
“I gained skills by creating briefing materials for the Counselor to the Board, for our organization and for Ambassador John O’Keefe,” she said. “I would often be asked to research a topic in Russian and create briefing material in English. Thanks to the experience I had at TU, it was easy for me to research and find topics, even when some were very obscure.”
“The staff at Open World was accommodating in letting me attend congressional meetings and other events that focused on Russian involvement in Georgia and Ukraine,” she said. “At a lecture by the Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia, I learned about democratic reforms and foreign policies in Georgia. I also had the opportunity to visit the Ukrainian embassy and talk to Ambassador of Ukraine Valeriy Chaly.”
More than 300 Tiffin University students have obtained internship positions through The Washington Center since 2003. In fact, TU has sent more students to The Washington Center for internships than any other college or university in the U.S.
Tiffin University is very proud that approximately 40% of its student body are first-generation college students (the first to attend college in their families). The University is also proud that many of its students and alumni could be defined as individuals who challenge conventional wisdom – meaning, they may have been unlikely to succeed based on their upbringing (family, life hardships and roadblocks along the way). Do you feel your story fits within the category of challenging conventional wisdom and if so, would you be willing to share? Email Lisa Williams, Editor of Challenge Magazine, email@example.com. In the subject line: Challenging Conventional Wisdom, and within the body of the email, write a short synopsis of why you were unlikely to succeed and who you are today. Did your education from Tiffin University help you succeed? Thank you.