Starting from scratch with the support of my team

  • Jul. 10, 2023


This article was created by Yekaterina (Katya) Marchuk, Senior Area General Manager, Sodexo US

As a refugee from a different country, everything here is different ౼ the social structure, my expectations, everything. But you can’t learn about integrating into a new culture from a textbook. My broader education was on the job, learning at Sodexo.

Coming to America

In 1995, I left Ukraine and immigrated to America. I left behind my family, my friends, my language, my culture and everything I knew and became a refugee in another land. In Ukraine, both my husband and I had our master’s degrees in engineering, but we didn't speak English and needed to find work quickly. We decided to restart our careers from scratch and enrolled in a free culinary school program to learn basic skills, English and quickly find jobs in the hospitality industry.

At first glance, it’s easy to think of this as a step backwards, but in Ukraine life wasn’t easy. Back then, the Jewish community was treated as second class citizens. As a result, I constantly worried for my son’s safety. He was enrolled in a newly opened Jewish school that became a target of violence, anger and discrimination. As a refugee, you don't choose to come by your own free will. And you definitely don't think about advancing your career. As a family we were focused on finding work, paying rent and buying food.

Climbing the ladder

After culinary school, I found my way to Sodexo ౼ and 25 years later, I’m still here. I began as an hourly employee working on the Intel account. Within a year, I was promoted to supervisor, then manager, then, then eventually a General Manager, I moved from small to larger accounts.

When I came to America 27 years ago, women didn't have the same role that they do today. Back then, you had to fight to be taken seriously as a woman. And as a refugee woman, it was even more challenging. But giving up was never an option for me. I focused on the reason I came here ౼ I came for freedom. I came so I could sleep at night and not worry about my son’s safety. It took a lot of hard work and determination but it’s not something I did alone.

A home away from home

During my first job with Sodexo, I was studying full time for my hospitality management degree. Whenever I had downtime, my General Manager would let me study. And when our customers saw my books, we got to talking about my studies and they started bringing me books to help me! Later in my career when I was a young General Manager, my VP of operations spent a lot of time with me, helping me understand how the business runs ౼ basic things that you can’t learn from a textbook. When someone wants you to succeed ౼ someone outside of your family ౼ it is incredibly empowering.

My managers pushed me to attend meetings, take classes and I took full advantage of everything Sodexo offered. At the same time, my colleagues and managers helped me navigate, learn new social norms and soon everything fell into place. I learned a lot about communicating and interacting with others by observing those around me. I still remember the very first time I went to a Jewish temple in the US. Everyone was smiling, you didn’t need to be afraid, and no one was being harassed. I’ll never forget it ౼ it was a breath of freedom.

Today I’m a Senior Area General Manager and I oversee several accounts. I manage managers who run accounts ౼ including everything from finance to HR to basic day-to-day tasks. I never dreamed about being a boss; I just focused on working hard, being kind to those around me, providing for my family and constantly challenging myself. I wanted to prove to society that I had something to bring to the table. But I’m not special, I didn’t do anything heroic. If you look around you, you’ll see so many people just like me.

Find out more about a career with Sodexo!