An Ode to Mom and Dad - Ariana Nagainis

First Generation College Student Ariana Nagainis performing a research experiment in the lab.
Photo: Daniel Oberbauer

Ariana Nagainis ‘19

Animal Biology, Minor: Global Disease Biology and Medical Entomology 

I grew up in So. Cal, but my parents and sisters moved from Latvia in 1993, just two years after Latvia re-gained independence from the USSR. My whole family was born there and I still have a lot of family there. My mother frequently sends my extended family money and goods. My first language was Latvian and when I started preschool, the teachers were upset that I could not speak English. From there, my father vowed to only speak English to me so I could learn, and my mother spoke only in Latvian, so I could retain both languages. 

My story is not unique unless you want me to explain all the small cultural discrepancies and traumas that most immigrant children experience.

It's interesting that I only realized such vast cultural differences in how I grew up compared to other folks when I entered UC Davis. I think it is because I grew up in poor neighborhoods with other immigrant families and did not acknowledge certain traumas until entering college and surrounding myself with more privileged folk.     

My father highly encouraged me to go to college throughout my childhood. When he passed in 2008, due to pancreatic cancer, I was left to encourage and support myself to get into college. My mother was supportive of me going, but did not know anything about the process, or understand the true advantages of higher education. As I have started college, she is able to see the greater benefits and I believe she is proud. 

I was afraid of failing out and I still fear it. I struggle in school greatly because I did not have the best primary education, thus I lack basic skills such as math and writing, so I feel like I have to work much harder to keep up with my peers.

I believe I am a hard worker due to my mother. My mother has worked every day of her life to support her three children. My mother’s story is far more interesting than my own. She’s an immigrant who lived through the Cold War, widowed twice, and worked a minimum wage job for her three children. I work hard for [my mother], with the hope to provide her financial peace since she has done that for me for 20 years. Retirement is not a financial option for her.    

Many advisors and professors have made an impact on me.

Ariana Nagainis in a white coat in the research lab.
Ariana Nagainis (left) and her mentor, Marine Petit (right) in the Shah Lab. 

Currently, the postdoc in my lab, Marine Petit, is my greatest influence. She really motivates me to spend hours in my lab and do research because she is extremely encouraging and has a great attitude. 

I don't think there is any real advice I can give because everyone's experiences are so different, but my best advice is to just enjoy all of it. It goes by fast.