Arabia Kopec is an American citizen who did not see the United States until she was 21 years old. Growing up, she was a member of a unique group known as the third culture kids, a name for children raised internationally with no particular roots.
"That was normal to me. It was an awesome life moving around," Kopec said.
Kopec is one of 12 siblings born to American missionaries who traveled the world working for international aid organizations. She was born in Greece, raised mostly in India, attended school in Austria, and did humanitarian and missionary work in Hungary, Bosnia and many other countries. She was at one time fluent in Arabic, German and Turkish, but has forgotten much of these languages from lack of practice.
It was while working in Hungary with the Red Cross in 1989 that she found her calling.
Under communism, medicine was socialized to such an extent that women in this part of the world didn’t have a choice about how they gave birth. All pregnant women were automatically given drugs to induce labor or had an unnecessary cesarean section.
Kopec educated pregnant Hungarian women about natural childbirth and taught them Lamaze techniques.
"When you think about natural childbirth, if you’re not ready, it’s tough," Kopec said. "It’s the hardest work you’ll ever do."
Her work in Hungary inspired Kopec to become a midwife, a goal she is one step closer to achieving now that she has completed the nursing program at the Community College of Rhode Island.
"I’ve always wanted to be a nurse but it was something I couldn’t find a way to do," Kopec said.
It was her own pregnancy that put her on a long path to finding a way.
Kopec married a fellow student from her Austrian boarding school and, when she became pregnant, she decided it was time to settle down.
In 1995, a few days after her 21st birthday, Kopec arrived in her home country for the first time and the seasoned world traveler experienced something she rarely felt: culture shock.
"One of the perceptions I had coming to the United States was everyone was going to speak English," Kopec said. "I went to Fall River and everyone spoke Portuguese. It shocked me so much!"
Kopec quickly became used to this diversity and found many positive surprises, such as the friendliness of Americans compared to the Asian "hands-off" cultures she grew up in, and the vast availability of everything she could ever need in America’s all-encompassing department stores.
"I remember how available everything was, you could walk into any store and get anything," Kopec said.
Now that she was in the United States, Kopec decided she needed a job that could support her children, further deferring her dream of attending school to become a nurse.
Kopec is a marketing manager for a merchandising company traveling the Northeast on frequent business trips. On top of this demanding job and travel schedule, she started taking night classes at CCRI in 2004. She said she had support from her children, Janette, 16, and Aidan, 13, and help from her large family, whom she jokingly called her "babysitting club." She also said CCRI’s flexibility and dedicated staff were a great help to her.
"CCRI’s strongest selling point is they have a night and weekend program," Kopec said. "It’s allowed me to still support my family and live a dream."
Kopec is planning to gather experience as a registered nurse before applying for a master’s program, a certification she needs to become a midwife.
"I am looking forward to starting work as a nurse," she said.