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Alumni Stories: Juggling Life, Performing and Education

By John Robert Morton, Student and Affairs Liaison, and Galina “Gala” Rogacheva, APU Graduate

Most University students are typically juggling their work-life balance along with their school requirements. In Gala Rogacheva’s case, juggling is the easy part. But maintaining a balance between life, school, work and family hasn’t been simple.

Gala juggling with dog
Gala in performance. Image courtesy of Gala Rogacheva.

Growing Up in a Circus Family

Gala was born into a family of Russian circus performers. Her mother is an animal trainer, and her father performed a juggling act balancing on an unsupported ladder.

Following her parents’ footsteps, Gala has been performing her juggling and ladder act – along with various animal acts – since she was five years old. Ultimately, Ringling Brothers hired Gala’s family. Her family moved to the United States where they continued to perform across the country.

Growing up in a circus family gave Gala all the mental tools she needed for her life. Life as a circus performer taught her perseverance. Also, it taught her punctuality. Gala says, “After all, you can’t be late for your own act!”

Performing in the circus also taught her joy and kindness. Gala’s parents always told her, “No matter the sorrows in your life, when you are in the ring, you must smile! People come to our show to forget their own sorrows, and it is our responsibility to give them that chance.”

Gala has traveled the world, met incredible people, and felt unconditional love and appreciation from her audience. Thanks to her performing career, she has visited Russia, many European nations and every state in the United States.

Underprepared for College

Gala’s life as a circus performer, however, did not leave much room for education. She graduated high school in Russia at the age of 16 and never stopped to think about higher education. At that point in her life, Gala did not see herself doing anything else but juggling and circus performing.

Gala working with camel
Gala during a circus performance. Image courtesy of Gala Rogacheva.

Gala notes, “Being a performer takes a toll on your body and mind. You are on 24/7 with traveling, practicing and taking care of your animals.”

In 2013, Gala began to think of her life after the circus. She has worked alongside veterinary staff and been surrounded by animals most of her life, so it was a natural progression to think of becoming a veterinary technician.

Gala then enrolled in an associate degree program with Penn Foster College to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT). At 27, going after an associate degree was her first formal educational experience in America.

Gala says, “It was a challenge like no other!” When she moved to the United States at 17, she did not speak English and everything she had learned in 10 years was self-taught. She had no experience with computers, typing, English composition or the structure of the educational system in America.

Gala spent endless hours studying, typing with two fingers and re-submitting assignments. She even contemplating quitting on numerous occasions.

Later, Gala earned her associate of science in veterinary technology with honors. Even with her associate degree, she still needed to pass a national veterinary technician exam to become a CVT.

Gala observes, “Surprisingly, I had no fear of taking that exam, as nothing could compare to the struggle that came with acquiring through my first degree. I earned my certification on my first attempt and plunged into the amazing world of veterinary medicine. For the next three years, I practiced my technical skills working alongside amazing professionals in large and small animal hospitals.”

All of Gala’s hard work eventually paid off. Gala is currently still traveling with her sea lion show, working full-time and raising a family.

sea lions Gala Rogacheva
Gala’s sea lions. Image courtesy of Gala Rogacheva.
Gala relaxing with sea lions juggling
Gala relaxing with some of her animal friends. Image courtesy of Gala Rogacheva.

Finding a Home at the University and Juggling Multiple Responsibilities

Gala fell in love with science as soon as she set foot in her first veterinary clinic. The more she learned, the more questions she had. She became fascinated with microbiology and wanted a better understanding of how the body functions on a cellular level.

Gala hugging sea lions juggling
Gala giving her “coworkers” some hugs. Image courtesy of Gala Rogacheva.

Gala realized that she needed distance education, so that she could continue learning and maintain her work and life balance. The University’s online courses offered flexibility and the program she sought. Gala enrolled in a bachelor’s degree in natural science in 2019.

Gala says, “My experience with the University was MAGICAL, from enrollment and faculty support to resources and customer service. The journey was tough, but the University family got me through it!”

Hanging her bachelor’s diploma on her wall in 2021 left Gala in awe, and she was certain her educational journey was over. She never thought she could love a career as much as she loved her circus act.

But as much as Gala loved her new career, the life span of a vet tech is often short. Veterinary professionals experience burnout from emotional and physical exhaustion, and they often leave the field after five to seven years.

Gala was no exception. She had the knowledge, the experience and the passion, but she was tired.

Luckily, Gala offered a teaching position with a local technical college for the veterinary technology program. Gala had her doubts at first. She says, “Me?! A professor?! I was terrified! But when I stepped into my classroom for the first time and saw my students eager to learn, looking for guidance and support, and putting their trust in me, all my fear was gone.”

Gala feels fortunate that she can help others follow their dreams, share her experience in the veterinary field and prepare them for what’s to come. Sharing her struggles and victories with her students got her thinking about how to make veterinary medicine a better world.

Everything pointed to the lack of strong, supportive, and kind leadership within the veterinary field. Gala has witnessed first-hand how her students’ lives are changing because she led them with passion, instead of managing them with fear.

Gala adds, “I needed to know more about leadership and business in general. I enrolled in the master of business administration program at the University shortly afterward. I felt right at home. The University prepared me for more education through my bachelor’s program, and I had no doubt I would be hanging my master’s diploma on my wall soon.” In June 2023, Gala received her MBA.

Related: How to Become More Productive as a College Student

Setting a Good Example in the Classroom

Who was Gala’s favorite teacher? She says, “Dr. Christy Franklin! I loved all her classes, but Microbiology takes the lead. Dr. Franklin was one of the first tough professors I had, but she made me a better student like no other.”

Gala was fortunate enough to have Dr. Franklin as one of the professors during her final thesis for her bachelor’s program. They have had some delightful scientific conversations.

Gala notes, “Dr. Franklin was also the quickest and most thorough professor when it came to grading and providing feedback. I could submit my work on a Saturday night, and she had it graded on Sunday morning.”

Advice to Future Students

Gala says, “Life will be challenging. Self-discipline is a must. Life will never stop throwing curve balls, and the way you choose to respond to these challenges is what matters.

“Know that it is easy to get caught up in negativity and excuses, but always find the strength to rise above it, even if others choose not to. Positivity and kindness are contagious; be the person that lives by it!”

Related: Writing Academic Papers Should Start with a Good Outline

Continuing the Juggling of Life and Education

Watching doctorate candidates receive their diplomas at her graduation got Gala thinking about a Ph.D. in business administration. She is considering a dissertation that focuses on veterinary leadership. 

Gala now works as a Practice Manager for one of the veterinary hospitals at the Mars Corporation. She looks forward to building her very own team and creating a space where her associates are happy to come to work. Eventually, she aspires to find a position in senior leadership where she will have the power to change the veterinary world.

About the Author

John Robert Morton is a Student & Alumni Affairs Liaison and has been with the University for 14 years. His bachelor’s degree in European history is from Troy University in Troy, Alabama. He also completed master’s degrees in political science and sports management from American Military University. As a liaison, John Robert enjoys helping students and alumni to achieve their personal and professional goals.

About Our Department

The AMU and APU Alumni Affairs Office is dedicated to sustaining lifelong relationships with university alumni by providing engaging opportunities to stay involved and connected. We work closely with a variety of stakeholders to strengthen the alumni experience and to offer a variety of benefits, services, activities, and events throughout the year.

As a team, the Alumni Affairs team works to build and sustain relationships with alumni along their personal and professional journeys. We actively look for ways to recognize and showcase alumni, telling their stories to motivate and encourage students in the pursuit of their goals.

If you are a member of the alumni community and are looking for ways to remain actively involved, please contact alumni@apus.edu and speak with a member of the team.

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