Meet Us Monday: Olga Johnson


Did you know that Russian is the third most spoken language in the state of Oregon? Olga Johnson a member of our IDA (matched savings grant program) team moved from Moscow to Portland and now works with the Russian speaking Slavic community in the Pacific Northwest. 

Olga grew up in Mirny, a town famously known for hosting the world’s third largest diamond mine. She attended Mining State University in Moscow where she graduated with a degree in economics. Olga found herself bored working in the economics department of a diamond plant, and felt called to pursue work that was relationship centered. At the same time Olga reconnected with her high school sweetheart who she had lost contact with 15 years prior. The two had met during an foreign exchange program in Alaska but had lost touch after Olga returned to Russia. Olga moved to Portland and would later marry her high school sweetheart. 

The move was a big transition, but Olga was relieved by the welcoming atmosphere in Portland and immediately felt at home in with the local Russian speaking community. Outside of this community however, Olga found that the language barrier was very taxing. She recalls, 

“The hardest part was feeling like you were holding back your identity and personality. I love to be understood for exactly what I mean. In Russia I had a lot of fiends and was very social. It was hard for me to put myself out there in speaking English at first because sometimes you don’t want to feel awkward. Personal interaction is a big part of my life and that was taken away for awhile.” 

Olga’s advice to others learning a new language or moving to a new place is to,

“Just go act, don’t be scared. Don’t get distant, or settle into a safe place at home. Dive in. It’s fine to have an accent and your own culture. Keep that identification and just dive right in. Remember that it takes time, give yourself time, be nice to yourself”.

In July of 2015 Olga began her job as the IDA Program Coordinator for the Slavic/Russian speaking community. Olga is proud to work at Mercy Corps Northwest because she helps people start their own adventures. Olga explains, 

“A lot of our clients are facing tons of challenges and emotional stress, we are able to relive some of that. Seeing the joy they have graduating from the IDA program with their grant money and then running onto them around town and hearing their updates is extremely rewarding. I really am just proud to even be working at Mercy Corps Northwest, in a non-profit you get to be around the most amazing people, who deeply care about the community.” 

In her free time Olga enjoys hiking and camping with her family. She loves to sing and even has her very own karaoke machine in her living room. Olga’s smile lights up the room in Mercy Corps Northwest. We are so grateful for the outreach she does in our Russian speaking communities, empowering others to embrace their cultures and achieve their dreams. 

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