Everyone dreams of discovering their true passion and purpose in life. While some people find their calling in school, others stumble upon it in unexpected places—like collaborating on an international project between the U.S. and Russia!

Eurasia Foundation’s US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange (SEE) program unites Russian and American social entrepreneurs to exchange best practices in their respective fields, develop professional skills, and expand cross-cultural impact. For Vera Shamaeva, getting involved with a SEE Partnership Project opened her eyes to new opportunities and set her forth on an entirely new path in her career.

Vera was a Russian partner in the 2016-2017 Partnership Project “Language and Development of Deaf Children: How Bilingual Education Improves Academic, Cognitive, Emotional, and Social Development.” The project focused on improving access to bilingual education among deaf children in the U.S. and Russia. To do so, project partners produced a visual storybook app, accessible on a tablet or smartphone, consisting of video reenactments of popular American and Russian children’s stories.

At the time, Vera was Chairman of Youth Programs at the All-Russia Society for the Deaf, a Russian national advocacy organization that works to protect the rights of people with hearing loss. She was actively involved in the deaf youth movement in Russia.

However, Vera credits her involvement with SEE for helping her discover her true calling. “At the time of the project, I was pursuing several different professional commitments in order to discover what I really wanted to do,” Vera shared. “My stay in the U.S. was an amazing opportunity to get to know people with disabilities, understand their lives, and the opportunities that are out there.”

Through her work as a storyteller within her SEE project, she discovered her passion for connecting with others through storytelling.

This discovery led her to her current position as a museum tour guide in St. Petersburg, where she gives tours in Russian Sign Language at the State Russian Museum and the Hermitage. She also hosts tours for foreign visitors in American Sign Language, which she learned during her SEE bilateral project.

As Vera pursues her passion for interpretation and storytelling at cultural institutions, she hasn’t stopped engaging with the youth deaf movement in Russia. She continues to work as a mentor to young deaf-blind people. “I’m committed to persuading young deaf-blind people to not be afraid to take part in different projects and immerse themselves in something new,” said Vera. “As I learned with SEE, by thinking big and pursuing new challenges, you just might discover your true calling.”

We can’t wait to see where Vera goes next. To learn more about SEE Partnership Projects, click here.