I had a wildly different picture of how this interview was going to go. I intended for you to learn the challenges of starting your own business from a woman who did just that, but I instead got her talking about the semesters she spent abroad in Spain. Both of us found that more interesting, but if you’re interested I’ll post her business advice in a Part 2.
Without further ado, please warmly welcome Victoria Dombrower: my former boss, Yogurty’s franchisee, and spunky person with an awesome fashion sense.
She’s been watching me grow since I was sixteen, when I started working for her as she opened her very first Yogurty’s location, and has been a big reason I am who I am today. Victoria (let’s call her Vicky) has, over the years, entrusted me with running her store on some days and simultaneously not eating all the FroYo. I’m not only grateful to her, but also proud of her.
She started her first successful business – a recreational gymnastics club – after finishing school, got married, had children, quit her business to spend more time with family, supply taught for the TDSB, and finally, joined the Yogurty’s chain a few years ago. She’s definitely an interesting role model, so I hope you find what she has to say valuable in whichever way suits you best.
Also, I stupidly forgot to take a picture of us together for the interview. So I’m using one from the Financial Post.
Dana Iskoldski: Tell us a bit about yourself!
Victoria Dombrower: I’m perfect. At least that’s what I tell my husband! But I am Russian by birth, Jewish by religion, educated in Canada, Spain and France. My character is a mix of all of that, but more than anything I am a mother of two girls. And a wife, and an entrepreneur. That’s me.
DI: You studied abroad for a while. How did you decide to move away?
VD: I did a year and a half abroad, and it totally shaped who I am today. I spent my third year of university in Madrid, and it happened because when I was choosing my university curriculum I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew I wasn’t a math or science student, but I wanted something tangible. So I decided to study languages because I could teach, or translate down the road. I could see a career with that path. By third year, the only kids who hadn’t dropped my Spanish class were native speakers. And I loved Spanish, the language and its literature, but I realized that if I wanted to keep up with my classmates I would need to learn Spanish not just out of a textbook. It’s what motivated me to go speak to my professors and find out about the University of Madrid.
DI: What was it like?
VD: For the first time in my life every decision I made, once landed in Spain, was mine. Where I lived, who I was going to be friends with, what I ate, everything. Just being far away from the influence of my parents had me thinking oh my goodness, this is really great. I saw the world at large, I got to travel Europe, I had a European boyfriend… It made it very hard to come back to my life here. Twenty five years later I still think back and wonder how in the world I came back. But ultimately family is the most important.
After that experience, though, almost everywhere in the world I go I know someone. And it makes such a difference. Beyond just a tour group, I have a human connection wherever I am.
DI: What advice do you have for someone who wants to do a semester (or more) abroad?
VD: Do it! Don’t even think twice. And do it as independently as you can. Exchange programs are great, but they’re sort of a default. If you can go out on a limb, then that goes beyond your practical education. It’s an unbelievable growing experience. It really lets you discover who you are, what you want, and it really aligns your values. Because not only are you experiencing all these great things but you’re also looking at your life and your parents and friends from a distance. It makes you understand and appreciate and respect them more.
DI: How did you make it happen financially?
VD: I was working since I was thirteen years old, so I had some money saved up. My parents then matched what I had, and I lived on a real shoestring budget. I had five roommates in a two bedroom apartment, I cooked most of my meals. It didn’t matter, though. Also, at the time, tuition in Spain was quite low. Even cheaper than in Canada, I think.
DI: What is your definition of success?
VD: I’m always redefining it depending on where I find myself in life. To me, right now, it’s seeing the fruits of my labour with my children. Their success for me is a constant, so I take that as personal success.
There you have it, folks. Ten coffees down, ninety left to go. I hope you learned something. And to Vicky, thanks for helping me grow.