The Expat Woman

Nataliia Karpenko, Founder of LIVZO

Nataliia Karpenko is a native Ukrainian and has a professional background in international development projects, industrial products and design and social work. Her cultural background and focus on community collaboration has led her towards a number of volunteer opportunities and community leadership roles. Nataliia received her Master of Enterprise Finance and Management from one of the leading schools in Ukraine as well as earning a Project Management Degree from UC Berkeley. Nataliia’s biggest passion is a synergy of innovation, creativity and healthy lifestyle. This passion prompted her – along with a partner – to create a blog dedicated to health and well

1. Tell us a bit about yourself:

I’m originally from Ukraine and migrated to the US four and a half years ago. Before I migrated, I knew of a lot of people who worked in the business, technology and finance fields and their careers blossomed after they moved here. I felt that I could fulfill a lot of goals and dreams in the US.  I always wanted to come to either California or New York. My decision was also partly motivated by the fact that I was in a relationship with a man who lived in the US. I already had a bachelors in financial analysis and a masters in entrepreneurship from Ukraine. I was always fascinated by mathematics and physics. When I came to the US, my dream was to get a job in the US stock market.  I completed multiple programs at UC Berkeley. But then I began noticing that the bay area had a lot of creative opportunities too.  While I wanted to be on the business side, I began getting interested in pursuing something creative.  I then decided to go and work in a start up to see how companies were built. The US was the instigator for me to pursue something new. I still eventually want to work in corporate America one day.


2. What prompted you to start your health food website/blog?

I have been health conscious since I was 15. I would always read about new diets and learn about the benefits of these diets for our bodies. I’ve read a lot of health books on how health is impacted by psychology, structure of molecules and how our body is impacted by the food we eat. I was also a marathon runner, which requires a lot of discipline, especially with food.

I also worked on a project to do with medical devices in the Chinese market. As part of this project, I met with a lot of scientists and doctors on digestive diseases, which helped me gather some knowledge about nutrition and health.  I’ve also always been curious about lifestyle and how it impacts productivity and I started feeling passionate about these topics. Finally, I decided to turn my interest into something that would be of benefit to people and that’s what eventually led to the creation of our blog.

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3. Tell us about your website and blog. How have readers responded?

Our blog is a health food information hub and allows health conscious people to connect with each other and meet their health/fitness goals in a collaborative online environment. Our blog was only launched in Sep/Nov 2014, so it’s still very new. We are regularly adding more content. Our end goal is to turn it into a social media platform rather than just an information hub.

Currently, the health blog is helping to create awareness about health and fitness. But the main product that we want to develop is a social media platform, which will cover health, calorie consumption, dietary changes, information on illnesses as well as disease prevention.  Essentially, we are trying to create a one stop shop for anyone who wants to improve their physical and mental health.  

There will be two important aspects to our social media platform. The first is that it will be content based (ie, less picture based and more information based). We want to make content “sexy”. The second aspect is that it will aim to encourage a more personalized relationship between doctors and patients, where both parties take an interest and responsibility in a patient’s health. We want to make the doctor-patient relationship a more interactive and long term one.

So far, we have had an incredibly positive response from people.


4. What prompted you to become vegan?

My parents were chefs, so I have been exposed to a wide variety of cuisines since I was young. But even as a child, I somehow never felt comfortable eating meat. I’m Christian and as part of my religion, there would be a seven week ‘fast’ every year when I wouldn’t eat any animal products. The concept behind the fast is that you are cleaning your mind and your body. I did this fast for 8 years and felt very energized and healthy each time I did it. I think that’s what kickstarted my eventual transition to a vegan diet.


5. Do you think that living in the US has advantages for women who want a healthier lifestyle?

There are certain cities in the US that are incredible for vegan options and health food options generally. I think California is really good in that aspect, as are Seattle, New York, Boston and Orlando. I’m sure there are others but these are the cities I’m familiar with and can personally recommend. I think cities with a lot of multiculturalism are great for providing more options for vegans and vegetarians alike.


6. What are your favorite American foods and/or favorite restaurants in the US?
I’m a huge fan of California contemporary cuisine. I love all kinds of green salads from walnuts, beets and blueberries to arugula with avocado and cucumber. Living in the bay area I have access to a large variety of international cuisines. But interestingly enough, only in California was I able to develop appreciation for simple food that preserved natural flavor instead of sugars and fats.  I have cravings for salads and prefer eating at cafes and restaurants that have similar philosophies about freshness and organic ingredients. 
There are great lunch spots in SF and the bay area like:  Blue Burn, The Plant Cafe, Pacific Catch. I like Greens in Marina, where I had one of the most romantic dinners on Valentines day last year. 
7. How has your business and healthy lifestyle been influenced by your own culture or another culture?
Learning a new language and living in a new place is a really exciting opportunity. For me, it has given me a wonderful new perspective, an opportunity learn about different cultures and discover unique abilities in myself.
Growing up in an unstable economy with a complicated political system makes young professionals in Ukraine hungry for a good education and career. It acts as its own motivation and drives people towards success.  From my own culture, I’ve learnt the importance of balancing professional and personal life as it  brings confidence, helps with overcoming stress and being more creative at work.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned from living in the US is to  never give up on passion, to avoid biases and tunnel vision on a situation, and finally to listen attentively to others’ opinions.

Written by Nataliia Karpenko and Sandhya Jaishankar

Photos courtesy of Nataliia Karpenko

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Nyna is the Founder and CEO of The Expat Woman, a global platform focused on connecting, supporting and empowering women who have moved abroad or plan to relocate. She is also a LinkedIn coach, consultant, trainer and speaker. LinkedIn played a huge role in my professional journey abroad, helping me build a network of powerful expat women and allies.

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