Ilya Katulin'97, Volgograd
Placement Organization - YFU
Hello, my name is Ilya. I’m Year’96–97 exchange student. I lived in Decatur, Illinois (a nice town in the center of the state), with a black family. And it is one of the most memorable years in my life!
I am very happy that ACIE is celebrating its 10th anniversary! This means there will be more young people throughout the NIS countries capable of making breakthroughs in our society. To travel to the US is a unique experience given to them all in one year. Thinking about my life in the country of liberty once again I am amazed of how many things has happened to me: I’ve learned the language, got many new friends, won the National Award for Drama and Speech, graduated from MacArthur High School with a diploma, got a new look to some seemed to be common things (such as religion, responsibility, independence, punctuality, and so on...), and it has been happening in a funny and interesting way. Here is a story about my first visit to Chicago with the host family.
The whole thing has happened in early August, just a few days after my arrival. Now I should remind you, that it is an African American family, and at that time for me it seemed to be just a little bit strange to live with them, since I’ve never even talked to a black man in Russia. At one day my host dad announced that we are going to Chicago to the All Family Meeting. I’ve imagined it to be a Chicago’s best sites Tour with a party in the house of one of the family relatives, and mostly was excited to see the big city, and hardly could wait for the next day to come. In the very morning we packed our bags and dad headed the van to the north. Four hours passed and we were approaching the suburbs. At that time I was dreaming of skyscrapers and the Great Lakes. We stopped near a nice vast park and began to prepare for the open air lunch. There already were a few other vans and some other people were doing their own things. As I was told these were my host mom relatives. I also had to say good bye to the Tour and the Lakes, because mom and dad were planning to stay in the park till the early evening and then go back. In the next two hours another dozen of vans has come to the park. All of the people were my mom and dad’s brothers, sisters, nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles, and more, and more... So there were about 50 to 70 people out on the grass, old and young, big and little, talking to each other, greeting, smiling, eating, playing, having fun... Suddenly I began to feel something scary and strange, and after a while I realized that I am THE ONLY white guy there! This thought froze me for a couple of seconds. Never before I could imagine that there can be so many black people at one place! Even if I could, I wouldn’t imagine myself being in such place.
At that Meeting I’ve got many friends, first time played baseball, had a long and interesting conversation with the Chicago Mayor’s Security Chief Officer (my host dad’s brother, an open and kind man, a typical American policeman at first sight), did many other things, and finally was introduced to each and every one of The Family. For myself I’ve learned two things. The first is, that it’s not the appearance, that makes all of the personality, but it’s mostly his or her thoughts, soul and deeds; and as soon you assimilate this idea, it will be easier to have constructive and interesting communications with other people. And the second thing, I’ve learned is, that the black families are really HUGE!
Once again I say greetings to ACIE and wish it to celebrate the 100th anniversary as well!
I am writing this letter to express all my thanks to you for the work you do. In my opinion, the idea of conducting such program is a great way of developing good relationships between our countries.
I'm glad that I was lucky enough to pass all the tests and exams to become a participant of this program to get the opportunity of seeing the US life not on TV, but living it from the inside. While in the program, I realized that real US life is completely different from what they show in Hollywood movies. I saw the life of small American town that has much in common with Russian life and at the same time is completely different. Going to American school and communicating with teenagers I learned a lot about American culture, traditions and customs. It was a great surprise for me to learn that there are a lot of religious people in America. I lived in a Christian family and they went to church every Sunday. I am not Christian myself, but to be a part of my host family I was going with them. It helped me to become tolerant that is very necessary for me as I live in South Russia, which is a multicultural region.
Spending a year in the United States without my natural family helped me grow up personally and become more independent and self-confident. Going to school I had to learn to do things I used to in a new way. I am not talking about studying in English, although at the beginning it was not easy, the educational process was completely different. This taught me to learn how to adjust to new things. I was making friends not to stay alone and it developed my communicative skills.
After coming back, I continued studying at my school. I was talking a lot about the US culture at my English classes. My school's students were very interested in learning new things about America. Teachers of other grades invited me to make presentations at their lessons. Before going to the US I was going to continue my education in the field of English language. But after the program I understood that it was not what I wanted. The program gave me good skills in English that are enough for me to be able to communicate freely. Now I am a student in Volgograd State Technical University and really like what I'm doing. Last year I participated in the All Russia English Language Olympiad among Technical Universities and became sixth in common rating and took the first place in the essay contest.
I like to participate in alumni activities that are conducted in our city be it volunteer work or talk show for school students. I keep in touch with my host family. We talk rather often on the phone and regularly via e-mail. We exchange opinions regarding things that are happening in the world, so I can know two points of view on the same problem: Russian and American. Thank you for such opportunity for me.
Andrey Kornilov'99, Saratov
Placement Organization - AYUSA
To whom it may concern.
First of all I want to stress the fact that my trip as an exchange student to the USA was the best thing that has ever happened in my life. They say that a child is an empty bottle that has to be filled up. And it can be filled up either with good stuff or bad stuff. Before I went to the USA I was like a half empty bottle. I was a child of the city of Saratov, and Saratov was my range of interests. I had views on life similar to those that most of my friends in Saratov had. I lived in Russia, I studied at a Russian school and though I read a lot I still could not believe that anything could be different. When I became a participant of the FSA/FLEX program my life changed forever. To say that my horizon has broadened is to say nothing. I received a great opportunity to learn other ways of thinking, I could experience on my own how people in a different country live, I could see their culture from the inside, and the most important thing was that I could learn from experiences of other people of a different walk of life how to deal with certain situations. I do not want to say that I forgot everything that I experienced in Russia and I changed my views dramatically. No, but I looked differently on my life, on my role in our society and I looked differently on the future of Russia. I understood that I was part of making our country a better place, and that it was my responsibility to do everything to achieve that goal. Before I thought that it did not concern me because what can a young person do? But youth is the future of Russia as of any other country, which is why youth plays a great role in this process. The great advantage of this program is that it deals with youth, with youth that makes difference in the world.
While I was in the USA I learned that there were a lot of similarities between our countries, actually there are more similarities than differences. People are the same in any country, they want to achieve the same goals: happiness, prosperity. They do it differently, but it does not mean that if anything is done differently it is wrong. I think that our two countries should work closer to achieve these goals. And an exchange student is the link between the two countries.
This summer I will be a teacher assistant during the PDO. I have been on the TOT and I can say that a lot of things are changing in the way of organizing and conducting the program, and these changes are for the good of the program. The staff is always improving everything, so that exchange students can get the most and the best out of their stay in the USA.
What I think is very important is that after the exchange student comes back to Russia, he/she is not left alone. There are all kind of seminars, lectures, meetings that keep alumni together, so that people share their experiences and use this knowledge to our society benefit. I like it that this program is not stagnating, but always moving and acting. For example after any event with FLEX students there always are evaluation forms, that ask what was good, what was bad, and how it can be improved.
This program not only gave me one chance to get to know the USA, but it gave me an opportunity to continue my search for knowledge, experience which I will further apply in Russia. Thanks to the received knowledge I took part in Democratic Partners: The US-Russia Student Leader Summit, where I have met many interesting people and learned new things about democracy in Russia and USA.
We encourage you to write and submit articles to this section. This will help you share your new ideas and thoughts. Other alumni will be reading what you think and this will make them feel different, make them start thinking deeper into the subjects you are raising. There is always something to talk about and this will be great if you can discuss some things that are on your mind or share your experience with other alumni and all the people that will be reading them one day.
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