Yesterday I posted on my bucket list that I want to go back to Russia. Lindsey asked me why Russia? and it made me realize something. I've never told my Russia story on my blog. So here you go, a little Saturday story for you.
In 10th grade, so March of 2001, I had the amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity to be an exchange student in Russia for 3.5 weeks. It was part of a government student exchange program. Ten students from Konokovo, Russia and 2 of their teachers travelled here to our little town in the US. We hosted them for 3.5 weeks. My family hosted a lovely girl named Ksenia Pezina. She is super sweet and we are still friends. :) They went to school with us, lived with our families, basically lived a "typical" American teenager's life for a few weeks. We took them all over our area, showing them the best of the Pennsylvania Wilds. The few days before they flew out, we had the opportunity to head to DC as a huge group. We toured all the monuments, met with the coordinators of our exchange program from the State Department, served as student ambassadors at a function...it was awesome.
A month after the Russian students went home, ten American students (myself included) had the unique chance to fly to Russia and spend 3.5 weeks living with Russian families. I stayed with Ksenia and her sweet family. Her mother has since passed away and it breaks my heart. She was a lovely woman!
Konokovo, Russia is a town with about 20,000 people. It's an industrial based town. We toured a facility that was used to generate power and there are still mosaic murals on the walls of the Stalin Days, if you can imagine. (Just remnants, relics really.) Everyone lived in tiny apartments. Barely anyone had cars, they walked or rode the bus everywhere. The streets weren't all paved. There was a beautiful river running through the town, the Volga river. It was lovely but as our friends told us "You no want to swim in that water!" We went to their school most days which was surreal. It was a great school academically, wonderful teachers. But their textbooks were so old and outdated. The facilities just weren't what we in America are used to. They didn't have lunch served to them, instead just an assortment of breads and tea. The focus was on the academics. We had the chance to speak to many of the English classes. I remember reading in one of the textbooks about "popular American culture" and it was speaking of discos, platform shoes and Donna Summer. If I learned nothing else in Russia, I learned how truly blessed I am. My school was well equipped, safe, warm and up to date. What else could I possibly need?
I had the chance to dance in several different venues while in Russia. I performed at a ballet school and that was probably my favorite. All these little tiny ballerina girls (ages 6-8 or so) and they had the same excitement for dance as my students at my home studio. I couldn't understand a word they said and they had no clue what I was saying, but we could dance together. Universal language <3 We also watched a TON of ballroom classes and performances. It was SO COOL. My exchange partner, Ksenia, was (is still? Susha, do you still dance?) an amazing ballroom dancer and her partner was another of the boys on our exchange, Maxim. So cool!
We took a couple day trips to Moscow and it was every bit as majestic as it seems. St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, I've even seen Lenin's body. (Yes, it's still on display. They inject it with wax every so often.) We were in Russia over Easter so we attended services at a Russian Orthodox Catholic Church. CRAZY COOL. You didn't need to understand the language to know they were praising the Lord. Good stuff.
I will try to find my scrapbook and scan some pictures. It was an amazing time in my life and an experience I'm so grateful for. In my bedroom at Ksenia's house, I had this tiny little tv. One night, Susha and I watched I Love Lucy together. It was dubbed in Russian but you could still hear the English. It was so neat to both be laughing at a television show, in different languages, but together. Once in a lifetime doesn't even begin to describe this experience. I'm so grateful. And I need to take my family there, to see how really wonderful our life is!
Where's the most unique place you've ever been? What places have changed your life?