Soviet Teens Find U.s. Warm, Friendly

Leningrad School Sends Contingent Here

March 17, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

Fourteen teen-agers wearing navy polyester uniforms and broad smilesbrought a bit of Leningrad to Bel Air and the state this month.

They quoted Pushkin's poetry as they trekked around the Inner Harbor.

They visited Annapolis and ran smack-dab into a demonstration by gun lobbyists, ending up with little buttons that read "ONLY FREE PEOPLE OWN GUNS."

They tried their hand at bowling and McDonald's french fries and loved both.

The teen-agers, along with several teachers from Leningrad School No. 1, arrived two weeks ago at the John Carroll School in Bel Air.

The Soviet students attended classes and went on trips with their host students, who will travel to Leningrad next month as part of an American-Soviet exchange program.

Everywhere they went, the students talked -- eagerly, incessantly, words tumbling over one another in an effort to connect with Americans.

"Everybody told me I'll meet things unusual for me," said Kate Lavrova, a 10th-grader with a serious manner. "But I was a little bit shocked at the people -- so warm an attitude. It gives me a warm feeling. In the Soviet Union people are very serious. They don't smile too much."

She was sitting at a table at the Inner Harbor with Liza Pozdnjanova, another Soviet visitor, earnestly licking strawberry ice cream cones and talking about life.

They had not come to this country just to shop, the teen-agers emphasized, although they found the optionsmind-boggling.

"The first day I went to a mall, they guessed I was a foreigner," said Kate. "I stood in one place and couldn't move, Iwas so shocked at all the colors and things to buy."

They had notmerely come to sightsee, she continued. "We are here to study."

Said Liza, "It helps us to understand other people, helps us destroy the image of our countries as enemies."

And they were impressed with the response they received.

"If you look at a Russian boy, he will wonder, 'Why is she looking at me?' And frown and look away," saidKate. "American boys smile back, glad that I noticed them."

The salespeople in stores were congenial, too, the girls said.

Said Liza: "People are always smiling, asking if they can support me and helpme. In the shops they ask if you want help."

At one cosmetics store, "they gave me samples as a present and we exchanged addresses," added Kate proudly.

Their host families -- parents of John Carroll students -- treated them like members of the family, the teen-agers said.

The students went to classes at John Carroll with their host friends, sampling everything from religion to U.S. history. This is the school's third year in the exchange program, sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said Ed Miller, JohnCarroll's Russian language and history teacher.

Beyond academics,the teen-agers journeyed to Mount Vernon -- their choice -- and joined a weekend dance at John Carroll.

Everywhere, they raved over what they called the cleanliness of American towns and streets.

"It's clean here," said Petr Goncharenko. "You take care of everything, it's incredible."

In spite of warnings by parents that they would see things they'd not imagined, the visitors found the standard of living hard to grasp.

Another student, Anton Jatskevich, had been given $7, about 200 rubles, for lunch, he said. "I am looking at the menu, and I realize that this is about half my mother's monthly salary,"Anton said, shaking his head. "If I tell her I have lunch for $7, she will go mad."

But not everything was different, said Liza, a friendly young woman who, in many ways, is similar to her American counterparts. She loves the Beatles. She plays the piano. She's president of a club at the school which works to preserve the ecology of the Baltic Sea.

The 10th-grader, who is taking a liberal arts program inhigh school, hopes to become a tourism guide in Leningrad, she said.

"She's lucky. She's a child of perestroika. I'm a child of stagnation," said schoolmate Kate.

Kate wants to be a philologist, but she has had "no chance to have English literature and languages in high school," she said. Until recently, the students at Leningrad No. 1 did not have the option of choosing among programs of study.

Neither girl goes on dates or has male friends, they said. Kate said she studies less than the students she's met here, even though her school's programs in math, physics and chemistry seem "about ahalf step forward from here."

The students said they worry about the political disorder in their country. "We have perestroika, but it is difficult to change our system," said Liza.

Said Kate, "I felt stable in my destiny, but now everything is cracking. I am not sure of what will happen."

But one certainty goes with them as the students return to Leningrad this week -- they've made friends.

Said Jane DuBois, public relations coordinator for John Carroll, "They were so warm and open, and our kids loved them back. It was a great visit."

Liza echoed the sentiment. "I felt myself at home with the family where I lived," she said. "I miss my parents, but I would like to stay here with my new friends and my new family."

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