For three years, some ambitious Baltimore public high school students have wrestled with the Russian language -- and now comes the nagrada, or "reward."
Tomorrow, nine students from three schools board a plane for Moscow and the start of a three-week visit that will include two weeks of classes in Leningrad.
In November a similar group of Soviet students will visit Baltimore, staying with local families and getting a first-hand glimpse of American public education.
The exchange is part of an effort by the Abell Foundation to promote instruction in languages that few American students study.
Since 1988, the foundation has helped bear the cost of Russian, Chinese and Japanese classes at three city high schools. The foundation also will pay the estimated $2,000 cost for each student going to the Soviet Union.
The program serves several purposes, according to Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation.
He noted that the U.S. Department of Commerce has called knowledge of Russian, Chinese and Japanese important in the global economy.
In addition, "the idea is to have our students thinking about parts of the world other than Western Europe," he said.
As of last September, 376 students at Baltimore City College, Western High School and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute were studying Russian, Chinese or Japanese under the program.
The Soviet trip is part of a commitment by the Abell Foundation to fund foreign trips for students who stayed with the program for three years, said Andrew J. Tomlinson, who teaches Russian at City College and Western.
Similar trips are being planned for those studying Chinese and Japanese.
"Culturally, this is a gold mine for them," Tomlinson said of the students leaving for the Soviet Union. "They will get a real feel for what living in the Soviet Union is like, on a day-to-day basis."
The schedule calls for the students to spend four days seeing the sights in Moscow and two weeks with a host school and host family in Leningrad.
While in Leningrad, the students will attend special language classes, along with regular academic classes, and participate in activities with the host family.
Tomlinson said the American students, now in their third year of studying Russian, are fluent enough to converse on everyday topics, using common vocabulary. Three weeks in the U.S.S.R. will improve their linguistic skills, he said.
But he added that the trip may have an even broader effect on the students.
"None of them have ever been out of the U.S. before," said Tomlinson. "I think it's something that will really expand their view of the world -- and of their culture."