MOSCOW -- Jeanne Goucher and Kristen George, both fro Towson, arrived in Moscow yesterday and immediately made history.
Ms. Goucher and Ms. George left the comforts of American life to join the first group of Peace Corps volunteers to serve in Russia.
The Peace Corps promised that they would have food and heat -- and little more. The 100 volunteers will live like Russians so they can help Russians work like Americans -- in a capitalist environment.
Instead of agriculture, the traditional focus of the Peace Corps, the volunteers will specialize in business development, helping build the financial, legal and distribution systems that Russia so desperately needs.
"Like a lot of Americans, I've always been interested in what Russia was like," said Ms. Goucher, 41. "This looked like a super opportunity."
Ms. George, 22, recently graduated from the College of Charleston in South Carolina with a degree in business and marketing. The Peace Corps made her an offer 2 1/2 weeks ago, and she packed, kissed her family goodbye and arrived in Washington a week ago for orientation.
"It was an easy decision to make," Ms. George said. "My family was very supportive. My mother would like to be here as well."
Ms. Goucher is typical of the new breed of Peace Corps volunteer. Most are older than the volunteers who served when the Peace Corps was founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. They have extensive business experience, and they are receptive to new challenges at a time when the U.S. economy is suffering.
The average age of those who arrived in Russia yesterday is 41, and half have master's degrees in business administration. They range from the president of a steel company to the retired chief executive officer of a food distribution company.
Ms. Goucher was director of development for a real estate development company involved in suburban mixed-use business parks in Maryland and Virginia. She had served in the Peace Corps once before, in Western Somalia from 1976 to 1978.
She made the decision to come to Russia six weeks ago. "I wanted a change," she said. "I wanted something different and exciting."
She quickly got a contract on her house, sold her car to her sister and brother-in-law and parceled out her furniture for storage among her nine brothers and sisters.
She is the daughter of Tom and Bernadine Goucher of Towson. Ms. George is the daughter of Nancy George and John Wesley George Jr., both of Towson.
This morning, half the Peace Corps group, including the two Marylanders, is boarding another plane for the 9 1/2 -hour flight to Vladivostok in the Russian Far East. The other half will leave for Saratov, a few hundred miles southeast of Moscow on the Volga River.
The volunteers were welcomed yesterday by the Russian Foreign Ministry and by Alexander HD, who oversees humanitarian aid programs in Russia.
"Living with Russians, you will know their difficulties and aspirations," Mr. HD said.
Jim Collins, the acting U.S. ambassador, said the volunteers will be undertaking the most important work possible here by moving out to Russia's small cities and towns.
"The most important part of what's taking place here is not in Moscow," he said, "but out in the country, where people are trying to build a new life."
The volunteers will have three months of language and technical training and then will be assigned to small businesses in the Volga and Vladivostok regions.
By the end of the year, 250 Peace Corps volunteers will be in the former Soviet republics, with 60 in the Baltics and others in Armenia, Uzbekistan and Khyrgystan.