A Chaotic Cultural Exchange

March 31, 1995|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

When bright Ukrainian teen-agers meet rambunctious American preschoolers, chaos ensues.

Such was the case yesterday at the Tender Years day care center in Middle River, where Sergei, Nastasha and Maxim mingled with Tyrell, Brittany and Rasheem.

Twenty Ukrainians are in the United States -- and more than 100 Baltimore County teen-agers soon will go to Ukraine -- under an exchange program coordinated by the Baltimore County school system.

Students Sharing Coalition -- a private group founded by Linda Kohler, a Stoneleigh mother of three, to involve students in the needs of the community -- is working with the school system on the program.

The 15 day care children, ages 2 to 5, took the visit in gleeful stride.

Virginia Poellot, director of the day care center operated by the Community Assistance Network, spent a half-hour talking to the children about the value of the Chesapeake Bay, and illustrated her lesson with a couple of live crabs.

The children responded with shrieks and a one-word appreciation of the crabs: "Yum!"

Rhondalla Nicholson of the center staff sang the spiritual "Amazing Grace" for the Ukrainians, and six of the visiting students replied with a cheerful rendition of a humorous song in their national language.

Ms. Poellot turned the children over to the Ukrainian students for finger-painting, a simulation of the bay done with shaving cream, and other messy activities.

Then came the chaos. The Ukrainian students began carrying the children on their shoulders, pushing them around in plastic cars, romping on a mat or simply holding them in their laps.

The visit to the day care center was one in a series of experiences in American culture for the students, who have been to Philadelphia, Washington and New York during their three-week stay.

Were there any surprises?

Sergei Federik, 15, from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, said he was surprised by the kindly attention and friendliness of the public.

"But there were many more homeless than I expected," he said, his gray eyes somber.

Julie Sinyanskaya, 16, also from Kiev, was surprised, during a visit to a Baltimore County high school, to hear babies crying.

"You have day care centers for students in high schools?" she asked. "This is unheard of in Ukraine. We don't want unplanned children. We want a career and to get married and have children."

Nadya Tymoshyk, a Kiev teacher and trip supervisor, said the visit to the United States was related to language practice for the students, and to learn about the political system.

"These students have been taking English since the first grade, and by the time they leave high school they will have studied four languages," she said. "They also study American history and literature, and they're very interested in how your government works."

The students will leave for home next week.

About 75 students from Woodlawn, Towson, Catonsville and Perry Hall high schools, and Perry Hall and Dumbarton middle schools, will head for Ukraine next week, said Pete Sugatt, coordinator for the county school system.

Another 35 students, from Sudbrook, Kenwood, Parkville and Dulany high schools, will leave April 10 as part of the exchange program, which is financed by a federal block grant, private donations and money from Ukrainian businesses.

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