Ridgely Middle students exchange experiences with Ukrainian guests Baltimore Co. teens take turn playing host to young foreign visitors

April 23, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

It's a field trip the Ukrainian students won't forget any time soon.

"America is better than the films show," an awed Julia Galicheva said yesterday as she and more than a dozen other Ukrainian students visited Ridgely Middle School in Lutherville. "It's very big and very green."

She also couldn't believe the number of multistory homes. "We live in flats. Here everybody lives in a house."

Miss Galicheva, 15, and 57 other students left a chilly Kiev on Saturday to come to the United States as part of an exchange program to live for two weeks with Baltimore County teens who visited their country earlier this month.

The 5,500-mile journey -- which cost about $1,600 for each traveler -- was paid for by their families or sponsoring businesses.

"It is the largest public school exchange between the U.S. and Ukraine," said Peter Sugatt, a resource teacher with the county school system's Office of International Education, who started the program seven years ago to eliminate stereotypes about Russians.

In many ways, it's been a resounding success.

"I wanted to meet the people," said Eric Ahn, 13, an eighth-grader at Ridgely Middle. "They're really nice."

He and 15 classmates learned first-hand about Russia and the Ukrainian teens from March 26 to April 10, during their first leg of the student exchange that also took them to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

At the small town of Chernegov, the surprised teens were greeted by the mayor as the first Americans to visit there, said Ridgely Assistant Principal Marion Szymanski, who accompanied the group.

But the students mostly were impressed with the hospitality of their Kiev hosts. "They fed us tons," said Murry Mercier, 14.

"They didn't have much," said Jim Stagge, 14. "If we asked for something, they would try and get it for us."

The American teens left the country with memories of toilets that flushed strangely, no shower curtains, breakfasts that included dinner foods like chicken, and sometimes going without milk or running water.

They all agreed there's no place like home. "I'd rather live here," the Ahn youth said emphatically. "But I'd like the [Ukrainian] people to be here."

And now they are.

A large contingent -- 16 Ukrainian students and five adults -- are staying with Ridgely students and teachers, while other students and chaperons are dispersed among families from Kenwood, Catonsville, Patapsco and Towson high schools, and Dumbarton, Golden Ring, Stemmers Run and Sudbrook middle schools.

"We missed our American friends," said Mary "Masha" Revcttuk, 14, who hugged her host mother, Jill Williams, in the Ridgely school hallway before dashing off for a talent show being put on by Ridgely students.

"They're so welcoming and happy," said Mrs. Williams, who accompanied her daughter, Sarah, to Ukraine. They stayed with Miss Revcttuk's non-English-speaking family while the Ukrainian teen acted as interpreter.

Even though the Ukrainian students speak English, they often have a difficult time understanding the rapid-fire speech of Americans. During the talent show, a comic performance from "Guys and Dolls" elicited cheers and clapping from the visitors, although Victor Gerasimenki, 13, acknowledged, "I liked it, but I couldn't understand it."

But that doesn't stop the teens from communicating. "If we don't know the words, we use our hands," Miss Galicheva said.

"They understand each other," said Ludmila Veremchuk, the Ukrainian students' English teacher. "Children always make friends. If they governed the countries, there would be no problems."

In addition to attending classes with the American students, the Ukrainian teens will take day trips to Washington, New York, Annapolis and every Marylanders' vacation hot spot -- Ocean City -- before heading back to Kiev on May 5.

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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