Estonian family visits Carroll at invitation of local benefactor

E-mail inquiry regarding Westminster's sister city leads to trip for three

March 23, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Dmitry Rozuk has traveled all over Europe and through parts of the Middle East, but the Estonian teen-ager knew America only through movies and news reports. He dreamed of coming here but lacked the means - until his mother e-mailed a Westminster government official.

That correspondence led an anonymous Carroll County benefactor to put up money for the trip, and Dmitry and his family spent last week seeing sights in Central Maryland and beyond.

In Washington, they met their country's ambassador to the United States. In Annapolis, they celebrated St. Patrick's Day at McGarvey's Saloon and Oyster Bar. And in Westminster, they enjoyed the small-town feel of the city's Main Street, stopping in to see how an old theater can be transformed into a community arts center.

"America is rather unusual," said Dmitry, 17, as he left a tour of the soon-to-open Carroll Arts Center. "It's very different from Estonia - busier, newer, very impressive."

Westminster is a sister city of the Estonian municipality of Paide. It is the ninth pair of sister cities formed between Maryland and Estonian municipalities under a program launched a decade ago by the Maryland National Guard. Other matches include capitals Annapolis and Tallinn, Frostburg and Viljandi, and Salisbury and Tartu.

Dmitry's mother, Irina Rozuk, 43, read an online article about the Westminster-Paide partnership. Even though she and her family live in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, she was enthusiastic that Westminster had an interest in her country.

In September, she e-mailed Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works. He is the driving force behind the sister-city relationship, which was signed in September, and he is a frequent visitor to Estonia through his duties as a Maryland National Guard reservist.

In one of Rozuk's e-mails, she wrote, "Dmitry has a dream to see these states with his own eyes," and proposed bringing her son's school class to the country.

Westminster could not afford to accommodate that request, but Beyard told others of the e-mail - and was stunned when one person offered to contribute $3,000 on the condition that his identity remain secret. The money pays for the family's stay at a local hotel, meals and travel expenses.

Last month, Westminster was host to a performance by the Estonian Television Girls Choir that was attended by more than 700 people, including Sven Jurgenson, the Estonian ambassador to the United States. This summer, Westminster residents and singing groups will tour Estonia. Beyard said he considers the cross-cultural exchanges invaluable.

"You need people who will take the knowledge they've gained here and go back and tell others about it," Beyard said. "This interaction builds a core of ambassadors for the U.S. and Westminster."

Irina Rozuk and Dmitry and her other son, Grigory, 10, flew into Washington Dulles International Airport on March 14. Her husband, Vladmir, could not take the time off work and stayed home.

The family has visited the battleground at Gettysburg, hiked in Cunningham Falls State Park and sampled chocolates at Hershey Park. For thank-you gifts, they have given out tins of candy from their hometown chocolatier.

Dmitry takes copious notes wherever he goes. At Cunningham Falls, he sketched pictures of the wilderness alongside his written observations.

In Annapolis, the family received a standing ovation from the Maryland General Assembly after being introduced by Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll County's delegation. Later, Montgomery County Sen. Jennie M. Forehand invited the family to the Senate cloakroom to talk about her previous visit to Estonia. They also met with Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

Back in Westminster, the family toured several schools, met a Circuit Court judge and flipped through compact discs at the public library. During a rehearsal of the Children's Chorus of Carroll County at Westminster Church of the Brethren, Grigory performed three songs for the group on piano and oboe, while his mother played the piano.

The Rozuks leave with a favorable impression of their adopted sister city.

"It's a quiet small town where we feel very warm and welcome," Irina Rozuk said. "We feel like the government seems very accessible. We got the red-carpet treatment."

Dmitry added: "Americans are very friendly. We've met the mayor of your capital before we've met our own."

In Washington, they met Jurgenson, toured capital landmarks and witnessed an anti-war protest in front of the White House.

They visited Ocean City and Assateague Island on Thursday before heading to Baltimore on Friday for tours of downtown and Fort McHenry. They were to leave for Estonia yesterday.

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