A Visit from Russian Exchange Students

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Photo: Unigo.com

Photo: Unigo.com

Photo: Unigo.com

Angela Ciarochi, Features Editor

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Last month, Maggie Walker welcomed a group of students from St. Petersburg, Russia to stay in host homes of current students, and learn what the school entails. 21 year old student, Julia Gryzlova, stayed with Grace Locke (‘19) and her family.

Gryzlova has visited Maggie Walker before, but this visit was even more special, because of her time with Locke. Gryzlova is thankful for the time she spent with Locke’s family, learning about Richmond and spending nights discussing Russian and American customs, history, and people. Locke recalls their discussions and “the importance of learning different languages and understanding different cultures in order to develop a diverse perspective of the world.” Gryzlova was impressed by Maggie Walker, noting the individual talents and personalities each student has to offer, “thankful for their welcoming nature.”

Some of the most memorable moments of her MLWGS visit were the Asian Assembly, the Hamlet performance with American theater students, and the Alumni Show. She found the variety of alumni to be “the most inspiring thing,” watching people talk about their love for their career and advising students to do the same. While observing classes, she found Mr. White’s Russian classes to be most interesting, as it made her ecstatic to see foreigners excited to learn her native language, and points out that “Russian grammar is even difficult for native speakers.” Literature happens to be Gryzlova’s favorite subject in school, and loved to listen in on Mr. Coleman’s discussions of literature through an American perspective.

Because of all of her memorable experiences, she cannot wait to come back to America, which she finds as a “country of nice people, tasty donuts, and great history.” She believes that all of the people she met at Maggie Walker have the power to make the future great, which makes her more excited to come back and visit all of the people she had the pleasure to meet.

When Locke was asked about her experience hosting Russian students, her joy was explosive. She offered the following statement:

“Having Asya and Julia stay with me for 11 days was one of the best experiences of my life. One of the most interesting cultural differences that we noticed between America and Russia was the general outlook on life (Russians tend to be pessimistic, especially in the public sphere, and they were the first to admit it). They said that it was so weird how we said hello to strangers on the street or smiled at people we didn’t know, because on the streets of St.Petersburg, people keep their heads down as they walk and public interactions are rare. They also told me that their experience in shadowing my classes was one of the most eye-opening of their lives. They said that our teachers care about what they teach, and that the classroom environment is extremely lax compared to that of Russia (they have to stand when they answer questions, they get in so much more trouble for talking in class, and the teachers treat them as inferiors rather than as equals).

Another interesting thing that happened was, after we talked about the ending of the Great Gatsby in AP Lang, the majority of our class thought it had a pessimistic ending and presented the failure of the American dream. After class, Julia said that it was one of the happiest stories she had heard – a man gets rich, experiences true love, and eventually dies like we all do anyway. They were so interested in learning English, and they were constantly asking me English grammar questions, some of which I didn’t even know the answers to. They tried to teach me Russian, too, which proved far less successful.

One morning before school, they got up early to make our family draniki, potato pancakes with sour cream, and another night, they prepared a traditional Russian main course with puff pastry and beef. Over the 11 days, we became so close that we felt like sisters. Another cultural thing for Russians is gift-giving. They gave us four gifts upon arriving, another gift in the middle, and, when we tried to give them a departing gift, they came up with 2 more gifts for each member of my family paired with handwritten letters (you can never outgift a Russian).

We had movie nights, they helped me with my Russian homework and I helped them with their English homework, we talked about our present lives, our hopes for the future, and the importance of learning different languages and understanding different cultures in order to develop a diverse perspective of the world. I wish they were still here, but I know we will meet again someday, hopefully sooner rather than later.”

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