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Home > Impressions > Spring 2009

In this issue:

Local Delegation Travels To Kotlas To Participate In The 2009 American Sampler

Arrival in Kotlas.

The delegation arrives at the train station in Kotlas. Back row, from left to right: Daniel Mather, Alex Collins, Ryan Ferguson, Carl Daiker, Phil Gonyar, and Pamela McKenney. Front row, L-R: Jon Jorgensen, Joslyn Ribar, Julie Stowe, and Ellen Corey. Photo by Tanya Shelygina.

By Carl Daiker

The Kotlas Connection has always strived to have someone on-hand from the Kotlas area to help bring more meaning to the annual Russian Sampler at Colby College. In the past few years the members of the Waterville Committee have been putting on an American Sampler day in Kotlas. The Waterville Committee has been after us to come over to Kotlas to help with their special day.

This year a group of ten from the Waterville area answered that call. Six of the members of the traveling delegation were from Erskine Academy — four students and two teachers. The remaining four were members of the Kotlas Connection Executive Committee: Ellen Corey, Carl Daiker, Phil Gonyar, and Julie Stowe.

Three of the four students from Erskine hosted their Russian counterparts who visited in March to participate in the Russian Sampler. The four student members of the delegation were junior Ryan Ferguson and sophomores Alex Collins, Daniel Mather, and Joslyn Ribar. They were accompanied by Russian teacher Jon Jorgensen and English teacher Pamela McKenney.

Our flight over, on April 15-16, was long, but uneventful. We had a brief layover in Munich. Once in Moscow our group was met by a local guide who escorted us to our hotel on the northeast outskirts of Moscow. Bright and early on the 17th we set out on foot and via the Metro for a tour of Red Square and the Kremlin. One of the highlights of the Kremlin was and always is visiting the Armory Museum and seeing the riches of the czarist years.

Late on the afternoon of the 17th we took the 7 p.m. train to Kotlas. The train almost left without us because of the incredibly slow Moscow Friday afternoon traffic. We made it with just 20 minutes to spare.

The evening of April 18 saw our arrival in Kotlas. As we pulled into the station we could see the expectedly large welcoming party. Unfortunately they had been told we would be aboard car #3. We were aboard car #13. As the train pulled in, the Kotlassians walked along the platform to the left and our train continued to pull us to the right. Our greeters soon realized that we were not where they thought we were and came running along the platform to greet us. There were many hugs and introductions shared. There were snowflakes in the air as we headed home with our host families. However, the lack of warmth in the air was more than made up by the warmth of our greeting by our friends in Kotlas.

The American Sampler took place on Orthodox Easter, Sunday, April 19. We woke up that morning to 6" of new snow. It was like we had gone back 30 days in time. The front of Lyceum #3, home of the Sampler, was decorated with a large banner reading "KOTLAS-WATERVILLE AREA SISTER CITY CONNECTION." We felt right at home.

Sampler day began with an assembly of about 150 students and teachers and friends. Included in that group were the teachers we had met during the December education delegation visit to Waterville and the high school students we hosted in March. It was good to see many old and new friends.

I gave a brief speech to thank our Russian hosts and to introduce the members of the Maine delegation. That was followed by a number of short speeches by our hosts and several special performances. We were treated to a song sung by Zhenya Nosova, whom everyone came to know as Jane when she visited the Waterville area in March.

The assembly broke up, and we all scattered to our classrooms to make our presentations. There were four breakout sessions each lasting approximately 35 minutes. We had been assigned topics before our trip to Kotlas. All of the students attending the American Sampler are studying English.

Phil Gonyar did a presentation with Zina Egorova about the history of the sister city relationship between Waterville and Kotlas. Ellen Corey described American holidays; Julie Stowe gave a presentation on Waterville on the Internet. I spoke to students about the importance of English in the world. Jon Jorgensen spoke about nature in Maine; Pam McKenney's topic was Maine authors. The four students covered a variety of topics. They were asked to speak about youth culture in America, American music among teens, and life in American schools. They were also asked to demonstrate the game of stacking. The Erskine students left behind two stacking sets for the Russian students to practice with.

When the classes were over we all reassembled in the lunch room for an "American sandwich" of ham and cheese and for a review by the Russian students of the highlights of the just concluded sessions.

Right after lunch we met with the Waterville Committee to officially receive the Committee's greetings and to pass along the greetings of the Kotlas Connection. The room was decorated for Easter complete with colored eggs and many of the decorations Yulia Sorokina brought back in March. The two committees briefly discussed the idea of a one-semester fellowship to be sponsored by Thomas College for a Kotlas-area teacher.

That evening we went to Gamma, the Kotlas school for the arts, where we were treated to a concert by 7 and 8 year olds. The 20 or so students gave a memorable show.

Bright and early Monday morning we boarded a school bus for a trip to Veliky Ustyug and Grandfather Frost's Workshop. (Traditionally famed for its historic churches and more recently as the "official" hometown of Grandfather Frost, the Russian "Santa Claus," Veliky Ustyug is situated 40 miles upriver (south) of Kotlas, where the Yug and Sukhona Rivers flow together to from the Northern Dvina.) In the past we have visited the home of Grandfather Frost, but this time we visited his Throne Room in downtown Veliky Ustyug. This also gave us a chance to look over and purchase holiday ornaments to be brought back to the U.S. for resale at Christmas time.

In the afternoon we got a chance to tour the "Gymnasium," a relatively new school in Veliky Ustyug that was paid for by the Mayor of Moscow. During the tour, we visited a few classrooms and saw some of the wonderful projects in wood, oil paint, and natural materials made by the students. We were also treated to lunch at the school and an afternoon of musical and dance entertainment, including several scenes from Shaw's Pygmalion. The assembly also gave the Gymnasium students an opportunity to ask questions of the two teachers and four students from Erskine Academy.

On the way back to Kotlas we stopped at the school in Krasavino where the heroic Russian submariner, Sergei Preminim, had gone to school. We toured the museum set up to honor Sergei.

We spent the evening with our host families.

On Tuesday morning our delegation met with Mayor Sergey Melentiev and his staff at the Mayor's office. We also got to see Andrey Bralnin, the former deputy mayor who has twice visited Waterville and who is now a member of the Duma, the regional legislature, in Archangel. Following the visit with the mayor the delegation broke into smaller groups to go visit local schools. Phil Gonyar and I visited the River College in the Limenda district of Kotlas, a post-secondary school to train students to operate ships on the Russian rivers. It was a fascinating tour. We had previously not been aware of the existence of the school.

After a quick supper with our host families it was time to board the train for our 24-hour trip to St. Petersburg. The departure was the usual mob scene at the Kotlas railroad station. Many presents and letter for delivery in the US were presented. We left Kotlas with many wonderful, new memories and certainly fuller luggage than when we arrived.

Upon arrival in St. Petersburg we were met by two familiar faces, Katya Shelygina and Marina Abakumova. (Katya came to Waterville in 2008 for Russian Sampler, while Marina Abakumova was an exchange student at Waterville High School for the 1999-2000 academic year.) We promised to get together with them during our stay in St. Petersburg.

Our three days in St. Petersburg were marked by sunshine. Given that we were told the city averages only 65 sunny days per year, we felt very lucky.

Thursday morning, April 23, found us touring the city by bus with our very able guide, Natasha. She was really very good! Included in the tour were Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Isaac's, and the Church of the Resurrection on the Spilt Blood.

Reunion dinner

Reunion dinner in St. Petersburg: From left to right: Carl Daiker, Vera and Nadya Zinovkina, Julie Stowe, Ellen Corey, Katya Shelygina, and Phil Gonyar.

The second day we drove by bus out to Pushkin to tour Catherine Palace. Then it was back to St. Petersburg for a cursory tour of the Hermitage. The museum is so huge that one can only scratch the surface of seeing all that it has to offer. That evening the Erskine people met a friend of Jon Jorgensen's and attended a chamber music concert. The rest of us arranged to have dinner at a local restaurant with Marina, Katya, and Nadya and Vera Zinovkina. (Nadya and Vera are the daughters of Lyuba Zinovkina, a founder of the sister city effort in Kotlas.) It was really great fun.

Friday morning found us preparing for our departure for home. On the way to the airport we stopped to see the Victory Monument dedicated to those who suffered during the 900-day seize of St. Petersburg during World War II. It has difficult not to be moved by this monument. Then it was on to the airport for our flight to Frankfurt, Germany. We had been warned in advance that our connecting flight from Frankfurt to Boston had been cancelled. Lufthansa had agreed to put us up overnight in Frankfurt. It gave everyone a much needed breather.

On Saturday morning we transferred to the Frankfurt Airport only to find out that our flight was overbooked. Seats were found for the four students and the two teachers, but the four members of the Executive Committee (Ellen, Julie, Phil, and I) elected to be bumped to a flight bound for JFK in New York City. Lufthansa once again put us up overnight near LaGuardia Airport. On Monday morning we took a shuttle flight to Boston and our Russian odyssey came to an end.

Some Individual Reflections on the Visit to Kotlas

Ellen Corey:

As I have been on my three previous trips to our sister city, I was blown away by the hospitality that Russians extend to their guests. At both our arrival and departure from the train station, we were surrounded by a large group of people, some of whom have had little opportunity to get to know us as individuals, as if we were favorite relatives returning from a long journey. Any apprehension an inexperienced traveler might have about being in a strange land dissolves instantly, and you have the strongest desire to return.

Jon Jorgensen:

I enjoyed my stay with my Russian family — Vanya, Tanya, and Polina Shelygin. Their hospitality and warmth were abundant and sincere. After only a few days I felt I had known these folks for ages. Dinner on Easter Sunday reinforced this as this was a festive occasion when I met the extended family: aunts, uncles, grandmother, niece and nephew. There was a smorgasbord of real Russian dishes; and, of course, there were many a real Russian toast! A great time was had by all. Personally I will thrilled to make the family laugh when I quipped or joked in Russian. I will miss them.

There were many other people whom I met in Kotlas that made my stay memorable: Zina, Larisa, Alyona, the computer guy, the lady at Preminin's school, all the teachers and students who worked so hard to please us, and more. . . .

The send-off in Kotlas was chaos on the platform at the train station. It was dark as everyone was vying for one last embrace and goodbye to a friend they may not see again for years. As I approached the coach a woman reached my arm and began to apparently wish me well on my journey home. I embraced and kissed her on the cheek, followed by a thanks-for-everything and hope-to-see-you-soon. She sternly looked me in the eye. As it turned out, I would see her sooner than I thought. She was the conductor of our coach!

Pam McKenney:

By far the most unforgettable and surprising part of the Russia/Kotlas exchange was the warmth and generosity of the people who welcomed us into their homes and into their lives. The pride they have in their students and traditions was heart warming and made me vow to be more appreciative and aware of the customs I grew up with in my own family and country. I have a renewed commitment to savor those cultural events and academic achievements that we, of course, recognize, but maybe do not savor as much as we should.

I suppose it was this recognition and the genuine care and concern I felt from those who hosted us that I was most pleasantly surprised by. There were really no unpleasant surprises, except possibly the dinner at "The Bear" when my hosts surprised me with a special dish and I was chewing and politely consuming the strange white meat. I spotted a cloven hoof and realized I was eating pickled pigs' feet. Yikes! Still how many people can say they have eaten this delicacy in a Russian restaurant under the watchful eye of a 6 ft. stuffed bear?

Julie Stowe:

I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Russia, and I liked having the chance to go into schools and help educate students about Waterville and the United States, rather than just being a guest in Kotlas. My session for the American Sampler was "Waterville on the Web," and even though I couldn't show nearly as much as I would have liked to in the time allotted, I opened the door for students to go online on their own and find out more about Waterville, Maine, and the U.S. Even my translator, Tanya Pyatina, was excited to see some of what was available online. She said they have nothing like the real estate site I showed, which offers visual tours of many of the houses for sale. At the Pedagogical College I saw a lot of faces eager to hear an American voice and to learn more about the U.S. It was an enjoyable experience.

The Students:

The Erskine students were asked to name the most interesting thing that happened to them in Kotlas. We heard from two of them. Ryan Ferguson said it was American Sampler Day. He enjoyed teaching the Russian students about life in America. A close second for Ryan was having the chance to walk around Lyceum #3, site of the American Sampler, and talk with the kids his own age.

Joslyn Ribar liked going to Kafé Town with her host Olga Glukhareva and meeting all of Olga's friends. Some of you might remember Olga when she visited Waterville in March of 2008 with Katya Shelygina and teacher Larisa Trubina.

These articles were taken from the Bulletin from the Kotlas Connection Co-Chairs, May 2009. Gregor Smith added the italicized annotations.