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Kotlas Connection Hosts Four Visitors

By Carl Daiker, with Gregor Smith

The Three Tanyas

From left to right, Tanya Varmashkina, Tanya Shelygina, and Tanya Golikova. Tanya is a common name in Russia.

Russian Sampler Day 2006 was a great success on many fronts, not the least of which was the presence of four guests from Kotlas. The four visitors were Tanya Varmashkina, 15, a student from Kotlas; Tanya Golikova, 16, a student from Provodino (about 20 minutes outside of Kotlas); Tanya Shelygina, a teacher of English at the Pedagogical Institute in Kotlas; and Ivan ("Vanya") Shelygin, Tatyana's husband. They arrived in Boston on Monday, March 20.

The two girls were the winners of an essay contest sponsored by the Kotlas Connection last fall. Entrants were asked to submit an essay in English by email. In their essays, they were asked to describe themselves, their families, their hobbies, their career aspirations, and their reasons for wanting to come to America.

Each of our guests was hosted by a local family: Tanya G. by the family of Joe Couture of Sidney, Tanya V. by Waterville Mayor Paul LePage and his wife Ann, and Tanya Shelygina and Vanya Shelygin by Herb and Nancy Foster of Waterville.

The ten-day visit was whirlwind of activity. Our guests were interviewed and photographed several times by the Morning Sentinel. On the first Wednesday, they had a full day of sightseeing in the Portland area, and on Thursday, the two students attended classes at two local high schools.

Vanya Shelygin

Vanya Shelygin

That Friday, they visited Acadia National Park, returning to Waterville that evening for a public reception in the REM Forum, which 44 people attended. The next day, our guests took in the sights and sounds of Boston, including Quincy Market, Harvard Square, and the Aquarium.

The highlight of the visit was Russian Sampler on Monday, March 27. Held at Colby College, Russian Sampler is a day of workshops, classes, and presentations about Russia and Russian culture for area middle school students.

The three Tanyas presented classes on Russian schools and teenage life, while Vanya played guitar and sang traditional Russian tunes. Our guests concluded their Sampler experience with a tour of the Colby campus and a lobster feast at the home of Kotlas Connection secretary Ellen Corey.

The next day found our Russian visitors in Augusta, seeing the state legislature in action, visiting the governor's office, and touring the State Museum. That evening the two students attended an American birthday party.

On March 29, all four guests journeyed to Sugarloaf for a day of snowboarding. This was one of the major thrills of their visit to Maine. Later that evening members of the Connection's Executive Committee joined our four guests and their host families in a traditional American Thanksgiving feast at the home of Sheila McCarthy and Clifford Reid. The Kotlas Connection always tries to hold a Thanksgiving feast for visitors from Kotlas, no matter what time of year they come.

We regretfully bade good-bye to the three Tanyas and Vanya on March 31, as they headed out of Boston bound for Russia. It was a visit we're sure none of the participants, Russian and American, will soon forget.

Our Russian guests arrived home safe and sound and began preparing for the second annual American Sampler on Sunday, April 16. Based on our Russian Sampler, some 120 students and teachers of English attended this event, where they learned about American history, quilting, country music, American schools, America on the Internet, and American English. Our guests took back with them a significant supply of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff to make American sandwiches for American Sampler participants.