Samara-Philadelphia-Washington DC-Baltimore-New York
The plane is taking off and again I anticipate that keen feeling of something new, frightening and exciting. We are leaving Samara for Westtown, Pennsylvania. Everything is far behind-all those piles of documents and a day trip to Moscow to be interviewed at the US Embassy. And now I’ve got only this feeling that I know well enough and a group of 6 students from Samara Municipal Nayanova University, all girls. I hope they won’t be disappointed with this ambitious trip. The place we are going to visit is 30 minutes far from Philadelphia and it’s a private boarding school in a place called Westtown.
Norman Robinson, German instructor, Westtown school: “ The relationship between our two schools began over five years ago when I took a one year sabbatical in Russia under the aegis of American Councils. Mrs. Shipovskaya and I began discussions at that time about a student exchange between our schools. In March of 2001 I spent 12 days in Samara with a group of Westtown students, hosted by Mrs. Shipovskaya and her students. I am returning to Samara for a week this winter, in February-March 2004, with 8 students, for another exchange in Samara hosted by Mrs. Shipovskaya and students from Nayanova University. This is the first visit from the Samara side of the exchange and we are eagerly looking forward to hosting them at our boarding school”.
These words are from the letter with an official invitation Norman headed to the US Embassy to help us with getting our visas. So, exhausted after a long trip and staying overnight in Frankfurt airport due to weather conditions, we finally arrived in Philadelphia. My friend and a teacher of German as a second language in Westtown school meets us at the airport and drives us to Westtown.
I visited this school several years ago and now I’ve completely forgotten what it looks like and where it is located. I only remember that it has four hundred students in Upper school, two hundred in Middle and Lower alike. It’ s an incredibly diverse population with students from 20 countries and every possible race, ethnic group and religion, so I guess seven Russians won’t stir up things too badly! Planning the program, Norman and I intended to help our students to make personal contacts, so that’ s why the trip is a mix of classroom attendance and excursions.
The group of students from Samara with their teachers and hosts
Alina Ivanova, 16: “Westtown school is old enough. We were staying in a huge building with rather small dormitory rooms. Each of us was living with two Americans. Everything is in a very good condition and all the classrooms are very well equipped as well as the library and the Internet Cafe with TVs and LCD computer displays. They’ve got a 25-meter swimming pool and 3 indoor tennis courts and a weight training center. It makes sense that there are strict rules at school to make students be disciplined and feel some independence. That’s great that students live on their own, preparing to enter the University or College. They have compulsory and elective subjects and there is a good balance between classes and sport activities. We noticed that the atmosphere at school is like ours: the teachers are friendly and you may discuss lots of issues with them. We attended a great number of classes and now we’ve formed a true notion of American system of education”.
Nastya Kurt-Adjieva, 17: “The first city we visited was Philadelphia which is a famous historic area with such landmarks as Independence Hall and the liberty Bell. There, for the first time we saw how security worked in public places. First it was a kind of shock but very quickly we got accustomed to it and began feeling safe. Philadelphia has some skyscrapers and the most beautiful was a City Hall with the statue of William Penn as one of the first settlers in Pennsylvania. We toured around Baltimore Harbor and saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. The harbor was snowy and calm with lots of boats and even a submarine! We went to the Amish Country and discovered that there are people nowadays in the middle of America who do not know there is the 21st century around them. They live without electricity, telephones, cars and all modern facilities that we use every day!”
Independence Hall, Philadelphia
Ksenya Gololobova, 16: “Washington DC was the third city we went to after Philadelphia and Baltimore. I was charmed by this city. It doesn’t have any skyscrapers at all and the Capitol is the highest building. The city was cold, magnificent, marble and deserted. We were impressed by all the landmarks that everyone knows from the pictures and movies – the Capitol, the White House, the Washington Monument. We went up the Monument and were astonished by the gorgeous views of all the capital and partly frozen the Potomac river with Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials on its banks-majestic and fascinating! We’ve been to the American history museum and Air and Space museum which have become a must-see exhibition for us.”
Tanya Troshina, 19: “If somebody asked me about the brightest impression of America I’ d tell them about several days with a host family in Washington DC. Though I have traveled a lot I was most excited by this program!
I was very much impressed and have many stories to tell! I loved my host family after staying with them for several hours. I even wanted to stay with them longer instead of going to New York! We went to a Winter Party (a big dancing party) which they were preparing for half a year. The family took me to the shops and then to a splendid restaurant and then a real American basketball! The most remarkable event was a party at my host’s friend with lots of people and two popular questions: ‘How much vodka do Russians drink?’ and ‘How cold is it in Russia?’ I know that all the girls are excited about staying in host families and can talk for hours about their hospitality. We are very grateful to our new American friends and all of us exchange e-mail letters very often”.
Anna Dranitsa, 17: “One of my dreams, that is to visit New York some day, has come true! I’ve seen and touched The Chrysler building! Maybe it sounds funny, but I made it! New York is the city that never sleeps! It was great! We walked along the famous streets sparkling like Christmas trees- 5th Avenue and Broadway! The elevator took us to the observation deck on the 86th floor to see the city at night; an unbelievable view! What a breathtaking experience!”
Natasha Batistcheva, 18: “Somebody said NYC is a place which you can love or hate, but it can’t leave you indifferent. For me it was a city which met all my expectations about the USA: endless skyscrapers, a horde of neon ads, a lot of expensive but very cute shops and offices of the most famous brands in the world, the well-known traffic and so on! The first glance at the New-York skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge and from the ferry to the Ellis Ireland remains right in front of my eyes even some time after my trip. And the tunes of the Broadway musical “Aida” still sound in my mind, reminding me of those wonderful 2 days I spent in one of the most exciting and famous cities in the world!”
Our plane is landing in Samara and we are not only overwhelmed with new impressions of a far distant land but we are back with new friends from Westtown and Washington DC. I still do not believe we did it! I do hope my girls will never forget this trip and people and maybe some day they will want to go there again to make new friends and perfect the language, learn more about history and culture. I will encourage them, of course, for I am an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher!