GENEVA — Every morning Yekaterina “Kate” Kovshikova, Vladislav “Vlad” Dmitriyevich and Matluba Turekulova wake up to a far different world than they ever imagined before. All three are exchange students at Geneva High School and are sponsored by the organization Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX ). Kate is from the northern Russia province of Vologda, Vlad is from a town in southern Russia called Oktyabrskiy and Matluba is from Kazakhstan.
These three students went through a very long and extensive process to be accepted in to the FLEX program before they could enroll at GHS. To be selected to the program they endured a whirlwind process where they were required to: pass an English test, take a 140-question academic test, write three essays in 35 minutes, participate in personal interviews, participate in group interviews to demonstrate social skills, fill out personal forms, and write letters to their possible host families.
The Steven Robinson family is Kate’s host for this school year. She has a younger middle school sister, Elizabeth, and an older sister, Julia. In Russia Kate lives with her mother Olga, who is a judge, so having siblings is something new for Kate.
Kate reveals that high school in Geneva is very different from her school in Russia. She has been grouped with the same very small group of 10 to 12 students since elementary school. Another major difference is school attire. While students here dress very casually, in Russia all girls wear black skirts, white shirts, but never yoga pants, Kate said. She is also surprised about the number of students who drive to GHS every day.
“No one can get a driver’s license until they are 18,” Kate said. “Also, there are no school buses, so we either ride public transportation or walk.”
Another huge difference in the educational systems is the nature and attitudes of the teachers. Kate said that our teachers are kinder, more patient, and care about helping their students succeed.
“In Russia if a student does not understand or cannot do a math problem, the teacher does not care,” Kate said. “The student is on his own, and if he fails, the teacher is not concerned.”
While Vlad comes from a more urban area than Kate, his experiences in his home school are similar. “We all wear uniforms, which for boys are suits and ties,” Vlad said. “We take many more classes each year than in American schools, since we have eight or nine subjects at a time. All classes do not meet each day, so the schedule is more like what American students find in college.”
Vlad said that his Russian school starts at 8:30 a.m. each day, with 20-minute breaks between each class to visit with friends; breaks that he misses here.
Vlad lives with his host parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Bibby. At home in Russia he lives with his mother Natalia and his 9-year-old brother Stepa. He enjoys GHS.
“The classes are fun, the teachers are very helpful, and everyone is very friendly,” Vlad said.
According to Vlad, pop culture is not all that different in Russia. His American friends have enjoyed listening to his recordings of Russian rap music which sound amazingly like American rap.
Vlad likes most of the foods he has been introduced to in Geneva, but he definitely misses some Russian favorites, like pancakes and sweetened milk.
“Russian pancakes are much lighter and thinner than American pancakes, and the milk is not quite the same as your canned condensed milk,” Vlad said.
Matluba Turekulova is from Taldykorgan, Kazakhstan. In Taldykorgan, Matluba lives with her mother Zhanar and her grandfather Tolegen, and like Kate, is an only child. In Geneva she lives with Mr. and Mrs. Richard Arndt, and daughter, Summer. An older son, Nathan, no longer lives at home.
Matluba participates in many clubs like Project Love and Key Club, and is an active member of the girls track team. She also is often seen giving the morning video announcements viewed every day by all students and staff. Matluba is trying to take full advantage of all the extracurricular activities here, since in Kazakhstan the schools do not do not offer sports, band or other activities.
Like Kate and Vlad, Matluba’s school at home is very different from GHS. Students do not have lockers or lunch periods, and must attend school on Saturdays. There are very few male teachers, and all students must wear uniforms. She said that nearly no one in Kazakhstan wears tennis shoes.
“Here everyone owns more than one pair!” Matluba said.
In Kazakhstan American music is very popular, especially tunes by Taylor Swift. However, they also have a very popular artist of their own, rapper Erolat, who happens to be from Matluba’s home town. While she was very familiar with our music, American foods have surprised her.
“People put ice in their coffee here!” Matluba said. She loves Reese’s Cups. “I really have to take some home with me!”
Her American friends were surprised to learn that neither peanut butter not marshmallows can be found in Kazakhstan.
Kate, Vlad and Matluba are learning what it is like to be an American high school student, and all of us at Geneva High School are learning to appreciate their cultures as well. We are noticing that we share more similarities than differences with them. Long lasting friendships and impressions have been made over this school year, and when these friends say good-bye at the end of the school year, they will be missed and more importantly, remembered.