K is for Katya, My Russian Sister

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Russian Alphabet

Russian Alphabet

I met Katya in 2004 during an international exchange program. Young educators from Russia traveled to Sarasota, Fla., to learn more about the American education system and life in the United States. They were participants in some sort of peace program organized through a D.C.-based group.

I got involved with the group because I knew the then Vladimir, Russia, director of the Sarasota Sister Cities Association who assisted with the group’s visit. They needed families to host the Russian participants and I wanted to be involved because I had recently returned from a month in Japan as a member of Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange program.

Paying it Forward

For a month I experienced kindness of strangers. Four different families whom I never met opened their doors and hearts each week, sharing with me their life in Japan. I was so touched by their generosity I wanted to pay it forward and show someone from another country my American life.

During the Russian delegation visit, I was renting a room in a friend’s house so couldn’t host anyone in my home. It turned out a church on Lido Key donated their home to accommodate two of the Russian group members but needed an American host. I’m fuzzy on particulars but long story short, I was asked to stay in the house for the week and host Katya and another participant.

Late Night Chats

The dozen or so participants were in their 20s and hailed from all over Russia. This trip was the first time they had all met and Katya was one of the group’s translators. Russian-born, she spent several years as an exchange student in the U.S. and not only understood our language but understood our culture and Americanisms.

Although she had long days, Katya and I stayed up  late discussing everything from differences and similarities in American and Russian cultures to lost loves and pop culture. She was easy to talk with, our conversations just flowed and I soaked up her fresh perspective on the world.

Do Svidaniya!

It’s amazing how close you can become to someone in a short period of time. Dropping her off at the airport I cried but was comforted in knowing I have a new sister in Russia. We keep in touch every so often and social media makes it easy. She’s found love, has a beautiful family and still living in Russia.

Have you ever hosted someone on a cultural exchange?

Image Source: I Never Cry

This post is part of the 2012 Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Check back daily for a different letter!

Author: Solo Travel Girl

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led Jennifer Huber, aka: Solo Travel Girl, to a career path in tourism. She has worked in the tourism industry for more than 20 years including 10 years with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley and Everglades National Park. She currently lives in Southwest Florida, and maintains this travel blog with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely.

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5 Comments

  1. what a wonderful “pay it forward” story, thanks for sharing!

  2. What a cool thing!

  3. Great … story, what a fantastic thing.
    Sure we have something like this over here in Sweden too – but have never experienced it myself. Thanks for sharing.

  4. great story!! I was an exchange student in Australia, when I returned my family hosted a French exchange student to “pay it forward” Both were great experiences. I often think it would be fun to host someone. I imagine it would be a different experience as an adult, being able to share and teach on a different level. I still keep in touch with the people I met in Australia, even after 20 years!

  5. I never experienced being an exchange student so I was so happy to have the opportunity as an adult, then hosting other adults. Although, it was interesting having my “host families” telling me when to go to bed (and I was 34 at the time!)

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