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 opens in a new windowSarasota 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 opens in a new windowRotary 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.
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?
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