Even though they live on opposite sides of the world, the excitement, anxiety and concerns are the same -- at least for the parents of three college students.
Valeriya Kazakevich and Ekaterina Sazonova of Moscow, Russia, and Richard Baughman of Ada are switching universities for the fall semester. The two women arrived in Ada the weekend before classes started at East Central University, and Baughman will leave for the State University of Moscow on Sept. 12.
It's all part of a Study Abroad agreement between the two universities, and this is the first exchange for each school.
All the parents were excited about the opportunity for their children, but nervous, nonetheless.
"When my parents were our age during the Cold War," Kazakevich said, "they just couldn't imagine going to the United States to study."
Her father is the head of the culture department in Russia's armed forces and her mother is a teacher. She is their only child.
"I'm very sorry for them when they come home in the evening and don't see me," Kazakevich said. "My friends said they will go to see them so they will still have that connection."
Sazonova said her parents were afraid at first and still worry about her.
Participating in the first exchange of students between East Central University in Ada and State University of Moscow are Richard Baughman (from left) of Ada and Valeriya Kazakevich and Ekaterina Sazonova of Moscow, Russia. They are shown with Dr. Mara Sukholutskaya, ECU professor of English and languages, who helped set up and works with the exchange program. Baughman will leave for Moscow on Sept. 12. The students will return to their home universities after the fall semester.
"We let them know as much as we can about our life here," Sazonova said, "so we give them as much information about what we're doing and our emotions as possible." They also take and send numerous photographs to their families.
Sazonova's father is a chief engineer and her mother is a homemaker. She has a 16-year-old sister.
The Russian students communicate with family and friends by cell phone, email, a Russian version of Facebook and Skype which allows them to see each other as they talk.
"My mom is pretty scared, for both of us," Baughman said. "She's excited for me and thinks it's a good opportunity, but she doesn't particularly want me to travel across the world."
Baughman is majoring in business administration at ECU with a minor in Russian studies. In Moscow he will take business classes and study the Russian language.
"This kind of fell in my lap," he said. "This opportunity came along and I couldn't turn it down.
He is the son of Debra Baughman of Ada and the late Richard Baughman Sr.
All the exchange classes will be accepted by the students' home universities because of an agreement between the two schools. ECU also has an exchange agreement with Kiev National University of Linguistics in Ukraine. Ten Ukrainian women spent a month at ECU in 2008.
Kazakevich and Sazonova are sociology majors beginning their third year in a five-year program in Moscow. They want to work in public relations or advertising and said it will be interesting to see how education is different in the United States. They are taking 15 credit hours in mass media and basic humanities this semester at ECU.
"I have always dreamed of an opportunity to go to another country to study, to see how people live on the other side of the earth," Kazakevich said. "I have been kind of preparing myself for such an opportunity, so it didn't take much time to decide to come here."
Sazonova said they had to write essays on why they wanted to study in the United States.
When she learned she was selected, "It was a very emotional moment. I couldn't really believe it -- all those people who wanted to be in my place, and I got it," she said with a smile. "I was running and jumping in my room.
"If there is such an opportunity, why not try it?"
The Moscow natives explored New York City for a week before they came to Ada. They have studied English since they were 5 years old and thought they could speak the language well.
"When we got here, it was hard to understand," Kazakevich said. They are helping ECU students learn the Russian language by teaching a 40-minute class for each intermediate-level student.
"Our first important connection (to ECU) was the people, and they have been very kind," Kazakevich said. "They're helpful and always smiling. The Department of English and Languages tries to make us feel comfortable and at home."
"We are very thankful," Sazonova added, "that everyone has been so kind and showed us where we should go."
The women said they were surprised that a person's status in society doesn't seem to matter at ECU.
"The rector, (President) Hargrave, invited us to a meeting. We were surprised because that would be impossible at our university with our rector. We want to thank him for relating to us," Kazakevich said.
Other differences can be found in clothing styles and food. Russian students wear neat and classic clothing and women wear high-heel shoes and more feminine styles to class, they said.
"Guys will ask, 'Why are you so dressed up.' Sazonova said. "I guess it would be worse if everyone dressed up and I came in my pajamas, or something,"
They find American food tasty, but are afraid they'll gain weight, since they are used to more vegetables and not as much fast food.
All three students said they were grateful to Dr. Mara Sukholutskaya, ECU professor of English and languages, for her part in setting up the exchange program and for the help she has given each of them. Kazakevich and Sazonova said Jerry Studebaker, director of international students, also has been very helpful.
"I hope there will be more students from ECU take this opportunity to study abroad, to take advantage of this program, like these two brave girls," Sukholutskaya said with a smile.
"Students are asking me how I came here," Kazakevich said. "I hope this program will have a big future."
For information about becoming an exchange student, contact Sukholutskaya at 580-559-5293.
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