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Culture news, 03.05.2007 16:08

American Students Spend Spring Break in Russia

acron_students A spring break trip to Russia for 14 students from St. Vincent-St. Mary (STVM) High School showed the teenagers that their counterparts half a world away aren’t really that different.

“I was surprised how similar it was to the United States,” said Chelsea Abraham, of Akron, who noted that the young people they saw in St. Petersburg and Moscow dress like Americans and listen to the same kind of music.

Others noted that the former Soviet Union features some of the fast-food comforts of home, such as Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Sbarro and Baskin-Robbins.

The country has changed a lot, said STVM Russian language teacher Bill O’Neil, who has visited the country at least 27 times since 1974.

According to O’Neil, many of the students in the four-year-old Russian language program at the school jumped at the chance to take the 10-day trip to Russia. The students traveled with a group from Kenston Local Schools in Geauga County, where O’Neil formerly taught Russian. They spent half the trip in St. Petersburg and the other half in Moscow.

West Akron resident Eleanor Sovacool was among the students who took the trip.

“I really like speaking Russian and I thought it would be a good opportunity, since I’d never been there before,” she said.

She added she found the country to be “better than I expected,” noting that she was impressed with the architecture in St. Petersburg.

While on the trip, the Akron students visited a school that teaches English and met with some of the students there.

“We talked about the things we like to do and our differences,” said Ryan McCargar, of Fairlawn.

He added that the students there wear a uniform to school, which they attend for six days a week. He also noted that the students choose an area of study they want to pursue, such as science or languages.

One of the other similarities the group found was that most of the people they encountered knew some English.

“Everyone there knew how to speak English, so it was pretty easy,” Sovacool said.

They did get to practice the Russian they’ve been learning, though, McNeil said.

“Everyone perfected how to say please and thank you,” he said. Their skills also helped them with reading signs at the subway, the students said.

Maryann Bertel, of Stow, said the trip made the students aware of some things they take for granted here.

“It makes you appreciate the things you do have, like trash cans and drinking fountains,” she said. O’Neil said drinking fountains are not commonly available because the water is not safe to drink. The students noted that public trash receptacles were at a minimum, but the streets were free of litter.

They also said that with the exception of one village, they saw no homeless people.

O’Neil, who said STVM is one of just a handful of schools in the state offering Russian as a language, added he plans to lead another student trip in two years. Several of the students who went this year would like to go again, they said. And the trip encouraged many to keep their studies up.

“It made me want to get into Russian more,” said McCargar.

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