Anna Evanova says she came to America out of curiosity. Teacher Patty Lyman went to Russia because she wanted a pioneering experience.
"And, boy, did I get one!" Lyman said.Even as Evanova suffered from culture shock in southeastern Utah, so did Lyman in Moscow. She has hosted Russian foreign exchange students in her home and felt like she knew what to expect. For example, when one of her Russian guests took a dozen pictures trying to capture what an American bathroom looks like, Lyman was wise to ask questions.
As a result, when she and her family went to Russia, they packed a case of toilet tissue along with other "necessities," such as toothpaste and deodorant.
Lyman, 33, was accompanied by her husband, Bruce, and two young daughters, Sydney, 6, and Rylee, 3. They had been told about the cramped living quarters, the crowds and runaway inflation. But experiencing it was something else.
Nothing could quite prepare them for the substandard living conditions they found, she said.
The Lymans rejected the tiny apartment initially rented for them because of the encroaching filth. They gratefully found accommodations with a family they met at church, but were still surprised to find that the level of personal cleanliness to which they were accustomed was almost impossible to find. In Moscow, she said, it is not unusual for water to be turned off - without notice - for days at a time.
"Bruce missed the grocery store. I missed the car," said Lyman, recalling the long lines in the markets and the crowded metro system. The family had to adjust to the frigid climate. Their children missed familiar foods.
"School lunch was always soup," Lyman said. "A lot of cabbage, a lot of beets. Usually carrots. Sometimes chicken or potatoes. The kids would ask, `What is this?' I didn't know. I thought it might be barley. I told them, `Just eat it!' "
The family went to a Russian McDonald's restaurant and paid the equivalent of $25 to feed the four of them. Their original one bedroom apartment went for $1,000 a month. They observed that most post-war construction is deficient and many buildings are literally crumbling.
Still, what they learned - from appreciation for the venerable Russian culture to appreciation for their own homeland - was priceless.
Lyman was amazed her first day of school when she entered a classroom and the children stood out of respect for her. Whenever a teacher enters a classroom, they ring a small bell and the children are immediately at attention. Even when the children resume a sitting position at their desks, they sit on the front edge of their seats, backs straight, feet flat on the floor.
There was no double standard for teachers, who also are quite formal, both in dress and manner. The teachers stand all day. Most teachers are female and most wear high heels. "I don't know how they do it," Patty said.
"That first day, after about 12 hours, I dropped into a seat. The other teachers were stunned. `What are you doing?' they asked. `I'm sitting,' I said. `You're not supposed to do that!' they told me. But I did anyway. I was half dead with exhaustion."
She laughs at the memory.
"Dictation was the norm," Lyman said of the Russian educational system. "Rote memorization was big. There was one small broken down copy machine. Everything was done by hand."
Lyman had to improvise frequently because materials as common as tape were unavailable. Paper was doled out by the sheet. "The kids have to furnish their own school supplies. But they take a lot of pride in their work. They didn't just scribble down some answers and call it good. And it was rare that they didn't have quite a bit of homework to turn in.
"I think after seeing what those first-graders were able to accomplish, I'll have higher expectations of my classes from now on."
Lyman arrived in Russia just before Christmas and was pleased to see how they celebrate the season there. "The school's Christmas program was completely religious, with no reference to Santa Claus at all. They have no separation of church and state."
In turn, Patty told them about Christmas in America. And when Feb. 14 rolled around, she introduced the children to a traditional American Valentine's Day. The Russians acknowledge the day, but it is mostly between couples, she said.
"We saw a lot of men on the metro going home with flowers that day," Bruce Lyman said. "But then, that wasn't really unusual. It seems to be a common practice there. There were always a lot of fresh flowers."
Patty was pleased about many things in the Russian school system. Where she taught, there were two teachers in each classroom of 12 to 15 pupils. Culture and art were important parts of the curriculum. The children have professional music, art and dance instructors on a weekly basis. And any child with a desire is furnished music lessons.
Each month, as a group, students attend the opera, a ballet or a concert. Every Thursday, the classes at her school performed for each other - usually a play.
In Russia, when an adult speaks, children are absolutely quiet. Although the Lymans found the method of teaching a little "harsh," they said the teachers were wonderful. "They stayed with their classes, progressing through the grades with them," Patty Lyman said.
The Lymans were impressed with the adults' attitudes toward children. "All of the adults paid attention to the children and looked after them," Bruce Lyman commented.
"Our youngest daughter didn't like wearing her hat, but when she took it off, women we met on the street would scold and encourage her to keep it on, to stay warm.
"I believe that Russia recognizes their children as their national treasure, their most important resource."
It's extremely rare for Russian families to have more than two children. Parents are very involved in their children's education, commonly visiting the school at least twice a week. The system is very strict, and a tutor works full time tracking students, making sure they keep caught up. Students are grouped by ability. There is no mainstreaming of handicapped or special needs children, who are commonly institutionalized.
Utah-Russia teacher exchange is first on the elementary level
In the fall of 1995, Toni Turk came to the San Juan School District as a bilingual specialist. He had earlier met Yuri Gromyko, from the Metropolitan Methodological University in Moscow, and offered to help him with the challenges Russia is dealing with in bilingual education.
Moscow is trying to integrate Siberian natives into their educational system, and they face situations very similar to those of the San Juan School District, which works with a diverse populace of American Indian cultures, as well as a growing community of Hispanics.
Gromyko was pleased to set up an alliance with the Utah school district. For the past several years there has been an ongoing exchange of information and education between the two countries, as well as travel by students and educators, aided by the American Council of Teachers of Russian.
In December, the school district sent 50 older but still functional computers to Kazym, Beloyarski, in Siberia. Computers are rare in Russian schools.
Recently, Patty Lyman, a first-grade teacher at Blanding Elementary, and Anna Evanova, a foreign language teacher of English in Moscow, participated in a teacher exchange - historic in that it was the first exchange of its kind on an elementary level.
For further information on a teaching exchange to Russia, contact Meredith Lloyd by writing: American Council of Teachers of Russian, 1776 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Suite 700, Washington, D.C. 20036. The Web site is (www.actr.org). The group pays airfare and a stipend for teachers who go to Russia. Funding comes from the United States Information Agency, which is part of the State Department.