The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT)
Posted on August 1, 2002
By Tom Howard
Sixteen Russians will learn more about the United States and its health system during a week-long visit to the Billings area.
The Russians, all health-care professionals, will arrive in Billings late tonight. They are visiting the United States through an exchange program sponsored by the Library of Congress.
Marion Coleman and other members of the Billings chapter of Friendship Force will host the Russians in their homes.
"Out of this entire group, only a few have ever been to the United States before," Coleman said. "When they go home, Billings is going to be their introduction to the United States."
The Russians will meet Friday morning with Billings Mayor Chuck Tooley and state Sen. John Bohlinger. They will have lunch at the Billings Food Bank. Friendship Force will host a potluck dinner with the visitors at Mayflower Congregational Church at Poly Drive and Rehberg Lane at 6 p.m. Friday. The public is invited.
During their week here, they will have a variety of meetings with government officials and health-care providers. They'll also do some sight-seeing, including a quick trip to Yellowstone Park.
Friendship Force is a nonprofit international cultural exchange organization based in Atlanta, Ga. Members stay with host families while traveling. Members also host foreign visitors in their own homes.
Coleman said the Library of Congress asked for help from Friendship Force because of the group's experience in hosting foreign travelers.
Coleman, a retired postal worker from Laurel, has traveled to Australia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Germany and other countries during more than 20 years as a Friendship Force member.
Coleman said he has been welcomed wherever he has traveled.
"They love Americans," Coleman said. "We have never found a case where there were problems or where Americans were treated harshly."
George Dalthorp, a Friendship Force member from Billings, recently returned from a trip to Kenya. Staying with a Kenyan family for a week was an eye-opening experience, Dalthorp said.
"They're just like us," Dalthorp said. "They have the same kinds of feelings and deal with the same kinds of issues."
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