Tooele impresses Russian foursome
Tooele Transcript Bulletin (Tooele, UT)
Posted on October 1, 2002
By Michael Rigert
With their trip made possible by the U.S. government-sponsored program Open World, young Russian leaders have an opportunity to experience America's democratic, economic and cultural institutions. The current visit of Tooele's Russian guests coincides with the city's new sister city ties to Kambarka, Russia.
In almost a week's time, the four guests have experienced more of American life and culture than most experience in an entire month. They've toured schools and government institutions, participated in Tooele High School Homecoming events and visited the Festival of the Old West.
They've visited Deseret Chemical Depot, the Tooele Fire Department and the Mountain West Medical Center. They've even heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and taken a sail on the Great Salt Lake.
Most of all, they've appreciated seeing how everyday Americans live, work and play.
A reporter from the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin sat down with the group Monday morning at Denny's restaurant as they savored a large traditional American breakfast to get a sense of their impressions and opinions of Tooele and the United States.
Olga Tarasova, 44, a foreign economics expert with the Russian state of Udmurtia, was impressed with the friendliness of Americans and clean streets and environment in which Tooele residents live.
She said she realized Americans were well-off but she didn't realize they enjoyed such a high standard of living until her visit this week.
Yevgeniy Arefyev, 46, the director of a Russian environmental agency who holds a Ph.D in science, is impressed with Americans' concern for the conditions of their businesses, homes and the environment.
"People are very concerned about what is around them. Their homes are very beautiful; their working places are well-organized," Arefyev said.
Irina Golikova, 40, a biology teacher in the district of Kambarka, said she was initially afraid to come to the United States, partly out of fear of what to expect and the way the Russian media had portrayed Utah and Mormons.
"I had a strange impression of Mormons from the media but found them to be very kind and normal, not wild and crazy," she explained through an interpreter.
Tarasova agrees. She said she's met hundreds of foreigners including Americans with her work at Udmurtia's ministry of foreign relations, but that "Utahns are the best. Better than expected."
Golikova was also impressed to the degree Americans were involved in volunteer positions, from the fire department to roadside groups cleaning highways. All four mentioned how beautiful Tooele was and how tidy and well-kept the streets were.
Araltan Mandzhiyev, 22, the group's facilitator and student at the Volograd Academy of State Service, has been to the U.S. several times and said in comparison to Russia, American cars are incredibly clean.
"Ours would have a thick layer of dirt," he explained.
Arefyev believes there's still things America can learn from Russia. With much more limited resources but a more diversified education, Arefyev believes Russians have been creative and quite successful in doing more with less than their American friends.
His preconceptions of America were pretty close to the real thing, except now "he's sees the details of American life," Mandzhiyev interpreted for his friend.
Golikova was both surprised and moved by Americans' patriotism and the way they hold the U.S. flag and other national symbols in high regard.
"I really liked the melody of the American anthem. It's the first time I've ever heard it," she said.
Mandzhiyev said during his initial visit to the U.S. in 1996 as a foreign exchange student, he was astounded by Americans' connection and dedication to their various religions.
"I was amazed that people would go to church every Sunday. In Russia, that would be very unusual. Most people haven't gone to church since they were a child," he explained.
Mandzhiyev was also surprised by the size of American families, particularly in Utah. He said the average size of a Russian family is two kids.
From pizza, to burgers, to tacos, the guests got a good taste for American appetites when it comes to cuisine.
Tarasova said she liked everything she's tried on her trip, "especially the bacon." She admitted she's probably gained a little weight on the trip, and then laughed when Mandzhiyev translated the personal information.
"You weren't supposed to translate that," she said with a smile.
Golikova preferred the fresh fruit and fruit juices available in so many flavors and combinations in American grocery stores and restaurants.
"I didn't expect the food to be so tasty. I love the fruit and the juices," Golikova said.
They said that Americans and Russians both are very hospitable and share the same values.
Tarasova said one misconception that Americans may have of Russians is that they are constantly drinking alcohol.
"That's incorrect. Not everyone drinks," she said.
Moving on to politics, Tarasova thinks Russian president Vladmir Putin "is a good president, in comparison to Boris Yeltsin. He's much better." She said Putin follows through with what he says and works very hard to make other countries respect Russia.
Her opinion of President George W. Bush was not as favorable. "I liked Clinton better," Tarasova said. "He's a cutie."
She doesn't approve of Bush's stance of Iraq and worries about the loss of innocent lives under a potential attack. "(The U.S.) shouldn't bomb Iraq because the regular people will suffer and (Saddam Hussein) will hide and escape," she said.
When asked what both Russians and Americans can do to increase the good relations between their two countries, Tarasova said their trip was a good example.
"Go and visit more and develop personal relationships between people," she said.
Visiting Temple Square, Arefyev said, was one of the trip highlights for him.
"I was impressed by the scale and power of Temple Square and the Conference Center. I'd never seen nor experienced anything like that before," he said.
For Golikova, her most memorable moment was attending the American Indian dancing at Tooele's Festival of the Old West.
Tarasova said her favorite part was riding inside a Tooele fire truck during Friday's Tooele High School homecoming parade.
Mandzhiyev said her highlight was witnessing the energy and coordination within of the Tooele County Emergency Management command center.
"I think they're really serious about the security of the people, they really care," he said.
The entire delegation expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to come to the United States and were especially grateful to Mayor Charlie Roberts, the City Council, their host families, Utah facilitator Jennifer Andelin, and the many others for making their trip such a wonderful, fun and positive experience.
The delegation will meet the City Council Wednesday evening at the 7 p.m. city council meeting and then depart home on Thursday.
Copyright © 2002, Tooele Transcript Bulletin. Used with permission.
[Reprinted with Permission]