Long Way From Home

If you think Russia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are countries a long way away, you would be right.

So imagine what it’s like for the three young women from those countries who were in Warren on Tuesday.

Living in McKean County for the last nine months, Kadriya Sharafutdinova from Russia, Fira Gasimova from Azerbaijan and Tamar Buachidze from the Republic of Georgia were at Warren Public Library to discuss their experiences, and to bring a little bit of their culture to Warren County.

The students are in the U.S. through the State Department-funded Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program, designed to provide students from former Soviet bloc countries an opportunity to live in an American community, according to American Councils for International Education Local Coordinator Mary Lisa Gustafson of Kane.

“I think both sides of the ocean get a lot of bad press,” she said, noting that the program “breaks that down one on one. That is more influential than we realize. People don’t realize there is this other world going on over there.”

Each student gave a brief presentation detailing their nation of origin, outlining characteristics such as cuisine, geography and architecture.

Sharafutdinova said she was surprised that deer meat is valued in the states while largely ignored in Russia. Her host parents were equally surprised to find out what the most expensive and highly sought after meat in Russia is horse.

Buachidze explained that the geography of Pennsylvania reminds her of Georgia. When the group visited Rimrock in the Allegheny National Forest, she said the “same view as Rimrock reminded me of my country.

“If you see Georgia 10 years ago, it looks completely different today,” she said, noting that the country has molded centuries of history into a modern environment.

While all of the students are proficient in English, they said multiple foreign language study is required, especially for the students from the smaller countries who will study their native language, such as Georgian, but also learn English and Russian.

But living here for the entirety of the school year, Buachidze explained that she still “thinks” mostly in Georgian but said that there are now times when she will be speaking with her mother and come up with a word in English but struggle to translate it to her native tongue.

Each student engrossed themselves in activities here, from sports to dance to extensive community service.