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Thursday, June 8, 2000

Ten of the 11 foreign exchange students (plus a friend).

Iron Curtain
lifts, youths emerge

Students from former Soviet states
embrace diversity and aloha

Hospitality center keeps
program running smoothly

By Rod Ohira


ONE of the first things nine visiting high-school students from former Soviet republics Turkmenistan, Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus did in Hawaii was to correct a common misconception.

Russia is a country and Russian is a language, the group says, before pointing out that they are neither from Russia nor are they Russian.

But they do speak Russian. It is still the common language of education throughout the former Soviet Union.

In addition to their native language, the students also speak, read and write English.

The 11 students from the New Independent States, including two from Russia, recently completed a year of studies in Hawaii as part of the "Future Leaders Exchange Program" administered by the U.S. State Department.

More than 50,000 students, ages 15-17, competed for 900 scholarships to study in the United States.

No special considerations were involved in the selection process, which the State Department says is unprecedented in a society where bribes and connections have often been used to get ahead.

"It is difficult," 16-year-old Vyacheslav "Slava" Kozyrev of Stavropol, Russia, said of the competition. "I competed against 900 people from my region."

There are three rounds of competition, starting with a basic English test, and the field is cut after each round, said Kozyrev, who attended Kalaheo High School.

The final round is essay writing.

The scholarship covers round-trip travel, health and accident insurance, a monthly stipend for personal expenses, and "settling-in" money. Room and board are provided by host families.

Like Kozyrev, the other students have been studying English since the first or second grade.

"Learning English is very important in Turkmenistan because most of the companies and electronic equipment are in English," said 17-year-old Maxat Allakuliyev, who attended Kahuku High.

"If you know English, your life is going to be good."

Multicultural experience

The Hawaii experience was the first time away from home for most of the students.

"Living so far from home with different nationalities and cultures helped me to understand the importance of friendship and peace in the world," said Yuliya "Julia" Faturova, 17, of Ukraine, who went to Moanalua High. "I learned that the color of skin doesn't make any difference."

Allakuliyev added: "In Turkmenistan, people respect blood because it's our history so they don't like a lot of mix backgrounds. In Hawaii, I lived in Kahuku where there are a lot of different cultures and races.

"When I asked my friend what were his nations, he said there were many. I like it when a person has many nations because the different cultures become one in them."

The students found that the American education system is very different from what they are used to.

"At home, we have 15 classes every semester and go to school six days a week," said 18-year-old George Kerdaze of Georgia, who attended Pearl City High. "We study physics, chemistry, biology and geography every year from the seventh grade, not just for one year."

Tatyana Matyukhevich, 18, of Belarus said there's little time to do much else except study during the school year in her country.

"During the week, we have too much homework," said Matyukhevich, who spent the year at Moanalua High. "We have six or seven different classes every other day and each teacher thinks his class is the most important."

Arzu Hajizade, 17, of Azerbaijan said some students here have an attitude toward teachers that would not be tolerated in her country.

"Sometimes there's too much freedom and it is taken for granted, so teen-agers begin thinking like adults earlier than they should," said Hajizade, who attended Kalani High. "It shows in their attitude toward teachers and older people. At home, we respect teachers, for they give us knowledge.

"In the first grade, we were taught 'by the name of my first teacher, I will name the first star I discover' which means all I would gain in my future would be because of my teacher."

Career-minded and confident

Confident, bright and charismatic, the students represent the generation riding the first wave of new career opportunities created by the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Ten years ago, 17-year-old Alexsey Proskurov of Azerbaijan wouldn't dare dream of being president of his country, something this politically astute student is now considering.

What Proskurov gained from his year in Hawaii is an appreciation of how precious freedom is.

"People get used to everything good very fast and that's the bad part about the nature of human beings," said Proskurov, who attended Aiea High.

"Students in U.S. high schools do not see the world outside and cannot imagine any other life. Some think their lives are bad but they would think differently if they could see life in other countries."

Proskurov is also interested in business, though he's already experienced a major disappointment.

"I wanted to bring the first McDonald's to my country," he said. "But last November, I learned that somebody did it."

Faturova, meanwhile, wants to be an international journalist. She can already speak six languages: Russian, English, Ukrainian, Polish, German and Spanish.

Most of the other students are looking at business careers.

In terms of appearance, Meder Jaylobaev of Kyrgyzstan blended well in Hawaii.

"Over here, I'm just like a normal person," said Jaylobaev, who attended Kahuku High. "Most people think I'm Japanese.

"The people and culture of Hawaii and Kyrgyzstan are very similar."

The students said a desktop or laptop computer, which are unaffordable in their countries, is what they would most like to take home.

And what about something from Hawaii?

The consensus is pineapples, Spam musubi, saimin and sushi.

11 students

The exchange students
and their host families

Future Leaders Exchange Program students, their Hawaii high schools and host families:

Bullet Vyacheslav "Slava" Kozyrev, 17; Stavropol, Russia; Kalaheo; Rev. Cass and Tish Bailey.

Bullet Lydia Samigullina, 15; Irkutsk, Russia; Campbell; Richard and Bonnie Wascher.

Bullet Tinatin "Tiko" Balavadze, 16; Georgia; St. Andrew's Priory; Richard and Nancy Tudor.

Bullet George Kerkadze, 18; Georgia; Pearl City; Jared Kaufmann.

Bullet Arzu Hajizade, 17; Azerbaijan; Kalani; Vance and Kimberly Owen.

Bullet Aleksey Proskurov, 17; Azerbaijan; Aiea; Carolyn St. Michaels.

Bullet Tatyana Matyukhevich, 18; Belarus; Moanalua; Heath and Cindy Williams.

Bullet Natallia Pilipenka, 17; Belarus; Pearl City; Dayle and Bobbie Carlson.

Bullet Yuliya "Julia" Faturova, 17; Ukraine; Moanalua; Paul and Kathy Fischer.

Bullet Meder Jaylobaev, 17; Kyrgyzstan; Kahuku; Faigalilo and Diann Aiu.

Bullet Maxat Allakuliyev, 17; Turkmenistan; Kahuku; Ross and Eseta McCallum.

Hospitality center keeps
program running smoothly

By Rod Ohira


HAWAII will host 41 foreign students, including 12 from the New Independent States of the former Soviet Union, during the next school year.

The International Hospitality Center, celebrating its 25th anniversary in September, has played a key role in the success of these exchange programs.

"We are Hawaii's best-kept secret," said Barbara Bancel, the organization's executive director whose own family has hosted 45 students since 1975.

Anyone interested in hosting a student can contact Bancel by telephone, 521-3554; fax, 532-2422, or email:

Largely through word of mouth, the International Hospitality Center has established a statewide volunteer base of more than 1,200 people to find host families and assist foreign students.

"We oversee all of it, from the selection of host families and placement in schools to providing counseling and support services to both the students and host families," Bancel said.

During the 1998-99 school year, International Hospitality Center volunteers in Hawaii provided services to 4,887 government and foundation grantees, distinguished guests and sponsored exchange students.

The private, nonprofit organization is financed by donations from sponsoring organizations and foundation grants.

Hawaii will receive the largest cluster of New Independent States students from the U.S. State Department's "Future Leaders Exchange Program" for the second straight year this fall, says Bancel.

There also will be 29 additional students from other programs. Those students are from Germany, Hungary, Poland, Macedonia, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Maldova, Spain and Finland.

Bancel is looking for more host families.

"These students don't need much more than a safe place to stay," she said. "It's a rewarding experience. It's kept me feeling young and up-to-date about what's going on in the world. It makes you realize that cultures may be different, but our human quality makes us all the same."

Anyone interested in hosting a student can contact Bancel by telephone, 521-3554; fax, 532-2422, or email:

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