A Russian Learning Experience

A Russian-born teacher who retired from the Fullerton School District in 1987 has returned for a special assignment: teaching Russian to high school students.

The new fall course--a first for the district--was filled soon after it was offered. Unlike other typical high school classes, it is taught two nights a week at the district offices, to allow students from throughout the district to attend.

"The kids need to be challenged," said Nona Katzenstein, a former English teacher for 22 years. "I know this language can be a real challenge to some, but I think it will also offer enjoyable stimulation for many."

Katzenstein, a resident of La Habra, said that her grandfather had been the equivalent of a knight in Czarist Russia.

"My parents and their parents were connected to the monarchy," she said, adding that her parents had access to the finest schools in Russia.

After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, Katzenstein's parents fled to China, where they lived for 22 years. Katzenstein was educated by missionaries in a convent. In China, she met a U.S. naval officer, whom she married in 1947 in San Francisco.

"My mother was a monarchist and an avid anti-communist," she said. "After I became educated and traveled to the country, I realized that the people of the Soviet Union are very warm. They were just victims of an unjust government."

Calling Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's policies of glasnost "long overdue," Katzenstein said, "Communication is very important. And better communication means a better understanding of a culture, which I also want to stress in this class."

Since 1975, Katzenstein has visited the Soviet Union three times. And each time she returns her appreciation for the country grows.

The changes that have taken place there since her first trip are heartwarming, she said.

"Soviet society was still very much closed in 1975, and contact with the people was scarce. But when I went back in 1985, I started to notice a difference."

Katzenstein said she hopes that future trips to the Soviet Union will be part of the course's offering.

"My country is the world, and my religion is to do good."--Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

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