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ANAHEIM : American Welcome for 4 Russians

When three high school students from the Russian city of Serov visited their pen pals at Canyon High School on Monday, any doubt that they are basically the same as American teen-agers was eliminated when a photographer asked to take their picture.

The three--Vika Medvedeva, Sveta Marchenko and Vova Drugov--immediately wanted to know if their hair was neat.

The students and their English teacher, Olga Fakhrutdinova, arrived in Anaheim on Wednesday for a three-week visit to Southern California. While staying with families in Anaheim Hills, they have visited Disneyland, Los Angeles, the beach and attended a college football game. They have plans to visit Universal Studios and a water park.

“The most impressive thing has been the hospitality that has been shown to us,” Fakhrutdinova said.

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Serov, in the Ural Mountains, is a manufacturing city of about 110,000. Because much of the industry there is military-related, the area had been closed to foreigners until after the collapse of the Soviet Union two years ago.

“We only heard that the Americans were our enemy, but we never got to meet any of them,” Fakhrutdinova said. “But we have found that the Americans are a very good and very kind people.”

The trip had its genesis in January, 1992, when Fakhrutdinova’s father visited Cal State Fullerton to study American engineering techniques. During the visit, he was introduced to Gordon Pitts, an English and social studies teacher at El Rancho Middle School. Fakhrutdinova’s father told Pitts that his daughter was a teacher at a 120-student school.

Pitts wrote to Fakhrutdinova and suggested that their classes exchange letters. Soon, 25 pairs of students were writing letters to each other. The Americans were also taping and sending videos.

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The El Rancho students had graduated last June and were at Canyon on Monday for freshman orientation. The Russians were on hand to observe.

In her letters, “my pal told me a lot about her family, particularly her dog,” Jackie Ramon, 14, said. Jackie smiled, then added: “She really hates that dog.”

After the letters started flowing, Pitts and several parents decided to invite the Russian children to visit Anaheim. To pay for the Russians’ trip, $5,500 was raised from sources here. The three Russian students were chosen for the trip by their peers in an election, Fakhrutdinova said.

The Russian students said Disneyland has been the most impressive part of their visit so far.

“People can go there and forget their problems,” said Vika, 16.

“There is so much to do in such a small place that it is incredible,” said Vova, 14. “Disneyland really is a small world.”

But they were confused by much of Sunday’s USC-North Carolina football game at Anaheim Stadium.

“The best part was the halftime show,” Fakhrutdinova said.

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The Anaheim students said that the Russians’ letters have taught them to appreciate the lives they have here.

“They value money a lot,” Michael Richens, 14, said of the Russians. “We can have snacks; they can’t. We can waste money on candy; they can’t.”

The Anaheim students also said they have noticed that the Russians get excited over things Americans take for granted, such as soda pop, seashells and city lights.

“When we visited Los Angeles, they kept pointing at the lights and saying it was so beautiful,” said Michelle Grindstaff, 14. “We kept saying: ‘It’s just Los Angeles.’ ”

Pitts said he hopes his former students will learn from the visit that despite the cultural differences, Russians and Americans can be friends.

“We need to see that the Cold War is over and these people are not our enemy anymore,” Pitts said.


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