Russian students learning capitalism and culture

November 21, 1996


Staff Writer, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Three months ago, the world turned upside down for nine Russian students when they left their homeland for the first time bound for a country where the language was barely comprehensible.

They traveled through 11 time zones, turning their nights into days, and in addition to facing courses at Shepherd College, they had to grapple with a new culture that presented everything from foreign currency to different foods.

"The first time it was really tough because they didn't have friends," said Sasha Williams, a Shepherd instructor who is helping the students begin a business study program that will give them the skills to build Russia's first free-market economy.


But the group now seems to be getting the hang of the all-American college experience.

They've started to make friends at the Shepherd campus, and they've taken a liking to Frisbee and the video games in the student center. They piled into a car one day for a cruise after one of them got a driver's license, and they often throw "all kinds of crazy parties," Williams said.

The students' arrival at Shepherd is an outgrowth of an international trade and development institute that was set up at Shepherd two years ago to help Russian officials set up their first tax system.

After the fall of communism in Russia in 1991, Russian officials were interested in finding someone in the United States to help them set up a form of taxation as they switched to a free market economy.

About 400 Russian officials ended up coming visiting Shepherd to study taxation.

One of the Russian officials then suggested that some of her country's college students come to Shepherd to study business.

Two-year stint at Shepherd

The nine students who arrived here last August are from the Nefteyugansk region, an oil-producing area east of the Ural Mountains, according to Clinton Davis, head of the Institute for International Training, Trade and Development, the Shepherd department that was set up to train the students.

Davis said the students are learning the basics of the English language, such as grammar and sentence structure. After those skills are honed, the group will move on to business courses. The students are expected to study at Shepherd for about two years.

Williams said the students are expected to learn enough of the basics in that time, and then return home to finish their college studies.

The students said Wednesday that the biggest sticklers so far have been understanding the English language and the American culture. But student Alex Kopotilov said meeting and interacting with Shepherd students has been good practice for learning the language here.

"When you're talking, talking, talking, it gets better," Kopotilov said.

The students' success at learning English has been "varied," Davis said. The course may have to be lengthened to allow the group time to learn the basics, he said.

"This is our first group, so we're learning as they are. We're going to have to mold and learn from this experience," said Davis.

Working for broader relations

Besides the training program, the institute also has worked to broaden its relationship with Russia, such as increasing trade between the two countries and creating more secure opportunities for American investors, Davis said.

Davis, Martinsburg attorney Clarence E. "CEM" Martin III and Ivan Bakhurin, a Russian businessman who owns a pharmaceutical and health care company in Martinsburg, have made trips to Russia to explore developing new relationships with the country.

While Americans have the experience in a free market economy, Russia has a huge oil industry and impressive expertise in technology involving radar systems, aviation and microwaves, Davis said.

"So that's a good marriage there," he said.

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