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Russia part of her life

July 02, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Laura Meany's life has been eventful in the past two years.

Meany, 24, was working at the World Trade Center in New York when she was tapped for an overseas adventure in the late summer of 2001.

"One month later, I was in Russia," Meany said. There she watched in horror as two planes crashed into her former workplace on Sept. 11, 2001.

"As it turned out, Russia actually saved my life," said Meany, who recently returned to Hagerstown after teaching in Russia for a year and a half. "I could have been there since I often came to work early each morning."

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"My Russian friends and many others started bringing flowers to show their sadness," Meany said. Some also said that now America understands how people in other countries feel when violence occurs, she said.

Although she made many friends while there, Meany said there were some who treated her differently, especially after the war in Iraq began.

"It became quite awkward then," she said. "I wasn't Russian and some people saw me only as a symbol of something."

Meany said life in Russia today isn't simple.

"The best times were when I could get close to the way the real Russians lived," Meany said.

While a young student, Meany fell in love with Russian literature. That love prompted her to go to Russia five years ago for some of her undergraduate studies while she was enrolled at Colgate University, majoring in international relations and Russian studies.

During her 1998 fall semester in Russia, she studied in Vladimir then moved to Moscow for the remaining four months to study at the GITIS Institute. She returned home and completed her double major at Colgate in May 2000.

After a year in New York working for the law firm of Brown and Wood in the World Trade Center, she returned to Russia to teach English.

Meany was hired by Serendipity, an American nonprofit organization headed by Ron Pope of Normal, Ill. She was based at Vladimir, about 100 miles northeast of Moscow, where she taught English to Russian natives for a year.

In 2002, she divided her time between teaching English in Pokrov at a factory and studying Russian literature at the Vladimir Pedagogical Institute.

Her parents, Mark and Evelyn Meany, visited their daughter in Russia last year. That two-week visit was their first trip to Europe, Meany said.

Meany moved to Hagers-town with her parents when she was 6 months old. She was born on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, where her parents worked for the Indian Health Service. She has one brother, Matthew, a senior at Wake Forest University.

Meany studied at St. Mary's through the eighth grade. She studied Spanish after school with Julia Cardenas when she was 8. She went on to North Hagerstown High School, taking four years each of Latin and Spanish and graduating as salutatorian in 1996.

She is seeking a career in government service, possibly with the U.S. State Department or a private firm with Russian connections.

"I'm very sure this is going to be a part of my life," Meany said.

In the meantime, she is staying with her family at their North End home, where both the American and Russian flags fly.

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