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Community college plays hosts to Russian guests

March 26, 2007

FREDERICK, Md. - Frederick Community College recently hosted guests from St. Petersburg, Russia - a firefighter, a select group of students and their professor.

The group's two-week stay in the United States was coordinated and arranged by FCC professor Marshall Botkin, director of the college's Russia Abroad program.

The students, from St. Petersburg State University's Department of Sociology, were supervised by Professor Irina Pervova. The firefighter is a friend of Botkin's from his previous trips to Russia.

The Russian students were able to observe and interact with a number of American students and various local social-services providers. They visited a sociology class at FCC and presented papers on Russian and global social problems, including Russian demography, terrorism, drug abuse and HIV/AIDS.

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The American students discussed Iraq, terrorism, Hurricane Katrina and the future of the American family.

In addition to visiting historic and cultural sites in Frederick County, the Russian visitors toured Frederick Memorial Hospital, Homewood Retirement Center and Hood College. They also went to Washington, D.C., where they explored various museums of the Smithsonian Institution and saw the White House, Congress and national monuments.

The group traveled to New York City, where they visited Ground Zero, the Metropolitan Museum, the Statue of Liberty and Times Square. A stop in Philadelphia introduced the visitors to America's founding history and other cultural sites in the City of Brotherly Love.

"The Russian students love America and are curious about every facet of our country," Botkin said. "They are always delighted to learn how welcoming and gracious Americans are, a realization quite different from what they sometimes expect. And our students usually have the same response in Russia. They're overwhelmed with the positive aspects of the country and the people that are often overshadowed by negative propaganda."

Pervova and her students will host FCC students at St. Petersburg State University this summer for several weeks as they tour St. Petersburg while enrolled in the sociology courses Cultural Diversity and Social Problems.

FCC's Russia Abroad program began in 2003. Since then, 25 students have visited Russia with Botkin's guidance.

"This is a great opportunity," Botkin said. "Anybody 18 and over can travel with us. You don't have to be a full-time student. Simply by signing up, you become a student. If adults want to audit the courses, they get the benefit of the trip without the work. Students can earn six college credits and travel to a beautiful city for three weeks for only $2,500."

St. Petersburg has been called the Venice of the east, according to Botkin, and is rich in art, theater and museums.

"The Hermitage Museum has 2.6 million pieces of art," Botkin said. "It puts the Louvre to shame. It has 32 original Rembrandts in one place, and there are rooms filled with Renoir and works by Impressionists. Catherine the Great was a prolific collector. Every major artist is represented there."

The Russian students will serve as hosts for FCC students in St. Petersburg.

"We have a ready-made welcoming committee with the students who have just been here, so our students are never alone," Botkin said. "Also, I'm friends with the firefighters there, a relationship I've developed since my first trip while on sabbatical in 2002. I have a real collegial bond with the students and a fraternal connection with the firefighters. People are basically the same wherever you go."

As a volunteer firefighter in Frederick County, Botkin was interested in visiting Russian facilities and learning about their operations. He discovered their equipment and technology are three generations behind what Americans use.

"They're still chopping through roofs with axes, so we send as much used and retired equipment as we can to help them out," Botkin said. "They don't have the safety regulations that we do here, so they're happy to get equipment that is still usable. But what they lack in technology, they make up for in innovativeness and bravery."

The Russian's America Abroad reciprocal program has brought 18 Russian students to FCC.

For information about the Russia Abroad program, call Botkin at 301-846-2579.

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