A delegation of 13 visitors from Russia joined Toni McDaniel’s history class last month at Pellissippi State Community College.
The group was in Knoxville courtesy of two organizations, the U.S. Congress’ Open World Program and Friendship Force International’s Knoxville chapter. Open World supports young professionals interested in visiting the U.S. to learn the democratic process and business practices.
The visit to Pellissippi State was sponsored by the institution’s Liberal Arts Department and the Tennessee Consortium for International Studies, which is housed at the college. The group was brought to campus by Joanne Schuetz of Friendship Force.
In the classroom, desks were arranged in a circle to encourage discussion between the visitors and students, and McDaniel opened the floor for an informal question-and-answer session.
“This was an excellent opportunity for my students, who were excited to dialogue with members of the group,” she said.
The group was composed of nine Open World delegates, two facilitators who were fluent in English and two translators. Delegates ranged in age from 19 to 46. They included deputies of the legislative assembly, political correspondents, a press secretary in public policy, attorneys and university instructors.
Most of the Russian guests were from the Altai Krai region, located northwest of China and just north of Kazakhstan. Two were from the capital city of Moscow, one from the city of Novgorod.
Discussion topics ranged from the size of Russia—“It’s ‘humongous,’” said Mikhail Italyevich Paklin, an associate professor of Russian history—to what the visitors expected to find in the U.S.
Anna Nikolayevna Kachurina, forewarned by fellow Russians, came to America with low expectations of the food. “But I’ve liked everything I’ve eaten.” Likewise, shoe styles. She was told they were all unattractive. “But that’s not true.” The misinformation, turns out, had come from people who’d never been to the U.S.
On the other hand, “some of the things I saw in American movies, such as downtown streets and student cafeterias, were what I expected,” she said.
Russians and Americans sharing the classroom also discovered common ground: both enjoy “going out on the town,” as one delegate put it, and to movies and concerts.
At one point McDaniel steered the discussion to the subject of Russia’s population and government.
“We have a hundred nations and nationalities living in the country,” Paklin said. “The Russian people are very tolerant.”
The group talked about presidential term lengths, the power of the government, ethnic groups and Russia’s infrastructure (a great rail system, but not every family can afford a car).
After class ended, conversation moved to the hallway.
“The thing that strikes us first is the high standard of living,” Paklin said, “and also my personal observation that people are open and friendly, smiling and talking.”
“I am so impressed to see clean cities,” said Yelena Viktorovna Klyushnikova. “You will never find a city as clean as in the U.S. There are no papers on the ground.”
Paklin agreed, and said he wanted to make another point.
“The realization I’ve come to is, we have more in common than the politicians would have us believe.”
Having arrived in Washington, D.C., the previous week, the group spent the remaining week in Knoxville. They were scheduled to go to concerts and to visit Congressman Jimmy Duncan, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, Federal Judge Tom Varlin, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the News-Sentinel. They also planned an excursion with the Tennessee Riverboat Company, an evening at Cotton-Eyed Joe’s and attendance at the Christmas Parade on Gay Street. While in Knoxville, members of the delegation stayed with host families.
Before taking part in the classroom discussion, the delegation joined L. Anthony Wise Jr., Pellissippi State’s president, and Ted Lewis, vice president of Academic Affairs; Tracey Bradley, TnCIS director; Jonathan Fowler, dean of Liberal Arts; and students from the history class for a traditional Southern barbecue.