Foreign exchange: Russian women visit Summit County |

Foreign exchange: Russian women visit Summit County

SUMMIT COUNTY – Perhaps one of the biggest differences between life in Russia and the United States is the relationship between the people and their governments.

“What I’m taking back to Russia in my heart … is that the citizens of the U.S. are very close to the government,” said Olga Kogol, who visited Summit County this week as a part of the Open World Russian Leadership Program.

The Open World program gives emerging Russian leaders an in-depth exposure to the U.S. government on the federal, state and local levels in an effort to foster understanding between the U.S. and the Russian Federation and to assist Russia’s democratic and economic reforms.

Kogol was one of 10 Russian women who visited Washington, D.C., Denver and Summit County as a part of the program.

In Summit County, the women visited with representatives of the tourism industry and nonprofit organizations, education officials, local business leaders and county and town officials.

Jean Waid, one of local program coordinators, said Summit County often is the highlight of the trip for the Russian visitors.

Aside from the area’s natural beauty, “Here you can meet with the town managers and county commissioners and see how things work,” Waid said, adding that the county also hosted Russian visitors through the program in 1999 and 2000.

Several of this year’s visitors commented on the amount of citizen involvement in the government here in the U.S.

“I am amazed at America,” said Lyudmila Murjioina, of Astrakhan Oblast. “I understand why people are so much involved in volunteering: The government helps the people and the people give back to the government. This is very logical, and I think it works.”

“I am amazed of the fact that people have a big sense of patriotism and giving back to their country,” said Elenora Kez, from Irkutsk Oblast.

“There are a lot of people who volunteer – they do things from the heart and not for the money,” Kogol said.

People in the U.S. are very concerned with the welfare of the community, she said. In Russia, the average citizen doesn’t have much money and thus is more concerned about personal welfare than that of the community.

The Russian government also does not provide incentives for the rich people to make donations, Kogol said.

“I hope that our country will turn toward the people and the people will turn back to the country,” Murjioina said.

Several of the women said Americans seem more prepared to discuss and resolve problems than are Russians.

Zifa Iskandarova, from Ufa in the Republic of Bashkortostan, said she enjoyed Americans’ open-mindedness.

“Whenever they talk of problems, of negative things, they talk about ways to solve them,” she said. “That’s not (usually) what you find in Russia.”

Natalya Kim, from Kemerovo Oblast, said she was impressed by the way people here organize their lives.

“People don’t wait for people to knock on the door,” she said. “Of course, you have problems. But you also have will and determination to find ways to solve the problems. I believe Russians should learn (how to do this).”

The women also were impressed by the healthy lifestyles here.

“People of all ages are very active here and they lead a healthy lifestyle,” Iskandarova said. “We need to learn this.”

Kogol said she plans to use her observations to help Russians in her republic, where leaders have established a healthy-lifestyles program. So far, the program has been very difficult to promote.

“I would like to bring the experience I learned here and put my efforts into this program,” she said. “In Russia, we have a short life. When I return, I will tell my president (about the longer lives of Americans). After 10 years, I’d like to come back here and tell you how we’ve been successful.”

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or

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