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(статья из газеты "The Transylvania Times" , от 9.09.2002)

In her native land of Ivanovo, Russia, Elia Bogdanova began learning the English Language at the age of 8 with one goal in mind - to one day study in America. "It was my dream for a lot of years," she said. Her desire came to fruition on Aug. 28 when 15-year-old Bogdanova traveled the many miles from Moscow to the airport in Asheville. Her host family, Paul and Matilda Burleson of Brevard and their teen-age daughters Danielle and Casandra, greeted the Russian native at the gate that night. Despite her long trip and late arrival, Bogdanova began her year-long academic enterprise as a Brevard High School student early the next morning, "I think I'll need English all of my life and it's a great chance to study English and just get experience," she said.

The most trying part of the trip, she said, was securing a student visa from the United States Embassy in Moscow, which became a difficult task after the Sept. 11 attacks. She said her personal interview at the embassy on Aug.13 was "emotionally hard," and the waiting that followed was even more difficult. "I waited for my visa and for a week I had no answer," she said. "My luggage was packed, and I just waited. That was very hard." Bogdanova was much relieved when her visa finally came through, and without delay, she boarded a plane bound for America.

Her trip was made possible by a grass roots effort to bring students from Russia and the Russian Confederation to the United States for high school and university study with funding from private donations and corporate contributions. Part-time Brevard resident Wayne Babb helped make the opportunity a reality for Bogdanova, who is the God-daughter of his Russian wife, Irina.

For several years the Babbs have volunteered for an international program called Youth for Understanding, which is based in Washington, D.C. In addition to securing financial sponsors, including Denny and Tine Liegerot, Frank and Lavergn Voda, and Norm and Sue Macoy, all of Brevard, and Rev. Cecil and Sandy Jividen, formerly of Brevard, the Babbs recruited the host family. "Wayne's known me and my family for five or six years now, and he's just always been really impressed with how we've raised our girls," Matilda Burleson said. "We keep it very family oriented in our home."

Prior to their first meeting, Burleson and Bogdanova initially became acquainted through e-mails. The preliminary conversations served as an ice breaker, but didn't relieve all apprehension. "I have to admit, I think we all were a little bit nervous at first," Burleson said. "But Elia's English is so good that (communication) wasn't a problem at all."

In fact, Bogdanova and the Burlesons bonded almost instantly. "You get so attached, and she already feels just like of the family," Burleson said. "I know it will be hard when she goes back." But Bogdanova won't return to her Russian home until the close of the current school year in June 2003. Her parents will remain in Ivanovo during her absence, but plan to provide support through phone calls and e-mails. "My parents understand, but of course they miss me very much," Bogdanova said.

In the meantime, her new extended family plans to include their Russian house guest in all family oriented activities as well as encourage her to expand her horizons. "We really want to love her and support her in anything that she does while she's here" Burleson said. "We definitely treat her like she's our own."

While attending Brevard High School, Bogdanova said she intends to include theater arts, American history, business law and physical education in her regular course of study. She also plans to begin learning Spanish. "I like languages, and I want to study as many as I can," she said.

The length of her school day in America is the same as when she attended classes in Russia, but the overall workload is much lighter. "We had lots of homework (in Russia) - two to three hours every day," she said. "And sometimes it can take six hours." With fewer after-school obligations, Bogdanova will have time to study the local culture through trips on the Blue Ridge Parkway and visits to area attractions, such as the Biltmore House. "I want to do everything I can," she said.

When Bogdanova returns home, she'll have one more year of schooling to complete. She said she's uncertain of her plans after graduation, but may begin a study of economics while in Russia. "I don't know yet where I'm going after the school," she said. "I don't know if I'll have the chance to go somewhere else."

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