International students share information about their homeland

Bette McFarren


“It’s a hidden jewel,” said Mary Su Niklos or the International Students Lunch & Learn program. “It is not advertised. I just learned about it from friends and Facebook.” At this once a month program, International Students at Otero Junior College have a chance to tell their listeners about their home countries, and dispel so “many myths you might believe. It also gives the college a chance to broadcast the program through YouTube internationally, to give their parents a chance to see their children are safe in America.

First to speak was Artur Mavlianberdiev, who is from the most European part of Russia, studying chemistry at a university. He told about the Russian education system, which is similar to the American in some ways. They start school in pre-kindergarten, then kindergarten through 11th grade. The first four years are primary school, five through nine, present the basics. At the tenth grade, students may elect general or vocational education. They remain in the same class with the same students all the way through the 11th grade. Mavlianberdiev said this leads to a lot of help from fellow classmates, even on exams. The teachers still considered it cheating, however.

Russian students get text only on the internet, said Mavlianberdiev. He seemed to like the idea of having real books. When the student goes to university, it is only by his intellect and motivation. Higher education is free, but the exams to get there are very difficult. His field of study is chemistry. He will finish his undergraduate work in Russia, but wants to come back to the U.S. for graduate study and eventually return to his home country to help out there.

Russian students prefer to go back to their rooms and study alone, he said, in contrast to the American students. President Jim Rizzuto asked, “Were you happy when you learned you were coming to La Junta?” Mavlianberdiev replied, “Didn’t matter where I came — just America. I came to learn your culture and improve my English.” Asked what he likes best about being here, he said, “I like the people — they are so open-minded, not afraid to do weird things! I feel free to express myself, whether revealing my genius or admitting my struggles.” He also enjoys the privacy: in Russia all grades are public, and your ranking in the class is posted. He said he was about number 18 (it looked like a very long list of students). Strangely, it seemed that education is more competitive in Russia than here. Also, all classes are chosen for you, you attend school from September to June, 34 weeks, 36 hours per week, six lessons from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. At the university level you choose your main course of study, but not other classes.

Elvira Zinnatulina lived in “the most beautiful city in Russia, Kazan.” Kazan is the capital of Uzbekistan, where Mavlianberdiev also lived growing up. They speak another language, Tatar, as well as Russian. Zinnatulina is most proud of her city, where 100 different religions co-exist in peace. The world’s largest mosque is there. From the pictures she showed in her presentation, the audience could see that it is so. Also, “The people are friendly and kind there.” She said, “In Moscow, everyone is so busy, they don’t have time to be friendly.” There are over a million people in Kazan, so it is not a small town, but still there is that feeling of friendly co-existence.

Zinnatulina studied dance from a very young age, but what she really liked were the costumes, which were red, gold, green, white or a combination of colors. Her favorite is red and gold. Unfortunately, she packed so many other things there wasn’t room for her dance costume. When the audience asked if she would be dancing at International Foods Night, she said she would try to figure something out. She has just graduated from high school, but she hopes to study business and economics.

Anastasia Zykova is from Omsk, the capital of Siberia. She was anxious to dispel myths about Siberia. “It is hot in summer, cold in winter. We have four seasons, just like you do.” Truly, the stop frame photography of the seasons she projected showed a country that looked much like the mountains of Colorado near Aspen and Vail. She said it is very cold for three months of the year, and what they say about the roads is true. Moscow is three hours by air and three days by road.

“All of us do not drink vodka,” she said. “My father only drank vodka on holidays, and moderately.” He did, however, “cuss the holes in the streets.” Siberia sounded a lot like Colorado in many ways. “We love our hockey team,” she said. All sports are popular. They have lots of forest land, so there are many bears. “But we do not keep them as pets,” she clarified.

Zykova also has a background in dance, and the audience expressed their hope she would dance at International night. All the Russian students were amazed at the habits of the Americans — chewing gum, putting their feet up on tables. Perhaps they will have a good influence on their American friends. Zykova said it is not true Russians are stone-faced and not expressive. All three students illustrated what she said is true.

Visiting with President Rizzuto was the director of Colorado Department of Higher Education, Kim Hunter Reed. She introduced herself and made pictures with the students. Check out YouTube to see a complete live broadcast of the program, which also enables the students’ parents to see them from their homes in Russia.