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New Opportunities for the Student Who Never Ceases to Amaze

Olga Krylova, a visually impaired junior at the Joint HSE NES undergraduate program majoring in economics after two years of hopping between on campus and online studying at Pokrovka Campus of HSE and NES campus at Skolkovo, Moscow, found herself in a small town of less than 30,000 population in American Southwest - Cedar City - Gate to the National Park system, home of the Southern Utah University (12 thousand undergrads) and Utah Shakespeare Festival, capital of Iron county of the state of Utah

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Cedar City

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Cedar City
Photo by emptypokts .. on Unsplash

Olga is taking diverse courses during her study abroad with Southern Utah University: econometrics, German language, sports economics, political science. With her host family she visits local sports events, like football and baseball matches, joins the road trips to the extended family and plans to travel to Arizona for Thanksgiving. Her host family father, Tony is Digital Marketing Manager at a bank. While her host family mom, Cheryl is a cellist and an online ESL teacher. Her hobbies include  ballet and playing guitar. They have a family orchestra - violin, piano, guitars and ukulele (Olga also plays guitar). 

It was not easy to find a timeslot when everyone is home with the busy schedule of the family and Olga’s studies. When we finally met online it was the morning of the US federal holiday, Veterans Day. Earlier we wrote about Olga's study experience at HSE University

How many kids do you have in the family?

Cheryl: We have three children, one boy and two girls. The boy is eighteen and goes to Snow college (142 miles from Cedar city, two year public school). The older girl is sixteen, and the younger is thirteen; they are in middle and high school. We host  another, 15 y.o. student from Benin, making a total of five children in the household. 

Olga and the Benin student are, according to Cheryl, very close friends.

Cheril shows to Olga how to play cello
Courtesy of Olga Krylova

There is a prejudice that Americans move a lot during their lives. Were you born in this town?

Tony: I was born in Mexico and lived there for eight years before moving to the United States. After having lived in many different places in America, I have lived in Cedar City for the past 25 years. I like Cedar City. 

Chery stated that she and her dad were born in Cedar City and that she has lived there her entire life. “I do really love Cedar City”

"Every time it's a different experience"

Cheryl: We have had other international students live with us before. Every time it's a different experience. Sometimes they come and they want to be a part of our family because they get along with us and talk to us. Others just simply need a place to stay for the duration of their education, really focused on their studies, and kinda keep to themselves. We are always as nice to them as we can be.

Tony: We just like to learn about different countries and cultures, and it is good for the kids to meet people from different parts of the world as well. It was interesting to have Olga because we have never had someone from Russia before.

Cheryl: We can tell them that we had a really great experience, so much fun it was to live with students from China, or Europe, or the ones from Africa, can we get some more from that area again, and we can make a request and let them know what we prefer, so they give us a background of the students before they come. So we get those who come over and need a home.  

New Life for Olga

Olga: Before coming here I was focused only on my studies and it was like 85% of my life. Here I have much more time for some social life, both because my host family are very communicative, they have  a lot of family events and they have a big family. The other reason is that I spend 5 - 10 minutes commuting to the University, while in Moscow I travel 20  miles. This does not let you stay at the university for extended hours. I take part in some events on campus and it is really fun. Not only that I have to communicate in another language, in fact it was not a big problem for me, probably because the thing I know best in my life is English, compared to other subjects, I mean. But just because it is another culture, everything is different. In Russia two kids in the family is a lot, and here four kids is not a lot. 

I took a course in German, though my major is economics. In general, it was a bit surprising for me how easy it is for American students not only to take crazy electives but even to change their majors. There are electives in music, cooking, and even horse riding. surely, variety of courses depends on the university but that is the case at Southern Utah university (SUU) where I study. 

Students of SUU can visit the city's public swimming pool for free. In the PE building of SUU we also have a climbing tower which is free for students. However, as I understand, I need to pay to play the piano in a practice room at SUU which is weird in contrast with a swimming pool.

I liked that because of the approaching Thanksgiving, the university organized an action called "Thank you professor". Students could write a card with gratitude to any professor. I happened to sit beside the table with these cards. I was surprised how many students voluntarily stopped by to write something.

Olga at the climbing tower at SUU
Courtesy of Olga Krylova

"Some things seem ridiculous"

Olga: Many small things are shockingly different.

While the academic system here is very similar to that of HSE University, some foreign students here really suffer, since they do not understand the system. Thanks to HSE University, I am really grateful! 

Another thing is food. Many students suffer from it. But Russian food is very close to  what I see here. 

Public transport is bad here because most people have cars. Your best friend in the States is the friend with a car. You can also go by bike or walk a lot. 

For me it's difficult to get used to prices in dollars. I understand what price is high and what price is low in rubles but it's harder for me to feel these differences when prices are in dollars.

In the econometrics course I program in Stata instead of R. As I understand, Stata is less accessible and less popular in Russia now. 

There are some things which seem ridiculous. For example, how can you name streets in the city W200N - West 200 North. And then all streets are like that - S200N, E200 - it is impossible! Their approach to street naming is unique and surprising.

Ghost Hunting as you saw in the movies

Tony: We did ghost hunting for Halloween here. The ghost hunting team goes to some location, which people say are haunted and owners request us to come to their properties. We choose one of the requests and visit the place. We go in and bring in tools -  cameras, recorders and try to catch some evidence of a ghost. We ghost hunted in Opera House, and other places. So, what you see in the movies, we do it here for fun. 

Olga and Tony dressed as a pirate for a Halloween party
Courtesy of Olga Krylova

Did your family life change with Olga’s arrival?

Cheryl: Our kids are used to having students coming so they are usually doing their own thing. But they were so excited for Olga. She came late at night, and we all stayed up late to meet her. When she went down to her room, they were all like: oh, she is so special! We love her! 

Life has changed having Olga here  because we all love her so much. About a week after she came, my son told me about Olga: mum, when I saw her, I knew I would be so sad when she had to go home… 

We all really love Olga, so we like when she can come to whatever we are doing. 

How do you spend free time?

Olga: my host family lets me take part in all the activities, for example, I go to the sport events. At home in my family no one plays football, basketball, baseball, and here they do. Different people go into different sports. I came to Cheryl’s friend, who owns a farm, so I could groom the horses, it was a lot of fun for me that I could discuss horses with someone in English, to use those special terms. Once I came to the church dinner with Cheryl, I go to church with my host family, there I can meet a lot of citizens. Sometimes they have big family events - I’ve met Cheryl’s parents, and her family at her nephew's birthday, so all the family gathered together. I came to the Halloween party with Cheryl and Tony and they were dressed like pirates! Children came trick-or-treating, and they collected six bowls of candies! The house was decorated for this party by the owners.  

What do you plan to do on the Thanksgiving?

Tony: On Thanksgiving we go to visit family and eat there. We are going to Arizona this year. Being a neighboring state to Utah, it is just a two hours ride. 

Cheryl: We all take with us different parts of the meal, so there will be a big ham, a big turkey, lots of rice, lots of soucy foods that make you tired! So, it will be our road trip together, But not the first one for Olga, since we took Olga to Saint George once.

"I miss my family"

Olga: Before I left home to study abroad, many things about my family annoyed me: I always complained that I dont have my own space. My space is overcrowded. Here I have a lot of space. I could not fall asleep before I finished my assignments. Also, my sister is very straightforward. She can tell me anything. Here everyone is very nice, and sometimes it has drawbacks. 

"Everybody is the same"

Tony: I imagine that is different in Russia than here, but something that I like:  All the people that we get from whatever country are all very nice. Everybody is the same, no matter where they come from, that's what we learned, even if they have different culture, language, habits. Everyone is good  people. 

Olga: My life is new since I try new things. Cheryl taught me how to play cello and a violin, Ive never done that before. When you do something new it is so exciting. Yesterday I decided I want to play piano, and opened a youtube tutorial. So Cheryl lent me a synthesizer. 

Cheryl:  We do have a family orchestra, since we all play different music instruments. I want to add that Olga is very generous and capable. She helps with housework, she helps with doing dishes, and different things. For her birthday we wanted to take her out to dinner, and she insisted that she takes us all out to dinner. So, she took us and she paid for us, wonderful to have her around, we don't want to see her go! 

Olga: I am thankful for my new experiences I have here, and especially to my host family, since they are very supportive. People are probably the most that I like in my study abroad experience. 

Cheryl shows Olga how to play violin
Courtesy of Olga Krylova