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Dasha Grishina – ‘From Russia with love’

By Staff | Oct 27, 2008

“I was rolling on the sofa when I was told school is cancelled here when you get six inches of snow,” says a chuckling Darya Grishina of Russia.

“You have snow days, ice days, fog days, two-hour late-start days. We go to school six days a week no matter what the weather is like or how deep the snow is,” she says.

Born on March 5, 1992, in Bor, Nizhegorodskaya oblst, Russia, Darya Alexeevna Grishina, or ‘Dasha’ as she is nicknamed, is one of seven foreign exchange students at Blue Earth Area High School. Her host family is Pastor Mark and Lynn Wilms of Blue Earth.

Grishina lives in Bor, population 80,000, a suburb of Nizhny Novgorod which is the third largest city in Russia. Only St. Petersburg and Moscow are larger. Bor is situated on the left bank of the River Volga. It is an administrative, cultural and industrial center. Local industries in her city include shipbuilding and glassmaking. The glassworks factory has manufactured glass for cars and trucks, a well as glassware for table use since 1934.

Her parents are Alexey Vladimirovich Grishin and Anna Aleksandrovna Grishina. Her father is a professional cook, but because of a lack of job opportunities in that profession, he is a businessman who sells shoes. Dasha’s mother is a dentist.

“Everyone is interested in middle names in Russia,” says Grishina. “It makes them higher and shows more respect,” she says.

An only child, she has been fortunate to travel to Great Britain, Malta, Egypt and Spain with her parents.

“I liked Spain the best,” she says. But she also studied the Spanish language when she was seven.

“We have 11 steps of education in Russia,” she says. There are five or six classes per day that last 40 minutes each. The school term is from September to May and students attend school six days a week. On Saturday, classes are held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“The school size is about the same as Blue Earth,” says Grishina. “Unlike here, in Russia we have no choice of what classes we can take. We have between 20-25 subjects per year that we study. Classes meet one to three times per week, depending on what they are. There are about 50 teachers in my school which is called No. 4. It doesn’t have a name,” she says.

As for extracurricular activities, Grishina says they do have choir, but drama is held in one of the after school clubs at the House of Culture.

Instead of school sports, Grishina explains they have physical education twice weekly. It consists of playing volleyball, football, soccer or doing exercises.

“One goes to the House of Culture for a sport or to become a professional,” she says.

“I went to my first football game here. It was very exciting,” she says. “When everyone was screaming I was too. I was so excited I could hardly calm down,” she adds with a grin.

“The teacher approach here is more friendly,” notes Grishina. “They are on a first name basis.”

Another big difference about the two cultures is the people here are more open and friendly. They smile even if they don’t know you, she says.

“I had a big culture shock the first day of school,” says Grishina. “The Study Hall. I didn’t know what it was or the purpose of it.” She laughs as she mimics the teacher saying “no speaking, putting your head down, or turning left or right.”

With five years of English, Grishina entered the FLEX competition in Russia. If you win this, your air tickets and accommodations are all paid by the Dept. of State. There are several steps to the competition, including a grammar and vocabulary test, three hours in an auditorium for listening, grammar and reading and a behavior essay question such as ‘how I would react and behave if I dropped pizza.’

Eight of 40 applicants will become exchange students. Those eight will receive a packet containing documents from teachers, doctor reports and grades. It is a five to six month process. Then three more essays are required if the student is a finalist. The last step is a three day orientation in Moscow that teaches the students about the U.S. culture, foods, etc.

“When I return to Russia, I will take exams in the summer, then complete my senior year,” Grishina says.

As for the biggest cultural difference, she says it is the food.

“Even though we have McDonald’s in Russia,” she explains, “we usually eat at home. We eat fish, meat, rice and vegetables. We don’t eat burgers and fries.”

Her family home also has a large garden, so they get their vegetables from it as well as enjoy the fruit from their apple and cherry trees.

“Our climate is similar to here,” said Grishina. “But our winters last about five months and are very cold. It is cold and rainy in late autumn in Russia too, but from June to August it is in the 80s,” she says. “The climate is changing.”

As for hobbies, the young Russian enjoys singing, traveling and studying foreign languages.

“My favorite thing to do in my homeland is to sing,” she says. “I like pop and dance music. I don’t play any instrument – I do have a guitar but have found no one to give me lessons,” Grishina says.

Other comparisons she makes are that the teenagers are similar as is the clothing worn by them, but clothes are much less expensive to buy here than in Russia.

As for driving, 18 is the driving age in Russia, but one can obtain a license at 16. If they decide to drive at 16, they must drive two years with a parent.

“You drive more often here than we do,” says Grishina. “In Bor, we take public transportation or walk. I walk to my school since it is only ten minutes from my home.”

A pet lover, she has a Central Asia Shepherd at home. “They are large and look like small bears,” she says.

Holidays and special events held in Russia include Christmas on January 14th and Maslenitsa or Pancake Week. For seven days Russian bells jingle, ladies dress in gaily painted dresses and people sing with garmoshkas, the national Russian instrument.

The store counters in town groan with various dainties such as sweet barankas (doughnuts), nuts, salted foods, fish, caviar and there are paunchy samovars (huge teapots) filled with mellow tea.

Of course, the essential element is the blini (pancake.) The pancake is a symbol of the sun, since it is round, golden and warm. These are served hot with either butter, sour cream, caviar or mushrooms to suit the individual’s taste.

During this carnival-like event, one can take a horse-drawn sledge ride, a jaunty slip down an enormous ice slope and even ride on a giant carousel. As Grashina points out, the Great Maslenitsa will reel one around in a dancing fairy circle and people’s feet won’t be able to keep still to the sprightly rhythms of the chastooshkas (gay songs.) Clowns and skomorokhs (histrions) entertain the crowd. Punch-and-Judy-shows (balagans) also are part of the event’s entertainment.

The last day of Maslenitsa is called ‘Forgiveness Day.’ Everyone asks each other for forgiveness in order to redeem themselves from their sins before Lent begins. On this day, the feasting and drinking ends and a scarecrow symbolizing winter is burned. This is a farewell to winter and a welcome to the spring season.

As Grishina shares stories of her home festivals and holidays, her host family is sharing their’s as well.

“I have really had a fun time here, especially with my host family,” says the perky young Dasha.

“I love Borscht, a red soup made from beets and meat,” says Grashina. “I love it very much and I have promised to make it for Christmas for my host family. My father (professional cook) has taught me to cook and gives me a pinch of commentary. He even told me that when I make the Borscht, he would like to put a camera over my bowl so he could watch,” chuckles Grishina.

“Even if Dad (Mark Wilms) doesn’t like it, I will eat it all! I love it so much. Hope I can make it really tasty,” she says.

Two worlds have been united through this student exchange.

As winter quickly approaches in Minnesota, it will be interesting to see how Darya Grishina of Russia will actually react when the radio announces that a ‘snow day’ has been declared.