Russian hometown once was closed, secret city
Zarechny, once a closed and secret city in Russia, is the home to one of BEA’s foreign exchange students — Alina Vladimirovna Prytkova.
“A city of nuclear industry, Zarechny is only 57 years old,” explains Prytkova. “It used to be closed because of the nuclear plant there. It is not dangerous anymore and is no longer a secret city. We still have a plant there, but it is not nuclear. It now makes parts for nuclear weapons.”
Prytkova says her hometown of 60,000 is very small in relation to most Russian cities. She says Penza, a city near her hometown, has a population of about 400,000 and Moscow, of course, is much larger.
“Zarechny is in the European part of Russia or west of Moscow,” explains Prytkova. “It is in the Penza region on the sleeve of the River Volga.”
Since the city was closed for so many years, only those families initially living in the area remained in the secret city. Among these was her father, Vladimir, who was born in Zarechny.
“My father is a city bus driver,” says Prytkova. “The city bus and taxi are our main means of transportation.”
Lilia, her mother, is not a native of Zarechny, but moved there because a grocery store needed her special skills as a sales lady.
Born on June 25, 1993, the fun-loving and vivacious teenager has wanted to come to the United States since she was 12. Her mother, Lilia, helped Alina achieve this dream by stressing the importance of learning the English language. As a result, Alina began studying English when she was in the first grade. Ten years of intensive study and practice have left her very fluent in the English language.
Prytkova’s road to becoming a foreign exchange student in Minnesota involved entering a competition in which one million Russian students took part. She was one of only 900 who won this scholarship competition.
“I’m here and I’m happy,” says the bubbly teen in the Winnebago home of Bob and Brenda Perryman.
The Perrymans are not novices when it comes to hosting foreign exchange students. Previously, Bob has hosted students from New Zealand, Finland and the Netherlands.
“This time we wanted someone from Russia,” he says.
Upon learning she would be coming to the U.S., Prytkova says not only she, but also her mother, was very excited about the opportunity.
“She would always know when it was an international call,” explains Prytkova, “because the rings are faster. My mother would get so excited upon hearing it and would say, “it’s your foreigners calling.“
In order to get to Minnesota, Prytkova first boarded the train at the Penza station near her hometown. She then traveled to Moscow where she took a flight to Chicago before continuing on to International Airport. The last leg of her journey by car to Winnebago gave her a chance to see the Minnesota countryside.
“My region is very flat and we have a lot of Birch trees, so I was surprised and happy to see Birch trees across from my home here,” she says.
Currently a junior at BEA, she is taking choir, American history, ecology, pre-calculus, biology, world cultures, economics, chemistry and animal science.
“Of course, my favorite class is choir,” says the teen. “We’re working on a Russian Christmas ‘Ave Maria’ song called ‘Bogoroditse’ for our holiday concert.“
It is no surprise she enjoys choir so much, as she says she likes to play the guitar and to sing. She also is a fan of rock music. Among her other hobbies are reading and her love to kid around all the time.
“I just can’t control myself at times,” she admits of her sense of humor. Neither can her host parent, Bob, who paid jokesters at the Renaissance Festival $5 to drench her with buckets of water at the dunking booth.
“Everything is fun for me,” says a giggling Prytkova as she recalls, in more detail and humor, the watery episode at the Renaissance Festival.
Since she has been stateside, the Perrymans have taken her to Como Park, the Mall of America, Scream House in Chaska and the Riverhills Mall in Mankato.
She has been surprised by the size of large malls and stores here, since she is used to separate and smaller stores in her homeland.
At Riverhills, she was amazed by the display of weapons, the life-sized stuffed animals and all of the fishing equipment.
“My dad is a real fanatic about ice fishing,” she says.
Other than the United States, she has never traveled outside of a limited region in Russia.
“I would like to put the whole country (U.S.) in my suitcase and take it home,” she says.
Typical of the Russian culture and economy, Alina is an only child. She says all Americans would be rich if they lived in her country, since the pay scale and wages are very low there. One dollar here is equal to 30 rubles in her country.
Typical jobs in her region include working in plants, farming, clerking and drivers.
“A person in Russia must be at least 18 before they can have a job,” she says. “Our country is always looking for good specialists.“
Prytkova also says the government pays for the education and medical care of the Russian people.
As for foreign relations, she says her fellow countrymen think “President Obama is the one we can trust. We feel safe with him, unlike President Bush.“
According to Bob and Brenda Perryman, there have been many chuckles over the past few weeks as their young Russian adapts to this culture.
“She thought we lived off hamburgers and pop,” says a smiling Brenda, “and she was really surprised to see men actually cooking meals here.“
Indeed, pretty much everything has been different for the Russian.
To read more of this story, see this week’s Register.