To prepare the way for her Russian guest, Susan Burns carefully compiled a list of useful words for almost every room in her house 20 miles outside Columbia. She used a Web site to translate the key words from English to Russian.
“I gave her several lists for different rooms,” Burns said. “But she has been taking English classes for two months, and her English is much better than she said it would be.”
Her guest is among 11 Russians staying in Columbia for the next three weeks who are health professionals in private medical clinics in Russia. Hosted by the Downtown Optimist Club, they will visit local health-sector businesses in hopes of taking useful information back to their own clinics.
Vitaliy Volkov, 26, is director of a diagnostic clinic in Krasnodar. He would like to expand his clinic and perhaps build a treatment hospital, he said. He will take back the ideas he generates in Columbia for new technology and equipment.
Service groups such as the Optimist Club that participate in the exchange, called the Productivity Enhancement Program, can choose from a variety of Russian delegates representing various professions.
“We chose you because of the health-care resources in Columbia,” training coordinator and Optimist member Rick McKernan told the delegates through an interpreter on Friday. Families from across the state come to Columbia for health care, he said.
Burns and her husband, John, are hosting Nadezhda Alekseyeva. Alekseyeva operates the largest private cardiology clinic in St. Petersburg.
Only recently did it become possible to own such a clinic in Russia, Alekseyeva said. She is participating in this exchange to gather information that may enhance her business.
The Productivity Enhancement Program is operated by a nonprofit organization called the Center for Citizen Initiatives based in San Francisco. Since 1996, it has brought about 3,500 Russian entrepreneurs to the United States for a professional and cultural exchange. The U.S. Department of State covers 51 percent of the program’s costs. The Russian participants contribute 15 percent. The rest is covered by the host families.
This is the first experience of its kind for the Downtown Optimist Club. Members have been preparing since January.
“We are very excited, since this is something that we’ve never done before,” Optimist member Luke Chase said. “It gives us the chance to really live up to our goal of international accord.”
Over the three weeks of their visit, the Russians will participate in professional and cultural events. They will visit the Family Health Center, Towne Drive Medical Clinic, Progressive Spine Care and Rehabilitation and other area clinics. They’ll also attend a Mid-Missouri Mavericks game, go dancing and finish with a celebratory barbecue.
“We’re going to let these Russians see what an old-fashioned Boone County barbecue looks like,” Chase said. “We’ll stuff ’em full of hot dogs and hamburgers.”
Susan Burns took Alekseyeva to a Baptist wedding Saturday. The experience was very different from the Russian Orthodox weddings Alekseyeva is accustomed to, she said.
“There was a string quartet, though,” Burns said. “That was very familiar to her.”
The Burns family is also hosting Marta Lahun, a 19-year-old student from Belarus. She finished her last year of high school here and is now studying at Westminster College. Fluent in both English and Russian, Lahun makes the visit run more smoothly for both host and guest.
“I think it’s good for her to speak Russian,” Burns said. “She is a little homesick.”
Today, Alekseyeva will go with the Burns family to church, including a Sunday school class that John and Susan direct. There she will help prepare for Memorial Day by making cards for veterans in the church. Burns also plans to take Alekseyeva to the grocery store.
“Yogurt without sugar and red wine. I don’t have those, so we will get those tomorrow for her,” Burns said.