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home : features : people & places July 27, 2015

3/5/2014 9:13:00 AM
Russian student finds different culture in each U.S. state

Sue Tone

Maria Potepalova has been traveling the country since January as part of a new Rotary program that brings young people ages 18-30 from other nations to the United States on a short-term cultural and professional exchange.

Potepalova hails from St. Petersburg, Russia, and has been to the U.S. five times performing as a dancer. She is a college student looking to earn a master's degree in public relations. She found out this past week that North Carolina State University in Raleigh has accepted her into its program in the fall.

Traveling with the Golden Gates Russian dancing children's program for three weeks in January, Potepalova stayed in Prescott Valley when the group carried on its performance schedule in other states. She stayed with Rotarians Joe and Olga Waesche, through the New Generations Service Exchange program.

The program started out as a one- to three-month stay, but this past year, it has expanded to one to six months, Waesche said. "In our experience, we started out with two young girls from Brazil, one a med student, one a biology student. It was a fantastic experience. We've continued to try to help young people have that experience," he said.

Potepalova's interest is in finding work with a company that has major clients in need of public relations work. Part of her communications studies was in journalism, but she said journalism work in Russia right now is "complicated."

"The independent newspapers are online, not printed," she said. "The majority of people have access to government (television) channels, but the news is not objective."

She is not interested in covering political news. Her post-graduate work will be in the social-cultural sphere of international studies.

Hosts and their guests do not engage in certain topics, Waesche said. "We try not to discuss politics, and we avoid subjects that could be unpleasant to talk about or confrontational or anything like that."

Language for Potepalova is not a barrier as everyone here speaks English, she said. She also commented on how nice the roads are from state to state.

"I like traveling here. Every state is like a country. The difference between cultures is huge," she said. "I like the sense of humor and the way of communication with each other. Yet everyone has the same purposes in life that is common with people all over the world."

In Russia, there is a layer of independence for women in the big cities, but the degree of independence she sees in American women is not common in her country. Families tend to reside in the same town or close by for generations.

"It is also unusual to use a car. We use some public transportation in St. Petersburg, but we walk long distances," she said, adding that she finds it odd how people here will drive to the grocery store rather than walk.

Waesche said the Rotary program in Prescott Valley has sponsored about eight or nine students in the New Generations Service Exchange program so far. One family will host a young adult from Brazil in June, and another will have a student from Russia in August.

The Rotary Club of Prescott Valley meets Tuesdays at 7:30 a.m. at Step One Coffee House, 6719 E. 2nd St., and on the third Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m., at various locations. Call Joe Waesche for information at 928-925-5068.

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