Watching the Olympics from an apartment in Provo while the family celebrates the spirit in the host country of the Winter Games may not sound too appealing, but such is the case for a group of Russian students at BYU.
Elena Filatova is one of six Russian students currently studying English at the English Language Center (ELC), a lab school of BYU. She will sit in classes the next few weeks while her friends back home rub shoulders with Olympians as volunteers in Sochi.
Filatova readily supports her country even though she can’t be present for the Games. “I feel so much pride right now because they will be in my country and I’m so excited about it, and I’m so sad at the same time because I can’t be there,” she said. “It’s a big moment for my country.”
Polina Vasilevskaya, also studying at the ELC, said she will miss the excitement of the Olympics, but she doesn’t think she would go to Sochi even if she were in Russia. She expects her appreciation for Russia to grow even more because she can’t attend.
“I will feel even more proud of my country while I’m in a different country” she said.
Vasilevskaya wanted to study in Utah to experience living in an LDS environment. She comes from a town with very few members of the Church, where she was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 14.
“Since that time I’ve always felt like I needed to fight for my beliefs,” she said. She enjoys living among so many people who share her faith and standards. She currently works at the MTC as a Russian teacher.
Vasilevskaya’s religious expectations were met when she came to Utah, but her general view of America and Americans has changed. She says America isn’t exactly what she expected it to be, because she originally learned about America from movies.
“I thought it would be more colorful and exciting and more active,” she said. “But here I see the people do the same things with the same feelings; they can be sad, they can be happy, they can go grocery shopping, they do homework and they study.”
Valentina Orlikhina, another Russian student at the ELC, shared her own observations about the differences between Americans and Russians. She admits after a first impression with a Russian, one might say they’re cold. But she quickly defended her people.
“They’re not going to smile every time,” she said. “If Russians don’t care about something then they’re not going to ask about it.”
Living in America for over a year has allowed Orlikhina to make some conclusions about Americans. She thinks Americans are smiling “all the time.”
“Maybe that’s what makes an American accent,” she said, chuckling.
She has her qualms, though. She believes Americans are actually more closed off than Russians.
“It seems like (Americans) are open, but when you try to know their feelings or try to talk to them more they start to build a wall between you and them,” she said.
Viktor Arfanov, from Irkutsk, Russia, has sacrificed time with his wife to study English at the ELC. About seven months after coming to BYU he was baptized In April Arfanov will return to his wife, who is not a member of the Church, with a new language and a new religion.
Arfanov says that he and his wife argued and even stopped talking for a while because of his choice to join the Church. However, he looks forward to being one of the only members in his city.
Arfanov is excited to be reunited with his wife, but he wishes he could be back in time for the Olympic Games. He says it will be interesting to be in America during the Olympics.