Two-Way Exchange of Smiles. Increase in Student Exchanges Reflects New Warmth in Soviet-American Relations. COLD WAR THAW

By Rushworth M. Kidder, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 28, 1989 | Go to article overview

Two-Way Exchange of Smiles. Increase in Student Exchanges Reflects New Warmth in Soviet-American Relations. COLD WAR THAW


Rushworth M. Kidder, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE future of Soviet-American relations is written on the face of Marina Yamburenko.

A year ago, the pretty 16-year-old could not have imagined herself visiting the United States - certainly not as a high school student, and probably not in the course of her lifetime as a citizen of a nation with a 70-year history of closed borders.

Now, fresh from a ground-breaking five-week exchange visit to Tucson, Ariz., she bubbles with enthusiasm.

"It was wonderful!" she says in easygoing English, recalling her stay in the home of an American family she called "Mom" and "Dad," and her classes at Green Fields Country Day School, a private school.

Wonderful, but not necessarily relaxing. Under the terms of the exchange, the students visited 22 other private and public schools while in Tucson, coming in contact with more than 5,000 American students. In addition, they touched millions more through dozens of television, radio, and newspaper stories and interviews.

Now that Marina has caught up on her sleep, what's her abiding impression of all that effort?

"Everywhere we came to visit schools and people, they met us with such hospitality," she says. "Always smiles."

Her delegation - seven students and two teachers from Public School 155, a drab concrete building tucked behind apartment blocks near the center of the Soviet Union's third-largest city - charted new territory. Reflecting the continuing ferment of perestroika and the progressive decentralization of Soviet authority, it was the first US-USSR exchange of junior high and high school students to be negotiated at republic level - approved only by the Presidium of the Ukrainian Soviet, without oversight from Moscow.

As such, it stands as a cameo of the ways in which the thawing of cold-war tensions has warmed relations at the most basic levels in both nations.

The thaw that brought Marina to Tucson dates from 1985. That November, in Geneva, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the General Exchanges Agreement, reinstating agreements terminated by President Jimmy Carter after the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Since that Geneva meeting, exchanges have spiraled upward - in sports, music, the arts, professional groups, and academic programs.

Many have operated through government-to-government contact. But not the Kiev-Tucson link. It began when George Kostilyov, principal of the English-emphasis Public School 155, appeared on a home video made by a group of visiting artists from Tucson and said he was eager to develop an exchange with a US school.

Back in Tucson, Phineas Anderson, the headmaster at Green Fields, saw the video and wrote to Mr. Kostilyov. "We both got really enthusiastic, pumping each other up," says Mr. Anderson, contacted by phone at his office in Tucson. "We think alike, we know how to move our mutual bureaucracies, we're both organized, we both have the same desire for this generation to move forward and appreciate each other."

Spurring each other on in weekly telephone calls, the two principals laid the groundwork for the exchange. By last June, Anderson had assembled the funding he needed - $20,400 from the Samantha Smith Memorial Exchange Program of the United States Information Agency (USIA), and the balance from a Tucson family.

Then, in October, he visited Kiev, where Kostilyov arranged high- level visits with representatives from the Ukrainian Peace Committee (the major Soviet funder), the People's Committee on Education, and the Youth Organizing Committee. …

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