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There and Back Again

by Tom Nurre

Irina Reshetnikova

Her life was forever changed when Irina Reshetnikova became an interpreter for the first group of ASU students who, in summer 2004, visited Kuban State University (KSU) in her hometown of Krasnodar, Russia.

Little did she know that her involvement with that group, headed by ASU management professor Dr. Steve Reames, would lead to her not only being an integral part of building an exchange program between the two universities, but also to her first trip to America.

“I was their interpreter over there, so I was traveling around with them and I spent a lot of time with them,” Reshetnikova said. “Dr. Reames talked to me about the opportunity of coming to ASU, but I didn’t want to leave home for a long time and I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay here (ASU) or just visit.”

As fate would have it, Reshetnikova was a volunteer in the KSU International Affairs Office and helped formulate a student exchange agreement with ASU. Once that was finalized in 2005, she was one of the first Russian students to attend Angelo State for the 2005-06 academic year.

“I definitely wanted to visit, so Dr. Reames offered me the opportunity of an exchange program,” Reshetnikova said. “A year for me sounded more reasonable. I believed that I could be here for a year rather than for two years or to finish my education.”

During her stay in San Angelo, Reshetnikova kept close ties with Reames and his wife, Tatiana, a native of Siberia. She also had a host family through a program run by local volunteer Barbara Barnhart. She first met her host family, Randy and Kay Johnston and their daughter, Alexis, in December 2005.

“I was truly blessed,” Reshetnikova said. “The Johnstons started helping me with cultural experiences. They were taking me places and acting like my family.”

While she was meeting new people and experiencing such cultural events as the rodeo, Reshetnikova also got a liberal dose of good old West Texas hospitality.

“Being a person who comes from another country with a different mindset and different beliefs, coming here and learning to live a different lifestyle, I was surprised that so many people were there for me,” Reshetnikova said. “Even though some of them have never been outside of Texas, they show so much interest in my culture and have been helping me.”

Though she came from a much larger university in a city of about a million people, her ASU campus life also made quite an impression.

“I was surprised that, for the size of the school, ASU provides very unique international study opportunities,” Reshetnikova said. “Also, being able to study and work with students from elsewhere in the world and even having professors from elsewhere in the world, I didn’t expect that and was pleasantly surprised. That is probably what I appreciated most.”

She was also impressed with the role that colleges like ASU are playing on the global stage.

“Right now, the image of the U.S. might be decreasing in Europe,” Reshetnikova said. “But, I think American colleges, especially when they give good scholarships to Europeans, for us it raises the image of the U.S. European students can then go back to their home communities and become ambassadors for the U.S. We will be telling everyone about what opportunities were given to us and that is how strong and healthy relationships are built in the world.”

After completing her academic year at ASU, Reshetnikova returned to Russia and KSU, where she graduated with an advanced degree in Roman Germanic Philology, the study of English and German-speaking countries and their languages.

But, her time in Texas was far from over. She visited again for several weeks last spring and, with the help of the Johnstons, was accompanied by her brother, Vitalic, an 18-year-old tennis pro. After watching Vitalic compete in several international tournaments in South Texas, Irina went to Washington, D.C., to attend a conference on Russian-American business and government relations. At the conference, she helped organize and worked as an interpreter at Congressional meetings with Russian entrepreneurs.

Now on her third trip to San Angelo, Reshetnikova is back at ASU, studying for her M.B.A., and working as a graduate assistant in the ASU Small Business Development Center. While she still keeps in close contact with the Reames and Johnstons, this time she is staying with long-time local resident and former San Angelo City Council member Jean Ryon.

“She was a good friend of mine from when I first visited,” Reshetnikova said. “She visited Russia and has a lot of Russian friends and she is helping me a lot this time. So, basically, I actually have three host families and that is partially why I keep coming back.”

As for her future plans, Reshetnikova has high aspirations that she can be a goodwill ambassador between Russia and the U.S. in the arena of international business.

“I’ll use my cultural experience, my business experience and because I’m getting a business degree, I will look for a job in international trade,” Reshetnikova said. “Hopefully, in the future I can become a consultant for international trade. My dream job is to be helping our two countries have better international trade connections because once two countries get a profit out of each other, international affairs people and politicians will be happy and there won’t be scandals going on between our two countries.”

But, for right now, she is just happy to be here.

America has been a land of opportunity for me,” Reshetnikova said. “It’s been a land of opportunity for me to develop as a person, to make a change, to get this kind of education and to get the right work experience.”