My Two Cents
Penny C. McBride, President & CEO
A few days ago, I met Olga Tyhonova, a gifted translator who is the team facilitator for a Ukrainian group visiting Fredericksburg this week as part of the Open World program, hosted by the Fredericksburg Morning Rotary Club. I agreed to host Olga as my house guest and the experience has been incredibly rewarding.
From laughter shared early one morning when coffee spilled onto the counter when I forgot to place the mug in the coffee maker to the gut-wrenching story of her mother who lived in a Russian concentration camp until the age of four, along with her grandmother who was widowed following the execution of her husband after he was declared an enemy of the country.
We've lingered over cozy dinners with two of her charming and smart female teammates and their host family who live just around the corner from me, comparing our cultures, families and work. One of the more unusual jobs Olga performs is subtitling American television shows and movies to be shown to Ukrainian audiences.
I've asked dozens of questions to better understand the historical context, political motivations and the effects on daily living caused by the Russian invasion of Crimea and the perspectives shared have been both fascinating and mind-jarring.
In some moments, I feel deep similarity with Olga as we are the same age, share many common interests and were instantly able to carry on deep conversation. She is warm, quick to smile and has a wonderful sense of humor. Yet, our lives are worlds apart, both in distance and experience.
I agreed to host Olga for several reasons, but primarily because I was once a participant in a similar program in my early 30s. I spent five weeks in Japan as part of a team through Rotary International's Group Study Exchange. During that time, I stayed with five different host families who not only shared their homes with me, but their family life, interests, insights and opinions. The experience remains, by far, one of the most transformative in my life and I figured it was time to pay back the favor. But I am not sure I've been successful in "paying it back" because I will end this week so much the richer.
I applaud our local Rotarians for committing to these types of exchanges. For opening the door to global friendship, meaningful conversation and new perspectives. I am fortunate to have made friends in many parts of the world and I am always somewhat embarrassed by how insular (myself included!) we tend to be as Americans. How might we think differently about our world, both close in and far away, if we looked outside our borders a bit more often? Not only the borders of our country, but the borders of the self-absorbed bubble we so easily carry about.
The day Olga arrived, quite accidentally, I stumbled across a quote from St. Augustine of Hippo that reads, "The world is a book, and those who do not travel only read one page." Wanderlust runs deep in me, but this week I've been reminded there are many ways to travel and many ways to read more of the world's vast book.
Several days remain before I have to return Olga back to that proverbial library. No doubt that I plan to burn through as many chapters of her story as possible before then!