Studying in the U.S.S.R. Altered Students’ Views

By Kirsten Goldberg — June 17, 1987 2 min read

American students from nine public and private secondary schools who attended Soviet schools this spring returned to the United States with a more favorable view of their Soviet peers than they had previously held, according to a survey.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals surveyed 48 students who studied in the Soviet Union from April 6 to 27. The visit was arranged by the Student Exchange Service, which is sponsored by the principals’ association and the International Educational Exchange.

The trip is believed to be the first in which American high-school students have participated in the regular Soviet school program, according to NASSP, and is the first involving a large number of students.

In March, under a separate arrangement, eight students from the private Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., changed places with eight Soviet students from a special boarding school in Novosibirsk

The students participating in the NASSP program were polled both before and after the trip. “The most dramatic changes in attitudes came in cultural areas,’' the study found.

Before leaving for the Soviet Union, 45 percent of the students said they expected Soviet teen-agers to be different from themselves. Upon their return, only 21 percent of the respondents said their Soviet peers were “different.’'

Many of the Americans were surprised, for example, to discover that many Soviet youths wear blue jeans, like the British “new wave’’ musical group U2, and have little difficulty buying records.

The students’ predictions about Soviet schools were more accurate, however. Most of the respondents found, as they had expected, that the schools were more strict than American schools and that Soviet students had more homework.

Return as ‘Better Citizens’

Half of the American students involved in the program attended School No. 69 in Moscow, and half attended School No. 52 in Leningrad.

At the Soviet schools, the students studied Russian and Soviet history, the Russian language, and physical education. The students, most of whom were high-school seniors, had studied Russian at their schools prior to the trip.

“After participating in exchanges, American students return as better American citizens,’' argued Kathleen Driscoll Dunn, director of the Student Exchange Service. “They learn about the interdependence of nations and the citizens of other nations.’'

In the poll taken before the trip, Ms. Dunn said, large numbers of the students selected “do not know/undecided’’ for their answers. After the program, however, few chose that response.

“That is the true benefit of exchange programs--teaching young citizens about the culture and citizens of other countries,’' Ms. Dunn said.

It is not known whether any Soviet students will visit schools in the United States through the exchange service, the trip organizers said.

The nine schools participating in the program were: John Carroll High School, Bel Air, Md.; Roland Park Country School, Baltimore; Henry Foss High School, Tacoma, Wash.; Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, Mass.; Patrick Henry High School, Roanoke, Va.; South Lakes High School, Reston, Va.; South Eugene High School, South Eugene, Ore.; Worthington High School, Worthington, Ohio; Wylie Groves High School, Birmingham, Mich.

A version of this article appeared in the June 17, 1987 edition of Education Week as Studying in the U.S.S.R. Altered Students’ Views