As a child in the 1950s and 60s, I remember having a fascination for Russia, or in those days, the Soviet Union. In American schools and homes we were trained to believe that the Soviet Union was our evil enemy. Somehow the largest country in the world, with more people than the US, was ideologically wrong, its people avowed atheists who hated us and were determined to destroy us. On TV, I watched Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons and enjoyed how the heroic squirrel and moose saved America time and time again from the evil duo, Boris and Natasha. In 1980 Ronald Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as "the Evil Empire" during his campaign for the presidency. The Soviet Union was also a forbidden, closed place, a place that I was told I could never visit. Also during the 1960s, I enjoyed reading Soviet Life which my dentist kept in his waiting room. I loved looking through this magazine and imagining what it would be like to be a Russian. The faces and stories were of people like ourselves and yet different in interesting ways, not evil ways. Something was definitely inconsistent between what we were taught and what I believed in my heart about the Russians. And my fascination for this place grew and grew.Go to Chapter 1
In 1990, Professor Edward Carberry organized a 2-week trip to the Soviet Union for twenty American chemistry teachers and glassblowers. We were able to visit universities in Moscow, Kiev and Leningrad and accomplish quite a lot of site-seeing as well. The trip lacked much personal contact with Russians, however. We left with impressions of a country in turmoil. Years of Soviet stagnation were taking their toll and the Russian peoples were anxious for reforms. Little did we know that we were visiting the Soviet Union in her final days. Most of us returned to America, more appreciative of what we have in this country. For me, the mystique that the Soviet Union held was largely gone -- although I had seen interesting places, I had not really met the Russian people.
The trip described in this booklet took place during February and March, 1996 and was part of my sabbatical project. The trip is of a far more personal nature. For five weeks Ed Carberry, Sergei Traven and I traveled to several Russian cities giving chemistry demonstration programs at colleges and universities. Our audiences usually consisted of teachers-in-training and in-service teachers. We usually stayed in Russian homes and were always warmly welcomed as friends. During my 1990 trip, I learned something about the Soviet Union as a country and a place. During this trip, I learned more about the Russian people. Through these stories I have tried to introduce you to just a few of the Russian people. I hope you will noticed that they are quite like us in the things that matter. We all share the same hopes, dreams and fears. Human nature with all of its qualities and an innate goodness are the common threads that make us all basically alike.