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Archive for Sunday, July 7, 1996

ALL AMERICAN TEEN-AGER

July 7, 1996

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A Russian lands a one-year role on the American teen-age stage.

Olga Erofeeva crossed cultural and language borders to participate in Lawrence's teen-age experience.

With the help of a local host family, led by Lori and Wayne Tilson, the 15-year-old Russian has lived as an American the past year.

She's now versed in the value of shopping and appreciates the potential of a telephone in the home, the pleasure of frequent vacation trips, the joy of junior high prom and the anxiety of driving a car.

"I'll miss shopping," Erofeeva said. "Oh, choices. Choices."

It wasn't easy to leave behind parents Marina and Alexei and friends in Valadimir, a city of 350,000 about 100 miles east of Moscow. She had to act as an adult, while living in a teen-age world.

"It was really hard at first. I was homesick. But after the first month, I got used to it," she said.

The Tilsons invited Erofeeva to live with them after meeting her, then 12 years old, during a 1992 trip to Russia to study the medical system.

Wayne Tilson is a physician at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Lori Tilson is a registered nurse at LMH. While touring medical facilities, the Tilsons met Olga's mother, a heart specialist, and visited the Erofeeva home.

Months later, the Tilsons offered to make it financially feasible for Erofeeva to come here for an extended period. Eventually, she accepted.

"The goal was to give her an all-American teen-age year," Lori Tilson said. "She's a teen-ager first and a Russian second."

Erofeeva, an honor roll student both semesters, enjoyed the academic opportunities available at South Junior High. In Russia, she said, students are limited to a basic curriculum.

"The teachers are different, too," she said. "They treat you not as just a student, as they would in Russia, but as more of an equal."

Erofeeva participated in South's spring play. But not all her learning occurred in school.

In September, Erofeeva went to Washington, D.C. The following month, she was in San Francisco and Seattle. Trips in December and January covered Florida. Skiing in Aspen, Colo., was on her agenda in March.

"I really enjoyed that!" she said.

At home with the Tilsons -- the family includes Joe, 14, and Megan, 9 -- Erofeeva learned what it was like to have siblings. Part of that shared experience centered on the telephone, a new tool to Erofeeva.

"Until she came here, Olga had never had a phone at home," Lori Tilson said.

Erofeeva also was exposed for the first time to driver's education classes, a formal prom dance and slumber parties.

The romp comes to an end July 16, when Erofeeva is scheduled to return to Russia.

But it's never over until it's over.

"I'm still thinking about my future," she said. "I may come back to attend college."

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