Local exchange student was in Siberia nine monthsHudson High School senior Cody Callies was excited last year about being a Rotary exchange student to Russia. The program, however, hit a bit of a snag – instead of St. Petersburg, he was sent to Siberia!
By: Doug Stohlberg, Hudson Star-Observer
Hudson High School senior Cody Callies was excited last year about being a Rotary exchange student to Russia. The program, however, hit a bit of a snag – instead of St. Petersburg, he was sent to Siberia!
Callies learned to enjoy the area, however, and appreciated the nine months in the community of Ulan-Ude, located on the southern edge of Siberia near the Mongolia and China borders. In fact, Ulan-Ude was part of Mongolia before it was taken over by Russia.
Today Ulan-Ude is the capital of the Buryat Republic of the Russian Federation with a population of 353,000. It is a multinational historical and cultural center where major ethnic groups of Russians, Mongolians, Chinese and Cossacks live in harmony and peace.
“About 60 percent of the population are descendents of Mongolian and Chinese ancestors,” Callies said. “The most famous landmark near the city is Lake Baikal. It has about 25 percent of the earth’s fresh water.”
The lake is indeed one of the largest in the world, and the deepest. If a person were able to “pull the plug” on the lake it would take all the water in all the Great Lakes to fill it again. The lake is 393 miles long and an average of 30 miles wide. It is 5,380 feet deep.
“As far as the city goes, the most famous landmark is a statue that is the largest head of Lenin in the world,” Callies said.
The city features a town square, plenty of monuments, many big churches and a lot of Buddhist temples also. Despite its rather southern location, the winter temperatures routinely were well below zero. Summer temperatures could hit 100 degrees.
Callies had an interesting experience when he went with his classmates on a field trip to an Army base.
“Every Russian has to serve in the military after high school, unless they can advance to a college level,” Callies said. “So, they take the seniors to an Army base to get a flavor of what they will be doing.”
At the base, Callies took a number of pictures which didn’t sit well with the Russian officials.
“I guess they thought I was spying or something.”
At the end of the day, the school’s principal had to write a note and vouch that Callies did not pose any security threat.
Callies lived with two families, both local Rotarians, during his nine-month stay. The first family spoke no English.
“It was difficult at first, but I started to pick up some Russian and was able to communicate,” he said.
Oddly enough, he was with his second family for four months and did not learn until 3.5 months into the stay that the father spoke English.
“For some reason he didn’t think he should use his English,” Callies said.
Both families had exchange students in the United States – the first a son in Oregon and the second a daughter in Los Angeles.
“The girl in LA didn’t want to come back to Russia,” Callies said. “She liked the California weather.”
Overall he enjoyed his time with both families.
Ulan-Ude is also one of the stops along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and Callies was able to ride the famous rails when he attended a Rotary youth conference in the city of Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean.
“The trip took three days and unfortunately we traveled in third class,” Callies said. “Four of us were in an eight-by-eight compartment. I wouldn’t recommend traveling in third class for three days.”
He said the view others had of America changed somewhat while he was in Siberia. He left for Russia Aug. 22, 2008, when George W. Bush was president. He returned June 3, 2009, when Barrack Obama was president.
“When I got there, most natives were not fond of Bush,” Callies said. “After Obama was elected they seemed to be more receptive to America.”
His most memorable part of the journey was a trip to visit the city where he thought he was going to live for nine months – St. Petersburg, Russia.
“It is a beautiful city,” Callies said. “But I enjoyed Siberia.”
Cody is the son of Jamie and Mark Callies.