5,500 miles. That's a rough estimate of the distance between Traer, Iowa, and Ozersk, Russia. Despite these many miles, one young man has had the unique opportunity of calling both places home.
That tall, handsome gent you might have seen around town the past few weeks is none of other than Sergey Kiementyev. Sergey spent a year in Traer as an exchange student and recently returned to the U.S. for a visit, coming back to see all the old places and faces he got accustomed to during his time here.
Sergey hails from the city of Ozersk, or Ozyorsk, which is a mid-sized city of about 90,000 people in the Ural Mountains of Russia. The Urals serve as an unofficial dividing line between the continents of Europe and Asia, and are bordered to the south by Kazakhstan.
Sergey Kiementyev (left) poses with his former host dad, Dirk Dahms, at the winding stairs. Sergey was in town to visit Traer and North Tama after spending a year here from 2008 to 2009.
Ozersk is a "closed" town because of the nearby Mayak plant, which employs a substantial portion of the area's population - roughly 15,000 workers head there on a daily basis. Mayak is one of the largest nuclear facilities in Russia and produced much of the plutonium for the Soviet nuclear program during the Cold War. Despite the reforms made in Russia over the past 20 years, Mayak remains largely shrouded in secrecy.
But Ozersk, where Sergey hails from, is known for its high quality of life and education, which is evident immediately upon meeting Sergey. Ozersk has two schools that specialize in the English language, so it's no wonder that despite growing up deep within Russia, Sergey's English is excellent.
After studying in high school and acheiving good grades, Sergey became eligible to apply for a program though American Councils for International Education. This organization, which has been around for four decades now, spends a lot of time establishing partnerships that allow students from Russia and other nations to study abroad in the U.S. and see what life is actually like in places like Traer.
Sergey was placed with the family of Dirk and Kim Dahms, who eagerly volunteered their time and opened their home to Sergey for a year. While here, he lived life as an average American teenager, complete with school, sports and chores. He studied for a year at North Tama and graduated with the Class of 2009 before returning home to graduate from his own high school.
But that was hardly the end of the line for Sergey in his educational endeavors. He is currently studying at a university back home.
Sergey is just one of the many success stories that have come from study abroad programs, and the hosting of a student from a foreign country is something that comes highly recommended by the Dahms and others who have had the opportunity over the years.
Since 2004, North Tama has been the host community of at least one student every year, with two students this past school year.
If you've ever thought about hosting a student, or are curious about what it entails, there is no shortage of information to be found. Traer is a community lucky enough to have a contact right here in town in the form of Marilyn Bauch. She serves as the contact for American Councils and can help you decide if hosting an exchange student is right for you. Marilyn can be reached at 319-478-2847, or 319-239-3343.