It Starts with a Smile – by Claire H.

Author: Claire is in the 8th grade and making her second trip to Russia with her older sister and parents. She also will be celebrating her birthday in Russia…for the second straight year!

It seems so unreal to be going back to Russia. We were there so long ago it feels like a dream! We had our last meeting on Sunday, the packing party, and things are finally getting into place. The details are all finalized, (even though they will probably be changed again once we get there), but the schedule does not matter to me, because at the center of it all is time with the kids. I can’t wait to spend more time getting to know the kids, growing my relationships with the children I already know, and forming new bonds with other children.

I had a dream last night that we went to Russia, and no one remembered us except Galina. It seemed too real. I woke up shaken up and nervous that this might actually be the truth, but lying on the floor was a postcard Ruslan, one of the children I had made a deep connection with, had sent me. I shot out of bed and read the postcard 4 times through. It had a lot of basic questions about school, friends, and my favorite things, and then it said something that caught my attention, “I have been counting down the days until you return!” That gave me the confidence that I need to get through the long hours, even days of traveling. Knowing that there is a smiling face waiting for you to arrive makes time go by quickly! But just in case of another doubt, I packed in my suitcase with my heavy jacket, and pairs and pairs of thick socks, the post card. I want to tell Ruslan when I see him what strength it brought me on my journey over seas.

Ruslan and I immediately clicked, when I smiled at him across the gym when we were getting a tour. He was just a little boy looking for a hand to hold, and mine was there. His smile was the start of our great friendship when I taught him how to throw an American football. As we got closer we had some fun times, he laughed uncontrollably when we played soccer at my lack of skills, and he felt since I had taught him something, he should teach me, so he educated me in the proper way to kick a soccer ball, and I have to say, I was MUCH better. That was just one of the many wonderful times him and I shared, and I am so excited to make more! It’s funny to think our friendship started out with just a smile.

I will never forget last year at the “Press Conference”, as Galina called it, when she said in her booming voice and big arm gestures (later to be translated by Sveta) that now there was a bridge between Chapel Hill and Slobodskoy, Russia. She meant that we are connected now and are family. There may not be an actual bridge, but it sure feels like it. I love the feeling that there are not only people in America who love you, but in Russia too! I CANNOT WAIT to see the children when I get there! I might just be a kid, but I think I still change these children’s lives; it starts with just making them smile.

Claire hamming it up with Ruslan

Claire with her buddy and fellow traveler, Kate

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5 thoughts on “It Starts with a Smile – by Claire H.

  1. Claire, what wise and special words! Heart connections are always profound. Enjoy your birthday and seeing old and new friends!

    • Claire, What a beautiful, mature story you wrote. It’s the second year I’ll wish you a happy birthday while you are in Russia. Have a safe journey and a rewarding trip with all your Russian friends. Love to the entire family, Miss Alice

  2. Claire, Thanks for sharing your touching story. Sometimes I wonder if our society is loosing the ability to communicate in a personal and meaningful way. Your story renews my hope that there is a generation of youth that can use technology to its fullest but that also have the ability to establish deep connections with the spoken word and personal interaction. Well done Clarie!

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