A success in any language

Russian teen seizes opportunities in Craig

Six years ago, 17-year-old Klava Caras didn't speak a word of English.

In May, Caras will earn her associate's of science degree weeks before she walks down the aisle to collect her high school diploma as the MCHS student body president.

A long visit turned into a new life for Caras when her family visited America from their hometown of Togliatti, Russia. Her mother met her future husband, and everything changed in Caras' life.

They moved to Craig, and Caras started a new school in a new town, surrounded by a new language.

"At first, it was pretty frustrating," she said. "People would ask me questions, and I didn't know how to respond."

But it took her only a few months to adjust, picking up the language from other students and adjusting to an entirely different culture.

"People are so much nicer here," she said. "In Russia, you don't see people smiling a lot."

Caras was in for several changes, but the one she noticed most was the difference in food. In Russia, people typically eat homemade meals. Fast and frozen food is virtually unheard of.

Even the grocery stores are different. Food is prepared fresh "almost as you're standing there," Caras said.

The change has had an impact on Caras' love of food. She said she misses Russian food.

The difference in school systems shocked not only Caras but her mother, too.

They said the hype in Russia led them to think that America's educational system was the best in the world, worrying them that Caras' Russian education wouldn't be sufficient to get her into an American school.

Her mother was shocked to discover that here, classes such as algebra, geometry, chemistry and physics were optional.

They are mandatory in Russia.

"The school systems are way different," Caras said. "In Russia, they're a lot stricter. Discipline is really enforced."

Much to her mother's disappointment, Caras is losing a lot of the connections with her Russian heritage. The language she grew up speaking is fading from memory.

"It was hard to speak when I went back," she said. "I had to really think about what I was saying."

She returned to her homeland two years ago, just before the war in Iraq broke out. Her family's planned three-week visit was cut short because of the hostilities and questions about whether they would be able to get back to the United States.

Caras' mother works hard to ensure the values Caras learned in Russia stay strong. In Russia, the hard work and discipline aren't optional either-- they're required and enforced by strict control.

Students didn't socialize at school. They were there to learn. Their parents were instructed to keep close tabs on them: Always know where they are, what they're doing, what they're learning, even what is in their pockets and backpacks.

Being late is unheard of.

The increased freedom teenagers seem to enjoy in the United States disconcerted Caras' mother, but the urge to let her daughter learn from experience allowed her to overcome the loss of control she felt.

By the time Caras was 12, her mother was hearing the familiar teen litany of "everyone does it."

"She wanted a life. She wanted freedom," her mother said. "But she was still a very responsible and very hard-working person."

Caras studies chemistry and physics at Moffat County High School and maintains a 3.7 grade point average. She carries 20 credits at Colorado Northwestern Community College where she's a member of Phi Theta Kappa, and works 20 to 25 hours a week at Kmart. She also fills in some weekends as a merchandiser at Coca-Cola. She also has been a member of the MCHS student council for three years, serving this year as the student body president.

Caras plans to study nursing at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, a town she loves.

"I really want to be a nurse and maybe go deeper into medicine if I like it," she said. "I like taking care of people."

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