To Lee’s Summit, with love

rpulley@lsjournal.comFebruary 7, 2014 

One Lee’s Summit resident is particularly excited to see the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Lana Yeager is a Russian who immigrated to Lee’s Summit about 15 years ago, living here with her American husband Dean Yeager and their son Oliver, who attends Longview Elementary School.

“I’m very, very proud of the Olympics taking place in Russia,” Yeager said. “It’s a very big deal.”

The last time the event was in her country was 1980 at Moscow.

As the 2014 games are underway, starting Feb. 6, she offered to share some insights on Russia with the Journal.

Sochi, a large resort city on the edge of the Black Sea, is actually a warm area so some of the competitions are nearby in the Caucasus Mountains. Although it can be very cold in Russia, its climates vary from Arctic to subtropical.

Russia, the largest country in the world, sprawls through nine time zones (there were 11 zones until officially changed by Russia in 2011.) Compare that to four time zones for the mainland U.S.

In the Kansas City area, there are thousands of ethnic Russians, Yeager said. She’s heard the number put at about 17,000 but can’t vouch for whether that’s accurate.

Yeager said Russia, like the U.S., is a multicultural country and one of the most diverse in the world, with hundreds of different ethnic groups.

For the most part its ethnic groups mix and get along, intermarry and are “very friendly,” she said.

Russian is a term not only is a nationality, it also an ethnic group of its own, she said.

In 1998, Yeager said, she wasn’t thinking of moving to America, nor had her husband been thinking of bringing a Russian wife to Lee’s Summit.

They met through mutual friends. He saw her picture and asked about her. He wrote her, she wrote back. He went to visit in Russia. They married.

She came from a city of 800,000, Ulyanvosk, the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin.

Yeager said arriving in Lee’s Summit was a shock.

There were no skyscrapers, streets with few pedestrians. Many Russians think of New York City or Las Vegas when they imagine the United States, she said.

“I thought it was a village, how could I live here?” Yeager said. “Now I really love it, it’s really nice.”

It wasn’t that people weren’t friendly, but she wasn’t used to people smiling on the street. In Russia, people don’t greet strangers. Russians see themselves as a “serious nation,” she said.

To her, at first, Americans seemed insincere, fake. Sometimes frightening.

“It frustrates us,” she said. “Now I know American people have very friendly natures, sincere and caring.”

Although someone smiling and greeting people on the street in Moscow would seem demented, if a visitor was lost and asks for help, the residents would be very helpful, she said. Guests (like her husband when he visits Russia) are treated like kings.

That also threw her. When her husband first took her to visit relatives here, she was shocked that they didn’t offer her a meal.

“I thought they don’t like me,” she said.

In Russia, she said, even if someone drops by unexpectedly, the host lays out a table full of food and drink.

She was surprised at how infrequently Americans walk, how often they eat out, and at the huge portions served in restaurants.

In addition, Americans dress more casually, she said.

Yeager said here she encountered some funny misconceptions about Russia, like Moscow is always frozen, or bears walk the streets.

The city has four seasons, similar to Missouri, although it might be a little colder in winter and cooler in summer, she said.

Moscow, the Russian capital, for the past 10 years has been the most expensive city in the world in which to live, Yeager said.

Russia has vast natural resources and Moscow is flooded with wealth from those industries, she said, although that prosperity hasn’t flowed into all the provinces, which can have substandard roads and other services.

Russians are traveling more, joining the global community, on the Internet, using iPhones and iPads made specifically for that market, she said.

Not unlike the U.S., people gripe about government spending. There’s a sizable number of Russians who are complaining about the expense of the Olympic Games, when the money could be spent on “problems of every day people,” Yeager said.

She returns to Russia twice a year, she said, working on a degree in literature there. She already has a music degree.

Yeager said that when she first arrived in America, her English was limited, so one of the first things she began was language classes. She and her son, Oliver, speak Russian at home, and he is learning Spanish.

She works as Director of Language Services for All World Languages and Cultures, a Lee’s Summit company that offers language services and cultural diversity training. She volunteers to represent Russia at ethnic festivals.

She performs her own songs and traditional Russian folk music songs and she recorded two compact discs.

She’s proud of Russia’s heritage, its world-renowned reputation for ballet, literature and music composers. For example, Tchaikovsky, who wrote the score for The Nutcracker ballet, was Russian. The composer of God Bless America, Irving Berlin, was a Jewish immigrant from Belarus, part of the Russian empire.

“After a few years, I became one of you guys,” Yeager said. “If there’s an American team, and no Russian, I will be for the American. If there are both Russian and American teams, my husband and I will cheer for different teams.”

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