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 Back- left to right: Victoria Kurson, Vladivostok; Slava Stepashkin, Moscow; Elena Grabchak, Moscow; Galina Karaketova, Volgograd; Timofey Belyayev, Tomsk; Jim Gibbs, USA Realtor-Instructor; Svetlana Serova, Vladivostok; Svetlana Potapova, Nizhny Novgorod; Elena Poliakova, St. Petersburg
Kneeling in front: Vladimir Timokhin, Tula; Vladimir Kondrashkin, Kondrashkin; and Aleksandr Lebedev, Izhevsk



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Russian Delegation 2002

     Who could have imagined that a group of real estate professionals from Russia would be in Woodbury Tennessee listening to an introduction to farm economics being presented by the County Extension Service agent. But there they were in the meeting room at Union Planters Bank being tutored and instructed by Realtor Jim Gibbs who is also the Director/Instructor of the Career Institute. The Russians listened  intensely and through an interpreter, asking very serious questions.

    Next on the agenda was a real estate appraiser  to discuss the appraisal process of rural land, followed by Union Planter's Steve Smith on the topic of financing farms. The real twist to this story is this: Russian farms are all still owned and controlled by the government. In fact, only four percent of all land in Russia is in private ownership.

     The nine Russian delegates and two interpreters are part the Productivity Enhancement Program that is an ongoing effort to teach free enterprise to Russian business people. In short, Americans teaching Russians to be free.
     Concentrating on rebuilding production, PEP brings non-English speaking Russian and Ukrainian business people and municipal leaders to the US for intensive study in a variety of professions for about one month. The Russians analyze and document each day's learning and prepare themselves to be trainers of producers or leaders upon their return to Russia. The group of Russians visiting Woodbury are all in the real estate business.

     Until 10 years ago, there was no private real estate industry in the old Soviet Union. “Everyone was a tenant in a government apartment,” translator Slava Stepashkin explained.

     With private real estate ownership taking hold, Russian real estate agents are trying to catch up. Each of the nine in Woodbury, most of whom speak limited English, paid part of the cost to take a three-week crash course in real estate — American style.

     The program is co-sponsored locally by the Murfreesboro Rotary Club and the Middle Tennessee Association of Realtors. Cannon County Realtor/Instructor Jim Gibbs coordinated the two-day visit and educational tour to Woodbury.

     On Monday the Russians also visited the Cannon County High School, ate lunch, and attended the geography class taught by Tim Knox. The Russians responded to questions from the students through an interpreter. The Cannon kids wanted to know about Russian cars, music, and attitudes after the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States. Interpreter Elena Pollakova explained that they also are victims of ongoing terrorism from neighboring Chechnya. There is a growing understanding in the world that international terrorism is a challenge and a threat to all, be it in Afghanistan or in Chechnya.

     One Cannon student curious about Russian family relationships quickly learned that problems with parents also seem to be universal, and that she just needs to learn to cope with what she has and be thankful to be an American.

     After visiting the high school, the group toured Valhalla Farm, and Cannon Carriage Driving Center on Jim Town Road. Owners Jim and Jean Keathley offered a personal tour of their home and of their carriage horse farm. Elizabeth Keathley, who is a professional horse trainer and driving instructor, provided cart rides pulled by a team of ponies.

     One particular Russian, Aleksandr Lebedev, found his own entertainment with the farm golf cart. After a brief lesson by Jean Keathley, Aleksandr could be seen racing around the farm like a kid in an amusement park. Mrs. Keathley promised him if he ever came back to Cannon County that she would take him four-wheeling in the hills behind the farm.

     It was difficult to pre-determine what the Russians may find interesting. Earlier in the day, Steve Smith was asked to search his vault for any two-dollar bills, silver dollars or Ike dollars. They had none. However, a Union Planters' employee had a personal two-dollar bill that she showed to them and it attracted several offers to purchase the odd bill from the visitors. She declined. Steve Smith also showed them a thousand dollar and five-hundred dollar bill. Several of the Russians wanted to pose for photos holding the unusual American currency. Another item of interest was small brick of shredded discarded money in the bank vault. Svetlana Serova quickly handed her personal camera to a friend and asked banker Steve Smith to pose with her as she held the two bricks of US money valued at two thousand dollars.

     On the second day the group visited the Oaklands Historic Mansion in Murfreesboro and then the Carriage Lane Bed and Breakfast in an effort to understand the value of historic tourism. After lunch at the Carriage Lane wedding reception center, the Russian delegation returned to Woodbury to explore the Registrar of Deeds office and the Tax Assessor's office.

     Tax assessor Donald Preston explained how we reach property value and answered questions on taxation and county budgeting.

     At the Registrar of Deeds office, Sandy Hollandsworth showed the group how to retrieve a deed from the electronic system. Kyle Williams, who is an independent title searcher, took time from his research to answer a couple of questions for the Russians. Vladimir Timokhin asked how much it cost to come into the office and retrieve the information recorded there. When it was explained that it was free and that it was all public records, the Russian group was amazed. "To get the same information in Russia," explained Galina Karaketova, "We would be required to write thirty letters and get thirty permits." It was also explained that in Russia, they didn't get warranty deeds; they were issued certificates of occupancy by the government. When Registrar Debbie Morris produced a book of deeds dating back to 1836, the Russians became even more impressed with our system.

     Wrapping up the day's activities on historic tourism, the group was taken out on the square and introduced to Operation Streetheart, which is a plan to beautify downtown Woodbury in hope of generating a local tourism market to keep commerce alive in Woodbury.

     A shopping tour at the Old Feed Mill Antique Mall ended the session in Woodbury with everyone that had contact with the Russians smiling. Steve Smith really summed it up with his statement, "I had a wonderful time and I enjoyed them very much." It was a good opportunity for us to experience a one on one cultural exchange.

     Coordinator / Instructor Jim Gibbs remarked that even with the language barrier, the friendship experiences could just be felt. Not only did I make 11 friends from Russia, I found a wonderful friend locally while sharing the experience with fellow Realtor, J. D. Kennedy from Murfreesboro.  J.D.  is also a Rotary member active in the program bringing the Russians to Middle Tennessee, and several of the Russians were guests in his home.

     Using translation software found on the Internet, Jim Gibbs summed his feelings with note in Russian  -- Thank you my new friends.

Educating Russian Real Estate Agents Roughly translated  -- Thank you my new friends --   Sincerely, Jim Gibbs, Real Estate Instructor 2002