Bridging the gap between East and West
Growing up in the former Soviet Union, Andrey Gavrilyuk had little contact with foreigners, but he always had a desire to learn about other cultures. He began to study English in hopes of entering the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages. However, when he was 18 his mother was diagnosed with cancer and he was not able to pursue his dream in Moscow, because he felt needed at home. While home, he chose to enter State Medical Academy to learn how to help others who suffer as his mother had. Doctors in Gavrilyuk’s part of the world do not have the same prestige enjoyed by doctors in America. For him, it would mean working in a strenuous occupation for low pay, but his desire to help others led him in this decision.
In spite of this change of plans, Gavrilyuk did not have to give up his dream of cross–cultural involvement. Around 1993, after the Soviet Union had collapsed, foreigners flooded his country. Andrey was immediately drawn to them and wanted to work alongside them. He again picked up his English studies and enrolled in intensive language classes.
As Gavrilyuk spent time with foreigners, he realized they struggled in their new surroundings because they lacked cultural understanding. Americans, for example, assumed that people in Gavrilyuk’s region would be the freest during the summer, so they planned to work with the nationals during this part of the year. What they didn’t know was the people were extremely busy at this time, coming home from work to labor in their gardens in preparation for the long winter. Had they come in the cold of winter, they would have found the nationals available for extra in–door activities as there isn’t much else that can be done when the temperature hovers at -40º.
In 1998, Gavrilyuk came to America to work for a few months, and he realized he also had to learn about cultural differences. In his country hitchhiking is a common way of getting around for those who don’t have cars, yet Gavrilyuk’s friends in America were appalled when he attempted to do the same here. Gavrilyuk also assumed Americans would help him figure out life in America. Gavrilyuk quickly learned that if he needed help, he had to ask for it.
While in America, Gavrilyuk heard about an organization in Columbia that trains Americans for work in the Russian–speaking world. He shared this organization’s vision that preparation is essential for effective cross–cultural work. He, his wife, and daughter moved to Columbia on July 4, 2000, to serve as Russian language and culture instructors with Russian Language Ministries.
Gavrilyuk has become an essential part of this training program. His commitment to excellence in every area of life (i.e. medical studies, proficiency in English), enables him to encourage his students to work their hardest in learning a difficult language. He desires the best of each of them. Gavrilyuk’s personal experience with cross–cultural misunderstanding helps his students see the importance of preparation. He says, “An ill–equipped cross–cultural worker can cause as much damage as an ill-equipped doctor.”