Olesya Dianova ‘97
Moscow, Russia/Albany, NY
olesya [dot] dianova [at] gmail [dot] com

When Fedor proposed to me two years ago, there were at least couple of things we didn’t hesitate about for a moment: we should celebrate our wedding outside Russia to get our family and friends out of the daily routine and we should use the opportunity to renew friendships and bring many of our international friends to share with us the special time of our lives.  At the very least, it meant that my host family and Maria, my best American high school friend, should be there.  Now, unlike Russia where a wedding can be prepared in one or two months, in the U.S., as we all know, it may take even a few years.  The same is true for Italy, which we eventually chose as our wedding destination.  After almost two years of preparations and one day of exploring Venice together with our guests, we exchanged our vows at the shore of the Garda Lake at a stunning 17th century villa.  With our closest friends and families coming from all over the world to share our wedding weekend, we could not have been happier.

Our special honored guests were Brad and Debbie, my American “FLEX” parents who flew to Venice from Albany, NY, for just a few days to attend our wedding.  This was the first visit to a country overseas for my American dad, a former police officer and currently a car collision expert, which made it twice as special and significant.  In his toast, which Brad made along with my Russian dad and the father in law, he shared what has now become a family story of how I first appeared in their lives.  Back in 1997 their own kids already graduated from college and had started their own families and my American dad was planning to refurbish the house a bit to adapt it to their new lifestyle.  But when one night Brad shared the idea with Debbie, he learned that he could not do it as, surprise, surprise, she was bringing a Russian “baby girl” in the house, i.e. me. We spent a few wonderful months together, Brad and Debbie opened their home and hearts for me and Brad, who was the ninth kid in his family, shared with me the wisdom of life and successful marriage and family.  I continue to hold to those values today and can only hope that many years from now Fedor and I would be at least as happy together and as loving and caring to each other as my U.S. parents are.

Although I have been back to the U.S. a few times after my FLEX year and saw my host parents again, and my younger sister has also spent a summer with them, Brad and Debbie have never yet made it to Russia.  So the wedding was the first time when my US parents actually met with my Russian parents.  The day before the event we organized a family dinner in a nice restaurant by one of the hundreds of small Venice canals.  The first hug of my Russian and my American moms at this beautiful scene with gondolas going back and forward and gondoliers singing traditional Italian songs will be kept in our memories forever. My Russian mom finally had a chance to show in person how grateful she is to my host parents for what they have done for me and my sister.  And when Fedor, during his toast at the wedding told how he grew to understand the significance of the FLEX year in my life, and appreciate the notion of me having two couples of parents, and then presented both of my mothers with flowers, Debbie cried.  We hope that this bond with my host family will continue to grow over the years and one day we will give our U.S. parents Russian grandchildren.

Another special surprise was the arrival of Maria, my closest U.S. friend.  Four years ago I went to the US for her wedding and we both felt that it gave our friendship a new start as we shared memories from our year together 10 years ago and created new ones, which marked a very special point in our lives.  Remember, how during our pre-departure orientation we were all taught to make friends in the U.S. through sports and other school activities?  The lesson seemed to be rather strange as it seemed to be so easy to make friends at school back home; why should it be different for an exchange student?  Well, in a new environment, participation in sport clubs and other school activities was the key, as you don’t really have the same class of 25 people who stay with you around all day, and you can easily spend months going from class to class without engaging in any meaningful conversation with people other than chit-chat.  Maria and I became close friends as members of the cheerleading club where she was obviously one of the leaders and spent time helping me to learn all the cheers, chants and yells.  We then celebrated many holidays together including Halloween where she dressed up as a bride and I, as a bridesmaid. Now, 10 years later, we shared in each other’s real weddings.

Finally, our wedding was enlightened by my FLEX friends with whom I became close with after coming back from the U.S.  Natasha Drebezgina ’95 who was my roommate at a MGIMO dorm, was also my bridesmaid and together with my sister threw a fabulous bachelorette party for me a few weeks before the wedding.  Sasha Bukacheva ’98 with whom we share with so many memories from MGIMO and FLEX events, travelled all the way from Canada to make it to our event.  Even though we are now separated by half of the world, the FLEX bond of friendship always keeps us together.

Natasha Kurenkova ’97 and Anya Shekhtman ’96 were absolutely irresistible in their sixties-style dresses and gave special fun and chic flavor to the event. Together with Sasha Bukacheva they also helped us a lot to make sure our American friends did not miss any part of the program and translated the toasts and jokes told by our dads and the host of the wedding.  Alexey Konovalov ’95, the best advocate at a Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot and the winner of a number of other international law contests, cracked like peanuts tricky questions of our Venice quiz and Jeopardy-style game at Garda making sure that one team of guests received both first prizes (to the honor of our American team, they always got the second place among nine teams, notwithstanding the fact that all questions were asked in Russian).  We first met with Alexey outside the FLEX world but the fact that Alexey is a FLEX alumnus just confirms how many outstanding people are there in our FLEX community.  Andrey Milekhin ‘99, who we shared with many intense debating hours back at MGIMO and the University of Minnesota, flew to our wedding with his wife Zhenya and adorable daughter Polina.  Polina just started taking her first steps at that time and gave a special charm to the wedding only a little princess could bring.  We cannot stop to thank our family and friends for making this effort and coming all the way to Italy to make our big day so special.

Unfortunately, at least another half a dozen of my FLEX friends could not make it to our wedding but it never stops to amaze me how after so many years my FLEX experience continues to live and thrive on, and how many intelligent and interesting people I meet in life on various occasions turn out to have spent a year on a FLEX program, which immediately brings us a little bit closer to each other and which often makes a great start for life lasting friendships.

I am delighted that my wedding proved to me once again that these special FLEX bonds will not fade away with years and I thought that I would love if the excitement of an international student exchange would be shared by alumni kids who would make the next generation of FLEX students.