Photograph: Vasily Popov with TC President Arthur Levine.
More than anything else, Vasily Popov will remember American life as being convenient. Once, when the cable to his computer modem broke, all he had to do was telephone the computer company.
"They asked for my address and sent me a new cable right away," Popov said. "In my homeland, I would not be able to get a cable so easily. Probably, I would have had to go to Moscow."
Popov is from Moldova, one of the new republics recently formed from the former USSR. Today, when he receives his Master of Arts degree in higher education administration from Teachers College, Popov will become the first Columbia graduate from Moldova.
He attended Teachers College on a fellowship from the Soros Foundation.
The 23-year-old Popov can well remember when Moldova received its independence from the USSR.
"The first fruit of independence," he said, "was that the Russians cut off the gasoline and natural gas supplies. They stopped bringing coal as well. So prices went up drastically and most of us had no cooking fuel for half a year."
Popov's mother was born in Russia and his father is a native of Moldova. "So my native tongue is Russian, but I also speak Moldovian and French," he said. Popov has also been studying English since he was in the fifth grade.
He grew up in Balti, the second largest city in his country, and he attended Balti State University, where his father is the dean of music.
Even though he plays the violin and guitar, he earned his undergraduate degree in foreign-language teaching and translation.
Popov came to the United States for the first time in August, and, during the past few months, he has enjoyed American life.
Still, he notes that "life goes faster here. It's easy to make a friendship but the friendship also disappears very quickly."
Popov will be returning to Moldova in August, and he plans to find an administrative position in higher education.
But, after only a year, he will miss many of the things that Americans take for granted. "Americans do not realize how much they have and how easy it is to get things," he said. "If you went somewhere like Moldova for a year and then returned to America, you would appreciate it."