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Tue, Oct. 22

Matthew Newell an adventurer at heart

Matt Newell in his suburban Moscow classroom this year with three students – Alisa, Polina and Gleb. (Matt Newell/Courtesy)

Matt Newell in his suburban Moscow classroom this year with three students – Alisa, Polina and Gleb. (Matt Newell/Courtesy)

Matthew Newell is an adventurer at heart.

That spirit is behind why the 25-year-old accepted a job six months ago teaching English to Russian children and adults in a Moscow suburb.

Ask him about the history, the culture, the arts and literature, the incredible beauty of a lupine forest or the frozen tundra on the coast of the Bering Sea, and he is happy to answer any and all questions. The only question he sidesteps is about politics.

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Matt Newell standing next to the Bering Sea in March at the most northern point in European Russia. (Matt Newell/Courtesy)

He laughs that a number of his students, and those he meets on his excursions, often ask him if he’s ever met President Donald Trump.

“He and I are not acquainted,” Newell jokes.

Newell’s connection to the nation he recognizes is a misunderstood, even feared, mystery to most Americans is one even he counts as a delightful surprise; the place and the people a fascination that has fueled his willingness to view global diversity with a different lens.

“When I got there, I was blown away,” Newell said during the summer break before his Sept. 1 return to the International Education Center. “I had no idea how beautiful, how incredible, Russia was … “I’ve been treated better than I could have imagined. Russians want Americans to visit because they feel they are misunderstood by Americans.”

On his very first visit trip arranged through a pen pal relationship started while he was in college, Newell said he was immediately embraced despite the language barrier.

Today, Newell said he is not yet fluent in Russian “but I’m on the way.”

“I didn’t know somewhere so far away could feel so much like home,” said Newell who earned a bachelor’s degree in applied human behavior from Northern Arizona University’s Prescott Valley branch in 2017.

RUSSIA AT A GLANCE

Newell is not a Vodka drinker – though on his 2016 trip he posed in front of the Kremlin on the first of his four vacation trips to Russia sporting a Shankar fur cap and hoisting a bottle of the Russian spirits. Now that he lives and works there, Newell said he has a stronger affection for Russian espresso.

Over the course of those four trips, and his last six months as a visa-carrying English teacher, Newell has wasted no opportunity to visit places most people only read about in travel brochures.

Alone, he bought a ticket for a seven-day journey across Siberia.

“It was my trial by fire,” he said of last summer’s sojourn. “I wondered if I could make it across Siberia alone … Imagine nothing but woods for 200 miles … And I did it.”

Newell posed for a photograph on the icy edge of the Bering Sea at the most northern point of European Russia.

He attended the 2018 World’s Cup finals in Moscow.

A lover of Russian history – Newell read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” between his junior and senior years at Tri-City Prep – he jokes he has a weak link to the last of Russia’s czar families, the Romanovs. His girlfriend’s name is Anastasia, the same as the legendary youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II.

TEACHING IN RUSSIA

Though in college he did not plan to become an educator, Newell said “teaching chose me.”

Newell’s mother, Ellen, is a second grade teacher in Prescott and his grandmother, Geraldine Parmet, is a retired Prescott reading specialist.

The idea of teaching in a foreign land, though, seemed farfetched.

Until he started chatting with other American teachers who have taught abroad. He, too, was encouraged by a Russian friend who was teaching music there.

“A seed was planted,” Newell said.

So then he had to find a job, obtain a visa and a place to live – he managed the first two and housing came with the salaried position. His work visa – “my most valued possession”– is valid until June 2020.

“If I’m not out of my comfort zone, I don’t feel fulfilled,” Newell said. “The fear makes me think I’m doing what I should be doing.”

Once he stepped foot in his first classroom, a long way from home, and the students arrived, Newell said he knew “this was what I was meant to be doing,” Newell said.

REACTION

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Matt Newell inside the Wild Iris during his summer break with some of his favorite Russia treasures, namely his passport, a Russian novel and his Russian nesting dolls. He also sports some Russian currency in his wallet. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

Newell’s family and friends are awed, yet not completely surprised, by his scholastic wanderlust.

“To me, it’s a beautiful story of one person’s perseverance,” said a gleefully proud grandmother. “So many people who reach their 50s and talk about how they wish they had done this or that. Not only did Matthew have a dream, but it wasn’t just a vague dream. He did what was necessary to fulfill that dream. He just never lets anything stand in his way.”

FUTURE

“I love Russia, as a foreigner,” Newell said. “Prescott is 100 percent my home.

His eventual plan is to earn a master’s degree so he can teach Russia in America, maybe even in his hometown.

“Life is too short not to take advantage of every opportunity to do what you really want to do,” Newell concluded.

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