Bourbon County native Kris Poole Feller happy to be back in the USA!
PAT CONLEY | Citizen Staff
Let’s just say it’s in her best interest not to talk about the politics surrounding her recent, abrupt exit from Moscow.
Suffice to say Kris Poole Feller, her husband Sean and their 18 year-old daughter Elaine Kathryn (nicknamed “Elka“) are happy to be healthy, safe and sound in Chandler, Arizona these days.
“We knew Ukraine was being surrounded, but there was a lot of debate about whether Russia would actually invade,” she recalls.
But after six years working at a nonprofit organization school—originally associated with the U.S. Embassy– the Fellers heeded advice, packed up quickly, and caught one of the few flights out, through Dubai, back to the USA.
Though they enjoyed their Russian experience, he teaching middle school science and she as a librarian, the couple noted enough warning signs to warrant their big decision to bug out in early March. “That last week we noticed longer lines at pharmacies, grocery stores, pet food stores, and so forth, just like we did with COVID,” Kris recalled in a phone interview last week. “And in the last couple of weeks, police would stop us for documents, and English speakers were getting yelled at on the streets—we just felt like it was the right time to leave,” she explained.
While life is certainly more secure in Arizona, the family is still struggling to adapt to living on Moscow time. Because although Elka has recently graduated from high school, Sean and Kris are still teaching, online, their students back in Russia. “That means working from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., our time,” Kris notes. “Sleeping is impossible—we just get small naps.” 30% of their students are native Russians. The rest are a mix of U.S. and other nationalities. Many are members of various embassy families.
Sean and Kris first met (1997) as Peace Corps volunteers—teaching English to kids–in the former Soviet republic of Moldova; Kris also staffed the Peace Corps library there. Together they embarked on an incredible series of foreign school teaching assignments which took them to Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Korea and Venezuela—in that order—before choosing the Russian opportunity.
The Fellers will wrap up their nonprofit school contract June 17. So what comes next, besides a good night’s sleep? “We don’t have an immediate plan—maybe take a vacation to The Grand Canyon,” Kris says. As for the longer term, “We’ll probably just go get jobs in a grocery store for a year or so,” she chuckles. “And then consider going back to teaching overseas.” South America looks good, though the couple will likely steer clear of Venezuela. “Venezuela was lovely, but the country was kind of falling apart when we left,” Kris explains. “We would always have to fly out of the country for medical services, so it’s still probably not the best time to go back.”
Elka certainly has a plan. Having completed a “wonderful” online graduation ceremony (with 20 classmates in Russia, 20 in Croatia and 20 more elsewhere around the globe), she’s excited about entering Emory University in Atlanta this fall. She is one of only three “Americans Abroad” international students to receive the prestigious “U.S. Presidential Scholars” award.
Retired BCHS English teacher Kathleen Carter is not surprised over the achievements Kris and her family have made. Carter remembers Kris as “Kristy”, the daughter of Bill and Kathryn Poole, “…and Tommy Poole’s big sister”. “She (Kris) was a brilliant student—she was on the quiz team,” Kathleen remembers. The admiration is apparently mutual, with Kris giving “Miss Carter” some credit for inspiring her ultimate interest in living and working abroad. “I remember she had us reading international literature our senior year,” Kris recalls. “It really was a big influence.” Indeed, Kris carries fond memories of several of her BCHS teachers, including the late Duane Stewart (world history) and the late Larry Conrad (geography).
Kris credits her BCHS education—along with six previous years at St. Mary School–with preparing her for academic success at Kenyon College (art history) and University of Michigan (master’s of science in information).
And in the old “You can take the girl out of Bourbon County, but you can’t take the Bourbon County out of the girl” department, the Fellers always try to make their way back to Paris for a couple of weeks each year, to visit Kris’s parents. But Kris admits visiting them at their Mexican vacation home on The Sea of Cortez is also very nice.
Elka loves the gorgeous horse farm country, where Kris grew up enjoying hunter/jumper sporting events and horse shows. “I got some blues (ribbons),” Kris laughs. Sean is an avid cyclist who loves riding the Bourbon County backroads.
The Fellers will never forget their time in Russia. Including even the food, which is reportedly not limited to borscht, fish head soup and vodka. “The best food in Russia is from Georgia,” Kris explains. “Stuffed grape leaves, cheese bread and amazing salads! And shashlik—grilled meats!”