Hilton Head High student travels to Russia to watch Olympics

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 9, 2014 

Hilton Head Island High School sophomore Ali Cohen, 16, is shown Friday evening with items she was packing for her two-week trip to Russia. Adopted from that country when she was 6 months old, Cohen plans to explore her birth nation and experience the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Hilton Head Island High School sophomore Ali Cohen has planned quite the field trip to do research for a school project -- a two-week trip to Russia.

The 16-year-old left Saturday with her older brother, Marc Cohen, for Moscow and Sochi, Russia. Ali, who was adopted from Russia when she was 6 months old, has big plans to explore her country of birth and experience the 2014 Winter Olympics.

While homework will be the farthest thing from her mind during the trip, she will put together a school project about her experience when she returns.

"At first, it just seemed like it was a joke when we started talking about going, but then all of a sudden it became real," Ali said. "Now that it's really here, I am so excited to go that I don't even know how to describe it."

Ali's family has always been open about her background and adoption, said her mother, Lori Cohen, who teaches at Hilton Head High. Her parents and siblings also promised her that they would travel to Russia someday.

So when the 2014 Sochi Olympics were announced, it just "seemed like the perfect vehicle to go," Marc Cohen, 26, said. The family -- which lived in Buffalo, N.Y., before moving to Hilton Head a little more than four years ago -- has always been enthralled with the Olympics, especially the winter games.

The siblings have tickets to see several hockey matches, including the United States vs. Russia game. They also plan to watch speed skating, ski jumping and luge, among other sports. They also have passes to the U.S. athletes' house and hope to meet several of them.

Although Marc and Ali Cohen are excited, they have some security concerns after the recent bombings elsewhere around the country. However, Lori Cohen emphasized the many months of planning that have gone into this trip and said the two will take many precautions.

But this trip is more than just the experience of a lifetime, Lori Cohen said; it's an opportunity for Ali to understand her native country.

"She's American but from another country entirely, and being able to read and hear about it is different than actually going and seeing and experiencing it," her mother said. "She'll be able to see where she fits."

Ali and Marc Cohen won't visit her birthplace -- Artimovsky, Russia -- but plan to experience as much of the culture as they can during their trip. She said she has been practicing several Russian words. She'll also try plenty of food and take lots of pictures.

"It will be so amazing to see the sights and just be in Russia during the Olympics and that atmosphere," Ali said. "There will be a lot of great adventures and definitely some stories when we get back."

The pair has set up a blog at sochiwinter2014.blogspot.com to share their adventures along the way with friends and family back home. Ali also plans to complete a project for her International Baccalaureate program on her experiences when she gets back.

"I hope there are some eye-opening moments for her," Marc Cohen said, "and that the trip arms her with some different ways to think about the world and many different stories to tell."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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