To Russia, With Love

Robin Gougherty

Potomac Almanac Feb. 25 - Mar.3, 1998

How many companies feature a wedding at their annual meeting? Encounters International, based in Bethesda, did just that, with help from one happy couple last Saturday, Feb. 21. The groom, Norman May, a sales representative from Virginia, married Elena Kobyakova, a communications engineer from Kiev. They met through Encounter International, company run by Natasha Spivack.

"I chose Elena because she looks like the woman of my dreams," said May. Encounters International has arranged 105 couples, of which 50 were present at the May-Kobyakova wedding.

"All four of my grandparents were from Russia, so when I saw the ad in the Washington Post, I decided to look into it, " said Robert Rosen, owner of an ice cream company. "My wife, Christine, didn't speak much English when she first came over from Estonia. She's learned quite a lot since then and we want our son to be bilingual. Coming over with friends on the same plane, and finding friends here through Encounters International has given her lots of support." The Rosens now have 16-month-old son and are expecting their second child.

Larisa Firestone, with her sons Boris and Alyosha, were on the plane with Christina Rosen. Larisa married Kim Firestone almost two years ago.

"I found an ad in the paper and decided to try it," said Kim Firestone. "I began writing letters to Larisa, visited her in Estonia twice and we decided to get married."

Larisa was a champion gymnast in Estonia. She now coaches at the Fredrick Gymnastics Club.

Not all of the weddings arranged by Encounters International have happy endings. "I've spent about $20,00, all trying to find a wife and make it work," said a man who identified himself as Frank. He and his wife have been married for one year.

Frank says he has done all he can and it is time to get a divorce. When asked whether he might try again, he shook his head.

"Russian women come here and ask, 'Why don't you have a Mercedes? Why don't you live an one of those large houses?' They can be demanding."

Natasha Spivack, president and founder of Encounters International, works with her clients to bring the happiest resolution to every situation, but reminds them, "Nothing in life is 100 percent"

Spivack began her company in response to what she perceived as a need. Spivack, who is Russian, had married an American. After her husband died in a car crash she became involved in the matchmaking business.

"When I visited Russia, I saw there was nothing as good as the American (matchmaking) companies available. So I decided to arrange things in such a way that men can contact me. They know it's a close circle of friends and that it's an ever-expanding circle."

Encounters International has a web site at The initial fee is $1850 plus $50 to establish a fax account. For more information, call 301-530-7759.

Encounters International
Phone: (301) 530-7759
Fax: (301) 789-2508