Farrukh Yussupov enjoys watching MTV and The History Channel.
He ran cross-country at Clay High School last fall and works out with the International Boxing Club a few days a week.
Mary Takacs will tell you the 17-year-old native of Taraz, Kazakhstan, also likes to eat - a lot.
“He eats me out of house and home,” Takacs said, chuckling. “He’s 5 foot 9 and skinny as a rail, but, oh my, can this kid eat. When we first got him, he told me what food he likes.
“He can eat a whole bag of chips in a minute, and he loves chicken nuggets,” she said. “I’ve been buying them by the pound.
“I’ve slowly gotten him to eat a little healthier,” Takacs. “In his country, they eat more of the organic-type foods, like a farmer’s market-type food. He wasn’t big on canned vegetables and stuff like that.
“It has to be organically grown. We do chicken and potatoes - he’s a big meat and potatoes man - and a lot of bread,” she said.
Yussupov, who is fluent in English, is an exchange student at Clay. Mary Takacs and her husband, Jim, are serving as his host family. Yussupov has lived in the area since early August, and he will return to his homeland in May.
Kazakhstan, which is located in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, is the ninth largest country in the world as well as the world’s largest landlocked country. It is bordered by Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and China. The country also borders on a significant part of the Caspian Sea.
This is the first time Mary and Jim Takacs have hosted an exchange student. Mary said Yussupov had been placed in a temporary home in the area, but he was looking to be placed with a family in the Oregon School District. He has been living with the Takacses since October.
“My husband and I were kind of interested, and we had a spare bedroom,” Mary said. “My daughter, Jamie, went away to college and we had a room available for the school season. Farrukh was living just off of Starr Avenue, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“It’s been an experience,” she said. “He’s a very good kid. Very polite. He and Jim get along very well.”
Yussupov said one of the biggest surprises about living in the United States has been, well, the food.
“I didn’t know I would watch what I eat that much,” he said. “I tried not to gain weight. I have to watch what I eat. I like chicken and I don’t eat pork.
“I prefer Wendy’s, and I like pizza, too,” he said.
“The climate, I didn’t expect it would be this cold in the spring. Back home, it’s already pretty warm,” he added.
Mary Takacs is a food service employee in Bay Park Community Hospital’s food and nutrition department. She helped Yussupov secure a part-time volunteer position at Bay Park in its outpatient testing center. He worked at the front desk for a few days.
“It was pretty good. I liked it,” said Yussupov, who had never worked in a hospital before. His mother, Aliya, and father, Furkat, are both sales reps for pharmaceutical companies.
“My mom works with hospitals and they buy the medical supplies from her company,” Yussupov said. “My father works for smaller pharmacy shops, like the ones you see at Kroger.”
Working at Bay Park, Yussupov said, “was an opportunity to compare hospitals here in the U.S. and back in Kazakhstan.
“I would say it’s pretty different,” he said. “When I wasn’t volunteering, my friend had to go to the emergency room and they needed all this information on his insurance and his insurance card, and he had to wait while they checked the numbers. It took pretty long.
“Back home, the difference is that it is free. We have government hospitals and everything is free. We have private hospitals, also. The quality of hospitals here is better. You pay a lot of taxes, so it would be better if you had free health care.”
Yussopov has become heavily involved with the IBC, run by Harry Cummins.
“He lives and breathes boxing,” Mary said. “Ninety percent of his time is spent at the boxing club. He goes there from 4 to 7 p.m. He was going five days and I cut him down to three. He has been able to volunteer twice at the hospital because his weekends are very busy. Every other weekend he goes to the boxing club and they clean the gym, and they help feed the homeless every month.”
Yussopov, who started going to the gym in November, doesn’t actually get in the ring to spar. He trains like a boxer, hitting the speed bag and jumping rope. One big reason for his going to the club, Yussopov said, is the family atmosphere the club offers.
“Our economy teacher at Clay was talking about eminent domain, and he showed us a video about a boxing gym,” Yussopov said. “I saw how the guys stick together. They were like a team, like a family, so I liked it. I went to the boxing clubs (on the Internet) and the IBC popped up.
“I asked Mary to call there and find out about it. One day we drove there, got an application and that’s how I hooked up with them,” he said.
“Boxing is a way to improve yourself. It’s a way to push yourself, because practices are not very easy. I like the way Harry gives us a lot of things to think about. He says when we’re really tired, if you quit once you will quit for your whole life, which makes you push yourself.”
Yussupov, who said he earns straight As at Clay, said students in his country attend school six days a week. He is still undecided about becoming an engineer, an economist or possibly working for a travel agency.
“I was thinking about coming back here,” Yussupov said. “My mom told me I should go to a university in the United States. I don’t think we can afford it, but I’m looking for some grants.”
Yussupov, who will return to Kazakhstan on May 28, admitted he misses his friends and family.
“But at the same time,” he said, “I don’t want to go back.
“I do and I don’t. I want to go home because I have a lot of friends, and my family, of course. After two weeks at home, it will be boring for me,” he said. “I already know how things are, and I’ve been a lot of places. Here, it’s like every day is a new experience.”