Loudoun County school officials learned firsthand last week that what goes around comes around.

Less than two months after Superintendent David N. Thomas participated in the first trip to the Soviet Union by a group of superintendents and principals, the Loudoun schools found themselves host to two principals from Moscow.

Although Loudoun officials had expected that someday Thomas's visit would be returned, last week's arrival of Gija Dzhelija, of Moscow School No. 1232, and Nina Kukhovarenko, of Moscow School No. 1267, was something of a surprise. School officials had less than one week's notice of the visit. What would their guests like to do? Where would they like to go?

"We really hadn't thought they would be coming nearly that soon," school spokeswoman Molly Converse said. "We just worked it out here at the central office, things that we thought they would like."

What resulted was a rather whirlwind few days for the principals, who wore red carnations decorated with red, white and blue ribbons and tiny American flags. They arrived on a Monday, toured Washington and then headed to Reston for meetings with officials of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, which sponsored their trip and Thomas's earlier journey. On Wednesday, the principals arrived in Loudoun.

From Wednesday to Sunday, they visited elementary schools, a high school and a vocational school, and got up for an 8 a.m. bus ride with some Arcola Elementary students. They had a news conference, ate school lunches, and oohed and aahed at student art tacked onto corridor walls. They toured a Leesburg grocery and exclaimed at the abundance of food and other items so readily available. They went shopping, first in the boutiques and tiny shops of Middleburg, later in the sprawl that is Tysons Corner.

"We were greatly impressed with everything," said Dzhelija, who speaks English. "First, the humanity of the people, all the people. We feel this warmth."

Dzhelija said he especially liked the "good relations" between teachers and students, a closeness he said he is striving for at his own school.

Educators in both countries "must communicate deeper, deeper" to reach those goals, he said.

He had a material goal as well, he said: finding outfits for his daughter's Barbie doll.

"I can't come back {home} if I do not bring it," he said.

Speaking through an interpreter, Kukhovarenko said she liked the layout of American schools: "There is enough room for all the kids."

She also was impressed that many disabled students attend neighborhood schools, rather than one special education center.

And, she said, one of her first moves upon returning home will be to get student art up on the walls.

To interpret for Kukhovarenko, and at times, for Dzhelija, the school system found Irina Medvedev, an eighth-grader at Sterling Middle School who lived in the Soviet Union for 10 years before moving here three years ago. In a room full of reporters, she interpreted the principals' answers in a soft voice that still bears more than a trace of a Russian accent. She sat very close to Kukhovarenko, who often put her arm around the girl.

Also acting as an interpreter was Leesburg resident Leonid Berestov, an engineer who moved here from Russia 10 years ago. Berestov seemed surprised to hear the principals tell of developments in education inspired by glasnost.

In the last few years, the principals said, they have been given the authority to spend money, to hire whom they please and to come up with plans of study and new programs. Kukhovarenko said her school had recently expanded its emphasis on learning foreign languages and the school offers more in-depth courses in math, literature and history than it did two years ago.