1. Klenova, Anastasia
Candidate of Science in Linguistics, Assistant Professor, Saratov State University (SSU)
2. I was invited to work at Richland College of Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) – Dallas, TX for the academic year of 2007/2008.
3. As a whole, I spent two semesters at Richland College. During the first semester, I was assigned to the Dept. of World Languages where I taught an extensive English course to foreign students. I had a truly multinational group including students from Japan, Brazil, South Korea, Libya, Mexico, Turkey, China, South African Republic and Iraq.
During the second semester, I was invited by a colleague of mine to join her in the Life in the 21st Century course as I really was eager to communicate more with American students. It was a unique opportunity of learning new teaching methods and techniques as I had to co-teach with two other instructors, and a highly interactive course, too.
Also, my supervisor has done a wonderful job in publicizing my visit to Dallas which resulted in numerous invitations from different organizations of Dallas – Fort Worth Metroplex like Dallas branch of English Speaking Union, True Lee Missionary Church, Jewish Community Center, Dallas Public Library, Russian-American Center and some others to hold lectures/discussions on various aspects of life in Russia. Also, I served as a guest speaker for my colleagues at Richland College and Brookhaven College making presentations on Russian history, art, government, culture, business, tourism and even a typical profile of a Russian person.
Aiming at promoting Russian and Saratov culture, we also arranged a photo exhibition of a famous Saratov photographer at Brazos Gallery. The opening ceremony included a video presentation/lecture about Saratov which I was happy to give.
4. Professionally, participation in Fulbright SIR Program allowed me to get a completely new perspective on teaching, as well as opened new research opportunities. I carried out the research, and collected a lot of material for my research work, I managed to travel a little around the country and see the United States. Still, as it was a primarily teaching grant, I had a chance to get acquainted with contemporary approaches and concepts such as Cooperative Learning, Community Service, Continuing Education and some others that enriched my teaching expertise immensely.
Moreover, this experience helped me gain an understanding of the US educational system, and the functions of community colleges in particular. Prior to coming to the US, I had not realized the major differences between American and European educational systems. Despite having borrowed its structure from European higher education, it renounced the elitist status of higher education turning it into a wide gateway to the middle class.
Apart from personal gains, I had a chance to help promote cooperation between Saratov and Dallas educational institutions and foster the establishment of several joint distance-learning courses between Richland College and Saratov State University. At the present moment, they are successfully implemented. Also, there are several potential study and research programs between SSU and Dallas universities.
More importantly, I think, this Fulbright program allowed me to learn many intercultural lessons of patience and bridging the gaps of prejudices and stereotypes. We all suspect that our mentality is not the “universal standard” of living and thinking, but when it comes to interaction with people belonging to other cultures, it is painfully difficult to admit the difference. It is even more deceptive with American culture as it seems to be so strikingly similar at the beginning, and so profoundly different at the end.
Apart from other events, CIES gives a chance to the scholars to get together at the annual Fulbright Visiting Scholar Conference. When sharing our impressions at the conference, we all agreed at one thing – it is inestimable experience to come out of one’s shell and be able to compare – not only cultures, but ways of thinking. This trip taught me never to take my views for granted – if somebody thinks otherwise, they are not necessarily wrong. A very simple, but rather painful example – as a typical Russian teacher, I had never considered the word “lazy” an offensive one (Russian student secretly agree with this epithet). Only having applied it quite thoughtlessly to one of my students, I learnt all the depths of its meaning.
In general, it might be worth saying that I had to fight a lot of stereotypes. Both against Russia, as many of my American students still believe that Russian people live in a totalitarian and very oppressive society. But I could not but be amazed at the immense interest manifested by young people and adults towards Russia. And also, my own prejudices against life in the South – I had not had a clue that Texas, and Dallas in particular, would turn out to be such a modern, state-of-the-art, rapidly developing and extremely business-friendly place. And southerners, who are stereotypically portrayed as a little outdated and conservative, would prove to be people of advanced views and ideas.
Upon my return to Saratov, I have delivered several lectures on the new teaching methods for my colleagues, as well as arranged a series of master-classes for SSU students, not to mention several publications and manuals. We have held a large exhibition of Dallas photographs made by Richland students and professors. In June 2009, we are expecting a group of professors and administrators from Dallas universities and colleges to visit Saratov. I have learnt to value cultural diversity and tolerance – these popular and over-used words have gained a true meaning for me. I’m sure, none of this could have been achieved without the SIR program. I am most grateful to the Fulbright program as it has helped me advance both professionally and as a personality.