Sunday, June 28, 2009

Semey is a Hard Road to Travel…

A few more thoughts from Kazakhstan (written Friday, June 26th):

The Vice Rector of the Ped. Institute and the head of the International Relations department came up to me Monday morning and (through Nailia) asked me to speak at a conference on “The Importance of Internationalization for Education as a Strategy for the Training of Competitive Specialists.” I was asked to speak on the subject of “Internationalization” and the “Mobility of Students” using my experience this summer and from PSU. I got started that night and finished up the paper (provided below), turning it into Valentina who had to translate it because she was going to act as my interpreter.

The conferences itself went pretty well (I think). They gave me my own name tag and name place up at the front table onstage with Nailia and the Vice-Rector who had asked me to speak. Ironically, due to a mistake on the part of the Russian Embassy this summer, who decided to transliterate my name the same way most Americans mispronounce it (Jurjis) this mispronunciation has followed me here. I had shaved my glorious whiskers and put on my good old Argyll-Sutherland Highlanders tie and one of my nice shirts, pants, socks and such that mom had made me pack. Thanks ma, I owe you one.

Speaking went rather well, Valentina and I had to share the podium—I would read about three or four sentences and then she’d translate. The audience reacted well to the format and we got a nice amount of applause. Afterwards the Vice-Rector stood up and spoke, thanking me for speaking and (from what Nailia says) saying that to make sure I come back they should give me a beautiful Kazakh girl. So I take it that he enjoyed my presentation (afterwards Nailia told me that he had said that I was more professional than many teachers, that’s probably also a good indicator).

That’s the good. There is some bad too. We’re having a little bit of trouble getting the morning class started on time. We’re supposed to started at 9:30, but often times students aren’t even showing up until 9:45 or so and when we have a break (ten minutes) they often come back ten or even twenty minutes late. Today for example I had to go find half of the class (and all the girls) downstairs eating cake and having tea ten minutes after the break was supposed to end.

To be honest, I wouldn’t really care all that much, except that they have been complaining that they aren’t getting their money’s worth because we aren’t starting on time. That bothers me, because we aren’t starting on time because it’s more difficult for me to start class and then bring everyone up to speed as they trickle in than to just wait till they all show up. For some reason the school has decided whenever there’s a problem, I should be the one to talk to…so if the classes aren’t starting on time: Talk to Alex. If they aren’t getting enough talking experience: Talk to Alex. If Jake isn’t prepared for class and is still writing on the board at 0931: Talk to Alex… So it really annoys me when they complain they aren’t getting the full amount of time and I have to go looking for them to make them come to class on time.

Not to mention, at least with the morning group (I think because they’re younger) we have a body odor problem. I mean only with the morning class and then only with a few certain members—but Gawd is it awful! It is like a cloud sometimes when you walk into the room and it hits you. Just terrible mates! It’s even worse when the stinky kids hang around you…

Gah, anyway, back on topic!

I also don’t think too much about a future for myself, so I’m not really that worried about that kind of thing at the present time. Much more worried about whether or not I’ll be able to keep in shape and thus get that Army ROTC scholarship (and keep it…). After that I have to worry about whether or not I’ll be able to get enough experience and knowledge to be able to pass LDAC or if I’ll just fail out (a lot more probable than you probably think. Then I have to worry about training (if I pass) and getting into my first unit and then service in Iraq or Afghanistan. To be honest, that doesn’t scare me quite as much the other stuff and failure (including getting Russian language knowledge). With all those worries, death honestly doesn’t seem all that scary.

Plus somebody has got to be ready to fight those darn Chi-Comms who seem pretty intent on expanding their empire. Ask the people of Semey-PRC’s damming up the Irtysh river to use for their own fields and slowly but surely killing the ecosystem here and causing draught conditions. Before too long there won’t be an Irtysh. Violating international law and just telling the people of Kazakhstan to buzz off…who are the imperialists now? And mark my words, we haven’t heard the last from the Russians…even if there military ain’t much to fear at the current time—war in Georgia (again, who are the imperialists?) did not impress me, no matter how the Russian media span the Federation forces’ performance.

Life’s just the same old thing-teaching isn’t easy, I’m busy often, lots of pressure, etc, etc, etc. Semey is a hard road to travel (reference to a Civil War song, just FYI).

Anyway, here’s another photo of me in the morning class (and for any of you wondering, none of the smelly ones are in that photo…thank Bog) and my paper for the conference. Hopefully they’ll get me the pictures to that later.

Gone Global: An American University Student’s Observations on Internationalization in Education

Before I begin, I would like to thank the conference for asking me to speak and giving me this honor. I would also like to thank the Semey State Pedagogical Institute, whose initiative in creating this exchange program has allowed me to visit your wonderful country. I hope that the Pedagogical Institute and my own University will continue this experimental joint program next year.

Today’s children are growing up in a world where news travels faster than ever before and one country’s actions not only affect themselves and their neighbors, but other countries around the globe. The world seems to turn faster when we are able to watch a news story occurring on the other side of the world unfold in real time. We truly are living in the global age and education must reflect this to remain relevant.

I have been exceedingly fortunate in the opportunities that have been available to me in my life. Since my birth, nearly twenty-one years ago I have lived in six different states, visited every state east of the Rocky Mountains, travelled to nine different countries, and including my current abode here, I have lived in three different countries. Besides my own personal experience abroad, I have also had much experience with people of other nationalities through my own summer job in the International Military Student Division at the United States Army’s Command and General Staff College, which hosts nearly two hundred military officers from other countries, including two from this country.

These opportunities have made me aware of the importance of the concept of “Internationalization,” As my own experiences have shown; the world is a much smaller place than it was even fifty years ago. Today it is possible to communicate with someone on the other side of the world instantaneously and quite cheaply or even freely, something unimaginable a generation ago. Because of this, internationalization is not only an important, but fundamental aspect of education.

My own university in Pittsburg is home to students from many different countries. The Korean Student Association has over sixty-five members. The Chinese community at PSU has at least two-hundred members. I do not know the exact number of international students at Pittsburg; I believe the number is close to seven-hundred, which is remarkable considering that my university only has a total enrollment of nearly seven-thousand. We have students from Taiwan, South Korea, China, Russia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Spain, Malaysia, India, and several other nations.

This great diversity at Pittsburg State University is a wonderful thing for its students. American students such as myself are exposed to different cultures and viewpoints that we might never have seen otherwise. My own state of Kansas is well-known for its people’s hardiness and reluctance to leave their home state. Many people have never even been outside the state, let alone the country. So, for many of my fellow students; this is the first and perhaps only time meeting students from other nations. This allows them to see the world in a more full light and helps them understand that our nation is not and cannot be an island—we are part of the world community.

The benefits of this contact are not limited to the American students alone. International students in Pittsburg are introduced to the realities of American life and her people, which generally differ considerably from their preconceived notions or perceptions gained from Hollywood films. They also gain from contact amongst themselves, because often times the closest friends international students make are other international students, allowing them to gain even further cultural exchange than they were already getting from their study in America. I personally believe this to be an extremely beneficial experience for all involved and will help increase international cooperation as my generation grows up and assumes the mantles of leadership in our respective countries.

So far, however, I have only talked about the programs that Pittsburg State University has made for students coming to my country as guests. PSU also has made many opportunities for American students to experience internationalization. One way this internationalization can be seen is the use of graduate level students to teach classes; for example Russian language and culture classes are taught by a Russian graduate student from the city of Veronezh, while Korean language and culture classes are taught by a graduate student from South Korea. My physical science class was taught by a graduate student from Palestine and my lab instructor was an Indian student.

Pittsburg State University also encourages, but does not direct the international community of Pittsburg to form cultural associations. These associations have various activities throughout the year to promote awareness of their countries and cultures. For example, each semester the international students have an “International Food Fair” during which they sell tickets which can be redeemed for different foods from different groups—so that an American who has never been outside the States, or an Indian who has never been to Korea can both try the national Korean food “Bul-goh-gi.” They also have various culture days, such as “Korean Culture Day” or “Chinese Culture Day” where the students wear the traditional clothes of their home countries, perform traditional dances, sing traditional songs, and teach about their homelands.

Other opportunities PSU makes for its students are its study abroad and international experience programs. A study abroad program usually is made between an individual student and one of PSU’s sister universities around the world. The Pittsburg student will enroll with one of these universities for a semester or two and live in that country, going to school as a student of the university. For example, I have several friends who are currently doing a semester in our sister universities in South Korea.

An international experience program is very different. Instead of sending an individual student to another university for a longer period, PSU will usually send a small group of students and teachers to one of its sister schools for about two weeks. During this time, the PSU contingent will meet students and teachers from its sister school as well as see various cultural landmarks or historical sites. Since this period is shorter, more emphasis is placed on structured activities and the trip functions much like a tour of the hosting institution’s campus and country.

Both of these options have their merits and drawbacks. Generally, a study abroad program is preferred, since it is a longer time period, allowing for much greater cultural immersion. In fact, this is a requirement for international studies majors, who must spend at least one month abroad, preferably in a country where English is not the primary language. It is not without its drawbacks: a longer stay requires that the student shoulder a greater financial burden and since it is generally in a country where the main language is not English, it requires that the student have experience in other languages, which is not something many Americans have at this point. Indeed, this is a major pitfall, since Pittsburg only offers four languages currently: Spanish, French, Russian, and Korean—and only the first two of these languages have comprehensive programs.

On the other hand, an international experience program generally does not require that the American student be fluent in any language but English, greatly increasing the selection pool for participants. Also, it can sometimes be more desirable since it is shorter and thus generally cheaper. This shortened stay also has the added benefit of allowing students that may have other commitments for their time see other countries without having to spend an entire semester abroad. However, its length also is its major drawback as it means that it is impossible to get a true cultural immersion experience and it also has the hazard of becoming little more than a glorified vacation tour. Personally as a student who is experiencing both of them this summer, I believe that both programs are beneficial to the students who participate in them. It is important however, that we remember their different purposes and use them in that way. Each has its own time and place and can be helpful if used correctly.

One final issue I want to talk about is the idea of the “mobility of students.” I and my friend Jake Meredith are living examples of this, as are the students I met here in Semey last year who participated in programs like “Work and Travel.” The opportunities are there and the people of my generation are taking them. Something that might be overlooked however is the role of the internet in keeping international communication open. Nowadays, for a student to be considered “mobile”, they might not necessarily have to physically visit another country. Two days ago, I went to an internet cafĂ©, got on an American “networking site” and proceeded to chat in real time with a friend of mine who lives in Kuala Lumpor, Malaysia. After talking with her for a while, I replied to an email of one of the students that I had met on my trip to South Korea who lives in China. I also forwarded a few photos from this trip to one of the Korean students I had met during this trip.

In less than an hour, I had communicated with friends who live in three different countries. Not only have I learned more about Malaysia, China, and Korea (countries I may never get a chance to visit) from my contact with them, but they also learned about Kazakhstan—a country they have never visited. I also used the internet to keep in touch with the students I had met with last year in Kazakhstan. Ideas and knowledge are being exchanged and thus increasing internationalization. This kind of communication will never replace true “mobility” but it does give my generation opportunities that have never been available before.

The world is a changing place and internationalization is an important aspect of this change. If present indicators are any sign, then it will be even more important in the future than it is now. I think that any education system that does not give its pupils opportunities for this is not preparing them for a successful future. Thank you again for your attention and allowing me to speak.

Edit: Just realized i had this twice, so that's why its so long.


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  2. Well, a lot to comment on here, but I'll wait until you come home. Again, great blog and fun to read. Now you have another conference and paper to add to your resume--pretty impressive for a college junior! And so smooth--thanking the institute for the opportunity, etc.
    Only one word of advice- if you accept the beautiful Kazak girl, don't let her bite you. They'll see that you are not a god, cut your head off, and Jake will wander back home half crazed with it in a bag-- don't want to make Jake craze, do you Danny?
    keep up the good work, love Dad