Reaching out to Russia: International collaborations in Chita

I. Duranczyk with Zabaikal State Univeristy2

This summer, Irene Duranczyk traveled six time zones east of Moscow to Chita, in southeast Siberia, Russia, to explore international collaborations with Russian educators and community leaders. This trip was made possible by the organization, Siberian Bridges, which chronicled the trip and has a 25-year relationship with this area of Russia. Despite its remote location, Chita possesses a robust intellectual and cultural heritage, serving as a place of exile for political, ideological, and intellectual dissenters from 1826 through 1951. It also boasts rich cultural influences from the Buryat, an indigenous population of Siberia and Mongolia.

Pedagogical partnerships

During her visit from May 30 to June 16, 2014, Irene was received by four faculty of the Zabaikalye State Humanitarian and Pedagogical University, along with Elena Pischerskaya, Head of Foreign Languages Department at Chita Institute of Economics and Law, who organized the meeting with support from Tatiana Ivanovna Sukhanova and Olga Isaakovna Flesher. Preparation for the visit included a list of collaboration topics emailed in advance and the translation of the CEHD International Video, by Tatiana and Olga. After viewing the video, the group engaged in an open discussion on points of collaboration.

The group identified the following collaboration possibilities:

  • Research partnerships between the two institutions;
  • Exchange programs for students;
  • Interaction topics including higher education pedagogy, inter/cross cultural issues in higher education, global education, and teaching English or Russian as a foreign or second language;
  • International conferences focusing on key educational topics
  • Exchange programs for faculty, and;
  • Skype conferencing linking two courses between the University of Minnesota and the Zabaikalye State Humanitarian and Pedagogical University.

As future possibilities are explored, this fall Irene, an associate professor in the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning, is preparing a classroom collaboration between Zabaikalye State Humanitarian and Pedagogical University and the University of Minnesota when she teaches, PsTL 5106, Multicultural Teaching and Learning in Diverse College Contexts. She plans to incorporate 2-3 class sessions with Tatyana Makarova and Elena Emirziadi’s courses in American Studies Department on Culture, Ethnology, Education, and Social Life.

A kinesiology connection

Expanding the influence of her visit, Irene met with Sergey O. Davydov, the director of the Academy of Health in Chita, who provided a tour of their extensive Kinesiatrics Center. This highly advanced, well-equipped exercise and fitness center features computer controls for collecting data on body stress, and heart and lung functions. The Center is also home to an impressive Dead Sea environmental suite containing Dead Sea water, salts, and mud for therapeutic health and natural healing. Mr. Davydov is very interested in joint research with CEHD Kinesiology graduate students and faculty, and he recently authored a book based on the research done at the Center that will be published this fall.

Community engagement

Prior to the trip, a donation of multicultural and pedagogical books was sent to the Pushkin Regional Research Library seeking to expand their English collection for researchers. Irene met with the appreciative library administrators. She also visited with the Petrovsk-Zabaikalye Children’s Home children and staff. Irene sent gifts from the University of Minnesota to staff and students of the home for wards of the state prior to her arrival. The gifts were much appreciated.

Irene was also the guest of an hour-long radio program on GTRK AM 657, during which she shared the purpose of her visit and the possible collaborations in Chita with listeners of the station.