Modern Siberia: Ecology and Culture – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Modern Siberia: Ecology and Culture

Winston Churchill once defined Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”  This May, students from Hobart and William Smith Colleges will attempt to decipher part of that riddle when they embark on a month-long interdisciplinary seminar to Siberia as part of a competitive program, “Modern Siberia: Ecology and Culture.”

The seminar will focus on the interrelated topics of culture and ecology within the Lake Baikal region of Eastern Siberia.  Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake, is home to some of the world’s most unusual freshwater species. Students will live with host families, allowing them to be immersed in the local culture.  The first two weeks will be devoted to intensive language study in Irkutsk, one of the largest cities in Siberia.  The group will then relocate to Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal to study ecotourism under the tutelage of a local expert.  Local residents are now turning to ecotourism as a source of sustainable development and stability for their economy. 

The final week will be spent in the modest, provincial village of Bolshoe Goloustnoe, located on the southwestern shore of Lake Baikal within the boundaries of Pribaikalsky National Park.  Students will work with The Great Baikal Trail Association on the construction and upkeep of hiking trails and outdoor recreation areas surrounding the lake.  They will also collaborate with children in the K-8 village school on eco-system projects and study Buryat, Russian and American history and culture. 

Peter Nettl ’11 is excited to “be interacting with the people of the village and engaging in projects that will hopefully benefit the village community and the surrounding environment.”  Once students return to the U.S., the final facet of the seminar will involve drawing from their experiences to create educational materials on Siberia that local schools can then integrate into their curricula.

Many of the Colleges’ past participants refer to the Siberia seminar as the best month of their lives.  Katie Corradini ’06 agrees.  “I’m starting at the University of Denver in the fall for a M.A. in International Human Rights.  The experiences in Siberia absolutely helped me get into graduate school.” 

Whether students are being introduced to Russia for the first time or building on prior knowledge, everyone benefits from the hands-on opportunities in this seminar.  It synthesizes the Colleges’ strengths in global education and environmental studies into one exceptional program.

This year’s group is comprised of two Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) students and 15 undergraduate students majoring in Russian area studies, biology, environmental studies, political science, history and English.  The Siberia seminar will be led by Kristen Welsh, assistant professor with the Russian area studies program. Meghan Brown, assistant professor of biology and Jeffrey Anderson, associate professor of anthropology, will also accompany Welsh as principal expert faculty. 

The 2009 program is funded by a discretionary grant from the Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad (FHGPA) program that was secured by the Russian Area Studies Program.  FHGPA will fund 58.2 percent, or $84,997 of the total project costs.  The additional 41.8 percent ($60,961) will be covered through in-kind and matching funds from Hobart and William Smith and program participants. This is the second time that the Russian Area Studies program has secured the grant.

The photo above features the group of HWS students and faculty who participated in the Siberia program in 2006.