For the fourth time in the past decade, Hobart and William Smith Colleges have been awarded a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad (GPA) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to fund an immersive educational excursion to Siberia.
The $95,865 grant will reprise the five-week “Siberian Culture in the Golden Altai” seminar, designed by the HWS Russian Area Studies program in cooperation with the Altai State Pedagogical University (ASPU), an HWS exchange partner in Russia. The grant will enable seven upper-level HWS students, seven regional K-12 teachers, and the Hobart and William Smith project director, Associate Professor of Russian Area Studies Kristen Welsh, to explore the language, culture, and contemporary issues of Western Siberia.
Studying and traveling in the Altai region — which borders Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia — offers participants a chance to immerse themselves “in the language and culture and see parts of Russian life that there’s no other way to experience,” Welsh says. “The seminar will focus on language, history and culture, but that all plays into the geopolitics in the Altai region and is helpful to see the intersection of Europe and Asia that’s embodied in Russia.”
The news of the fourth Fulbright-Hays grant comes as another group — funded by a previous GPA grant and led by this year’s project director, Associate Professor of Russian Area Studies David Galloway — returns from the current iteration of the seminar, based in the city of Barnaul. There, the seven HWS students and seven regional educators, including five from the Geneva School District, undertook three hours of daily Russian language instruction, as well as culture classes, service projects, meetings with local educators, and weekends exploring the Altai mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage site south of Barnaul.
By partnering with ASPU through the GPA in addition to traditional study abroad programming, HWS offers unique exposure to Siberian life to students who may end up working in education, business, and the government, as well as to teachers who will shape the next generation of foreign language learners.
“One of the standout moments I found is the visit to the children’s summer camp (Camp Krylatykh),” Galloway says. “It was one of our service activities, though really in that case it was more of an opportunity to interact with the kids without a formal program. It ended far too soon for everyone. Each of us had different interactions — I got pulled into a chess match, where a 10 year old beat me in about six moves, then I was able to rally and beat another the same age, then we did a craft project with some other kids, all the while fielding questions (usually in Russian, some in basic English) about America and so on. It was a great opportunity to interact without a lot of structure and engaging a range of personalities and activities.”
During the group’s tour of the Denisova Cave, a major archaeological site still under excavation, they “spoke to the scientists working there, and took an epic six-hour horse trek from the base of the valley to the top of the nearby peaks,” Galloway says. “Though exhausting and physically draining, it was a majestic window into the more rugged features of the Altai.”
With this firsthand interdisciplinary approach to studying the Western Siberian culture, history, and physical environment, the seminar highlights the changes that made the Altai region what it is today, and the influences that will change it in the future.
Having previously sent students to Siberia in 2006 and 2009, the Colleges were one of only 49 institutions and organizations in 2014 to earn the extremely competitive GPA funding, which supports “overseas projects in training, research, and curriculum development in modern foreign languages and area studies for teachers, students, and faculty engaged in a common endeavor,” according to the program’s website.
The most recent GPA grants the Colleges have received differ from the previous two programs in that they capitalize on Hobart and William Smith’s new exchange agreement with ASPU and include regional K-12 teachers as part of an explicit goal to increase knowledge of Russia in the upstate New York area.
“It has been a welcome change including K-12 educators,” Galloway says. “They of course contribute not only maturity, but also an eye towards pedagogy in how they view each experience that I personally find helpful, as a teacher, but which I think the students find interesting and new as well.”
The $94,176 in federal funds awarded to the Colleges under the 2014 GPA grant that supported the Russian Area Studies Program trip completed in September of 2014 constituted 77% of the total cost of the $122,000 Altai program, with the remaining $27,824 (33%) contributed by HWS and the participants.
The current GPA grant of $95,865 funds more than 86% of next summer’s total program cost of $110,850, including international airfare, transportation within Russia, all group excursions, tuition, dormitory fees and all but two meals. The remaining 14% of costs — a total of $14,895 to cover welcoming and concluding meals, insurance, visa fees and pre-departure travel — will be supported by HWS and participants.
On Monday, Oct. 19, the Russian Area Studies Program will host an informational session during which HWS students and K-12 educators from upstate New York will have the chance to discuss the program in depth with Welsh, Galloway, previous participants and representatives from ASPU.
As the program seeks to recruit K-12 teachers for the upcoming trip, Welsh says that “preference will be given to social studies and language arts teachers in upstate New York,” though she adds that “we’d love to take people from Geneva, the Finger Lakes, and the Rochester area.”
To read about the experiences of the group that traveled to Barnaul this past summer, visit the blog they maintained during their travels, at http://2015barnaulfulbright.blogspot.com/.