Students and faculty from the Hobart and William Smith Russian Area Studies program, joined by K-12 teachers from upstate New York and Connecticut, recently departed for more than a month of cultural study and immersion in the Altai region of Siberia.
With the support of a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad grant (GPA), Hobart and William Smith are again partnering with the Altai State Pedagogical University to reprise the five-week “Siberian Culture in the Golden Altai” seminar.
This marks the fourth time in the past decade that the U.S. Department of Education has awarded HWS a GPA grant to fund an immersive educational excursion to Siberia. This year’s $95,865 GPA grant enables seven regional K-12 teachers, six upper-level HWS students and HWS Russian Area Studies faculty Assistant Professor Christopher Lemelin and Associate Professor Kristen Welsh, to explore the language, culture and contemporary issues of Western Siberia. The inclusion of regional K-12 teachers is part of an explicit goal to increase knowledge of Russia in the upstate New York area.
Members of the group will blog about their experiences during the trip, based in the city of Barnaul. Bordering Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia, the location 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,” says Welsh, project director. “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.”
Through an 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.
The experience will offer a unique exposure to Siberian life to students who may enter the fields of education, business or the government, as well as to teachers of language arts, social studies, history and ESL. With the help of Sherry Gibbon, visiting instructor of education at HWS, the participating teachers will develop a curriculum unit based on the experience in Siberia that corresponds to the Common Core in New York and Connecticut.
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 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 current GPA grant of $95,865 funds more than 86 percent of the 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 percent 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.