Monday, May 29, 2017

ATAD Exchange Velikiy Novgorod: Keeping linkages connected

ATAD Exchange Students From Velikiy Novgorod: Keeping linkages connected

Two students from Velikiy Novgorod spent the 2016-17 school year in the Rochester area. Daria Zhogina studied at Penfield High School and Milana Osipova studied at School of the Arts. Both of these exchange students have other connections to Rochester and represent the impact of our exchanges on generations of families. Much of the work of education, and people to people diplomacy, is difficulty to quantify but it is interesting to trace our connections over the years.

Daria is staying with Sarah Shaw, and ESL teacher who traveled to Novgorod in summer 2016 for our teacher to Russia exchange. Dasha’s grandmother hosted Sarah while she was on exchange. Additionally Dasha’s grandmother is Natalia Zhogina, an English teacher who came to Rochester on exchange in 2010. Dasha lives with Sarah, Sarah’s son Noah, Sarah’s boyfriend Mike, and the family dog, Fletcher. Highlights have been singing in the choir, prom, and many, many family trips to DC, Boston, and snowboarding!!

Milana is the niece of Marina Sweeny, an ESL teacher and Novgorod native, who has been living in Rochester for more than 15 years. She is staying with Kristine Fredrick and her dog, Bozha, and studying Dance at SOTA. Milana has been very active in promoting Russian culture and language in the Rochester area by helping Marina with the Saturday Russian school and attending Russian classes at RIT. She adds native speaker practice for Marina’s students. Highlights have been performing in the spring dance concert, a solo dance in the senior show, and meeting friends from all around the world. 

While language learning has been the greatest focus, other learning happens on exchange too. Greater independence with cooking, cleaning and making friends are new challenges the young women both took on at home. They also both learned new dance styles, helped to train new pets with the host families, went to festivals, dances, concerts, haunted hayride, and sports events, hiked in parks, and witnessed our election and some protests. Experiencing family holidays in another culture is probably the most intimate part of the exchange for all the families and students.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Altai Geography Lessons Ideas

Siberian Culture in the Golden Altai
Curriculum materials
Grade 9 ELA/ Social Studies

This post presents EXCERPTS from the lessons plans I prepared as a result of the Summer Fulbright-Hayes Cultural Exchange in the Altai Regions.

What can we understand about geography and climate from the details in photographs?

How are the beliefs of a culture evident in the genesis or epic tales of a culture?

How do geography and history surface differently in the epic tales of different cultures?

These lessons introduce grade 9 students who are fluent in experiential learning to the Altai region of Siberia as a new geographic region and culture. The lessons use primary source documents, images, realia, informational texts, literature and music to engage students in a virtual expedition to self-identify evidence of cultural beliefs. The hook is a video of indigenous singers performing traditional music, some instruments will be present in class. Students will work reflectively to identify known features of the music and culture and participate in collaborative discussions to share their reflections and understandings. Then they will work collaboratively to identify important geographic details from images of the region. Students will work together to draw inferences about the region and culture. Students will compare Altai legends and myths to legends and myths of other cultures. Students will discover important symbols of the Altai culture, cedars, mountains, rivers, fire, the yurt, the deer, the Ael, the Gryphon, and be able to explain the importance and meaning of those symbols.

We are gathered in an Ael to hear the musician, Emil Tyrkishev

 The Ob River runs through Barnaul

 Lake Teletskoye

Near the Biya River

 Near Katun and Chemal Rivers

Blue Clay Pond Near Chemal


 Mt Belukha is 4,506 feet high.

 Near Kosh Agach, near Mongolia

 The Ak Cholyushla gorge

Lesson 1: Workshop 2.0 Altai People and Culture Through Music and Images- gallery walk and small group discussions.
Objectives- Students will discover a culture and people they have not learned about before through music and images.

Lesson 2: Altai Myth and Legend- Close read, modeling and partner discussions. 
Objectives- Students will read and discuss Myths and legends of the Altai people and how the texts reflect the values of the culture. 
“The Hunter and the Cedars”, (Retold from oral version by Yelena Shushakova.  Fredrick, 2015)
      Once, long ago, there was a hunter passing through this way on a cold wet night. The hunter lay to rest below the largest of three great cedars. The tree creaked in the wind above. As the man laid his head on the bed of the cedar roots he heard the large cedar low and sad. But he he also heard the small cedar speak clearly, “Grandfather cedar, why do you hang so low an weep?”
      The hunter listened carefully as the old cedar answered from above, “I am old and tired,” he sighed and creaked. “I would like to lie down and take a rest, grandson. I would like to fall into the earth, but this man below me needs my shelter. So, I stand,” and he creaked and moaned with the wind.
      The hunter was listening below and tears filled his eyes. He was deeply grateful for the shelter, and for the love of this tree.
      The hunter rose and hugged the old tree and said, “Thank you, thank you, great tree, thank you great cedar.” He placed his things below the young tree and watched the great tree lie down to rest.

This hunter returned safely home and told his children and they all told their children, you must always thank the cedar for all the food, warmth, and shelter they provide. 

Lesson 3 Altai Symbols and beliefs- Jigsaw lesson
Objectives- Students will review texts of creation tales of various cultures and identify important symbols and beliefs of the various cultures.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015



Belokurikha is a resort town in the southern edge of the Siberian steppe. Here you will find hills blanketed in green.   Purposefully planted firs and birch forests fill the town's air with a medicinal vapor. The town is crowded with curing resorts, spas, sanatoria, hostels and hotels. The ionized radon tinged waters are famous for their health benefits and regional physicians have decades of studies to prove the correct times, temperatures, and treatments in these waters for various ailments.

I came for the hiking.

We did get to hike on Saturday morning, and it was a short hike the tour leader preferred to aim toward vodka drinking and folklore rather than reaching a summit. We have a group of 18 so peaking isn't on everyone's bucket list.

Saturday, after lunch, summit seekers were brought up to a chairlift. This may sound like cheating, but I have done this before. In Arizona, I was 15 when Aunt Suzy took me and Ray up Snowbowl in August to see the view and hike around.

I remembered that hike and a few other chairlifted hikes as I took in the fresh air, the landscapes, and enjoyed the ride up. In China I went up to the wall at Sim Ai Tai, and in Poland, I spent a day on a mountain after waiting in the Katowce lift line for ages. The vodka tour "consultant" here really didn't think the lift would be interesting and tried to scratch it in favor of banya time - with vodka. He might have had some takers.

We had an even 10 or twelve go for the lift trip. Sebastian and I snapped photos, mine are destined to be screensavers and backgrounds since they are just the patterns you see below and around you as you glide and creak along the cable. Don't think about the cable when you dangle in the air: small steel bars and a wood plank seat propping you on the letter c that carries you up the mountain. I did. I wondered how the steel cable is joined because it must be a completed circle. And before that, Sebastian had to point out how slack the line was on our upward side, while the down direction was taut. Just enjoy the view.

The view is not just pretty, or full of good air. It is instructional. From the lift you can see the steppe as it meets the hills, and the neatly planted rows of trees that green the mountains and waken your lungs. You can see the crops, rivers, small lakes and Siberian town where you never one year ago imagined you would ever go.

In the lift you notice the way the trees below have died or grown. Their moss does what it is supposed to do, on the north side, on the lower trunks. Ferns and lichen are so busy they yell from below, "look down at us!!!", and we do. Giant boulders with sparkling mineral chips, and more lichen, jutt their hard elbows out of the mountain to warn us to sit still on our letter c chairs. And we do.

Sebastian says the trees are mossy and damp near the bottom. I wonder back if that is how deep the snow was last year. He sees trees that look like birch on top, but are not white below. I see a dead tree that looks like an alligator. I think I hear a bird but ask,"is that the lift making that sound?" It is a bird that we never see. After the 20 minute ride, we turn back to see that view. And then turn forward fast so we don't miss the hop off.

What i did miss was my group when I stopped to feed chipmunks. I fed chipmunks by hand. I could pet their belly as they leaned in to take black seeds from my palm. But then I found myself alone, asking people in Russian, "did you see the big group of Americans go by?" And another, "which way did the big group of foreigners go?" Because the last couple I asked said it was a big group but they didn't hear what language. I go to an empty place and remember how Henry got lost last summer in Canada trying to find the outhouse. The helicopters went looking for him when he didn't come home from a morning pee. I find the group. I find everyone, it's crowded at the top.

There is more to see all over the top of this hill. We climb on rocks that look like churches, a story of isolation, martyrdom, and love. More vodka. We see the tied, torn strips of trash and fabric attempting to honor an Altai tradition of sacred places. A true Altai tradition only uses white cotton or white clean fabric, Yelena says.

I ride down the lift with Ryan and we find out, dangling in Siberia, that we both know Maria Gillard. She is a folk musician, a great family friend. Last year when I hiked the AT in Massachusetts, I met a man who also knew Maria. It was just a year and one week ago that I sat on that peak, after a good morning hike alone, with hikers heading the other way on that long trail. He came and joined us too and we all said where we were from, where we would go, and something nice we knew about those other places, and honored those other journeys. Yes, Rochester, good music there.

Sebastian smashed a coin at the top of the mountain, it is a souvenir that you can make. We were surprised by its light weight.

The views and the hike were well worth the time. It never felt like cheating, it was an authentic, dynamic, mountain trip.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Week 1 language

Today was the first day of our third week of language classes. We will have short weeks from now on because of the long trips we will take on weekends.  I want to write about the language learning experience here as an older language learner and as someone with possible fossilized errors in grammar and pronunciation.

First, I can share my history s a Russian language learner. I began learning Russian language in 1997 before coming to Russia as a Peace Corps Volunteer. To prepare for the experience, I began practicing the alphabet, writing, and pronunciation before I arrived in the country. I studied independently using Barron's Learn Russian the Fast and  Fun Way, in fifteen minutes a day, workbook.

We had language classes for 3 hours every morning immediately upon arriving in country. We also had home stay where we were expected to be practicing russian every evening and completing homework assignments. We used multiple communicative methods, the text, and games with Faina Barsegian, my Russian language teacher, in Birobidjan those first eight weeks. We were tested regularly during the eight weeks of training and in regular intervals during our service.

We were all allowed a stipend for private tutoring while in service. I did use this opportunity to improve my skills, but I can't say that 1:1 tutoring is my favorite learning style. My tutor used a textbook and gave me many sentences to practice. I dropped tutoring after a while in favor of swapping English for Russian lessons with a family in Ussuriisk. Kolya wanted to learn Russian and his wife Lena was willing to tolerate me as a conversation partner in Russian. She studied French at school and they also spoke Ukranian but not English. At first, I thought she might be annoyed with the arrangement, but she became a good friend. I used some independent-study strategies which included many visuals all over my apartment. I made more friends with non-English speakers, and talked with all the neighbors as much as I could. I looked up everything I didn't know. I left Russia at an intermediate high level. I could have done better, tried harder. But it was a balance. I chose to build relationships rather than make a personal achievement.

Back home, I maintained some skills by reading but mainly by being involved with the Russian sister city group in Rochester and hosting guests. I can't keep count of the number of open world and sister city guests I have hosted.

I traveled in Ukraine in 2000 for a month and then in 2004 went to our sister city for a two-week exchange. In 2006-2007 I spent a year in Moldova where I was also granted a language tutor stipend. I worked with my tutor for a few months. Then, again, I studied on my own. The work I was doing kept me too busy for tutoring. I met a Swedish language teacher who was also studying Russian and we practiced and discussed language frequently. The English teachers I worked with were very helpful. When they listened to me make great efforts in Russian, they were encouraged to be less timid about conversing in English. Their skills were very good. Mine were functional. After my work in Moldova I was tested again and placed in an advanced intermediate level. It was a small growth but I was relieved to have made growth.

Now I am here in Barnaul on a Fulbright exchange. I was tested before departure, I am placed in a class with two other students. Our class is intermediate level. I don't feel like I will break out of the intermediate zone at all. But boy are our teachers trying.

The teachers here in Barnaul have teamed up in a 3:3 match with our intermediate group. James, Sebastien, and I are taught by Evgenia Alexandrovna, Constantine Ivanovich, and Elena Anatolyevna. These three teachers are using every new language strategy and teaching method they can relevantly implement.

To be continued.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Wheel of change

Traveling of course opens doors to seeing the world in different ways, but it also opens doors for seeing yourself in different ways. People sometimes choose to travel or live abroad when they know they need to make a change in their lives or when they want to become a different person. I had tons of changes forced on me in the past year, this is definitely a turning point in my career and life. But I don't want to be a different person. I do hope I will be better at a few things that I am practicing on this trip. Of course I want to be a better student. In some of the courses I took in the past year, I felt like- and was told- I was not a deep enough or critical enough of a thinker. Language learning and grammar in particular is different than the kind of work we were doing in the ESL cert classes. I'm focusing on grammar here and need to memorize the patterns and structure, like formulas, as well as just practice using them.

Considering my previous experiences in small intense groups- in peace corps, and in Vermont, and at work- I planned to work on - decrease-- my gate-keeping behaviours, and my usual time-keeping behaviours. This was immediately thwarted by the program director who made me a group leader for the teacher contingent of our group. They do not need a leader anyway. Basically, I had to try not to lose anyone in Moscow on the tour. So I was counting and "keeping" all day.

I am easing into a "follower" role as much as I can.

The first week was a hard shift into focusing on my own learning and not worrying about planning and scaffolding for the whole group. I'm not the teacher here, I just get to plan for myself. However, it's hard to be a caring person and not notice when someone else, who can't speak the local language, might need help. It's also hard to be around young people, the age of students I have taught, and not actively engage them as a teacher. Some of their parents are younger than me, but in this group we are peers, learning and studying together.

However, the teachers in the group do need to create a lesson plan. So we will be mentally in the teacher role as we design Common Core standards-based lessons about this Altai Krai area of Siberia.

The teachers are mainly from Geneva area school districts, so I looked forward to meeting a whole new group of engaged educators. And that is working out well. Stay tuned for some lesson ideas from Altai Krai from our team.

Friday, July 3, 2015


Speaking in public isn't easy especially if its in your second language. When I was asked to give a toast at our formal dinner for a welcome ceremony, I was scared but I thought I should just try my best. So I wrote out a speech, practiced, translated it, and with help from my friend and colleage Nadezda B. from Moldova, I even edited it and translated it so that it didn't sound like an 8 year old was speaking.

On the 4th of July it's fun to think about our freedom and our love and pride in our own country, but we can still love our country, desire peace, and want respect for the freedom of other countries. Sometimes it takes traveling long distances to another place to remember all of these ideas.

In the end, I stuttered, was embarrassed, and finally summarized the rest of it in English.

I'm grateful to toast to you for welcoming us to your school and opening our hearts to the Altai region. In return, we will open our minds to learning your language, history, and culture.  This is not my first experience in the  Russian Federation, but I know in this enormous country there is much to learn that will be different from Ussuriusk, Birobidjan, Velikiy Novgorod, or other famous Russian places I have visited, worked, or I have lived. As members of this program and supporters of this exchange, we offer the world a brave example of how to build solidarity, Brotherhood and peace across distant borders.  As a border region teachers- of New York and here on this Altai frontier- we are all experienced in welcoming to our schools students who are travelers. Border regions have a history of opening doors and mixing cultures. I look forward to learning about the unique mix of cultures in this place. Thank you, - add names- for your brave and warm work that makes this program possible.

Я поднимаю этот бокал за ваше здоровье в знак благодарности за оказанный нам приём в вашей  институт. Вы сумели завоевать наши сердца и помогли нам полюбить ваш регион. продемонстрируем свою открытость в изучении вашего родного языка, истории и культуры.

Это не первый мой визит в Российскую Федерацию, но я уверена что в этой огромной стране можно узнать много нового и что каждый из городов в которых я побывала и где я работала и жила, Уссурийск, Биробиджан, Великий Новгород и другие известные русские места, являются уникальными в своём роде.

Будучи участниками данной программы и горячо веря в подобный обмен опытом, мы с вами являемся смелым примером того как следует достигать солидарности, братства и мира между очень отдалёнными странами.

У нас – преподавателей из приграничного Штата Нью-Йорк, и у вас- на этой стороне границы, много опыта в работе с учениками которые приезжают из других мест. Приграничные регионы известны своей способностью в открытии новых возможностей и в обмене между разными культурами. Я с нетерпением жду возможности узнать побольше об уникальном сочетании культур в вашем регионе. Спасибо вам за вашу открытость.

За ваше здоровье, names of people  … (). За вашу смелую и сердечную работу, благодаря которой эта программа стала возможной!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Altai Cultural Study Topics

We can't learn everything about this ancient region in 5 weeks, but we can have fun trying!!!
Some of us were specifically told to narrow down our focus, others of us have been allowed to let our minds roam FREE!!! 
I love learning with no boundaries.
 A little structure might help me transform my learning into a sharable fund of knowledge.

Most evenings on this exchange we have guest lecturers coming to an open salon where we can discuss these topics. We are encouraged to practice Russian, but translators will be part of our daily routine.

  1.  Joan: Education - structure and more:  How do they educate?  What is the importance of education in Russian (Siberian) society and culture?  How do they prioritize and allocate available resources in their society, given their geographic location?  Is education compulsory and if so, thru what grade level?  What is their curriculum - civics?  civilian responsibility?  ethics class?  comparative governance?  history?  If so, at what grade levels are these topics covered?  How does Russian (Siberian) education differ from American education?  What role, if any, does the Orthodox Church play?  Testing prevalence?  Alternative education efforts?  Is study abroad encouraged?  At university level?  To Cambridge and Oxford, Harvard or Stanford, or to Bejing (Peking)/China?  How do they work in extracurricular programs - athletics, the arts - ?  Teacher prep and perspective…  What do teachers see as top concerns?  Education as common denominator in culture of diverse people…
  2. Alex: food traditional meals
  3. Alison: sustainability in daily life/habits
  4. Madeline: fashion( women’s), statues, art (more specific), tourism
  5. Jordyn: the role and status of women in Russian (Siberian) society and culture - traditions, norms, etc.
  6. Natalie: food and drink, street food, contem popular music, US influence Russian/American fast food, drinking habits, smoking habits, exercise habit
  7. Christine: Nature, American cultural impact in Siberia
  8. Jonathan: Museum Design
  9. Jenna: teaching of other languages at the primary level, school meals, prevalence of outdoor/active play during the school day
  10. Ryan - Advertising practices in Russia; print and digital.
  11. Kristine- Russian folk music and instruments vs Altai regional folk music; Traditional herbal medicine and healing; Indigenous peoples of the Altai and influence in local Russian culture; gardening and herbs for cooking, healing, and survival; English teaching, texts, and testing in Russia, new regulations and teacher perspectives; any visible artifacts of gulags or Solzhenitsyn.  Shamanism and the Shambhala myth in Altai.
  12. Sebastien: water systems, mountain ranges; geography and culture.
  13. Jim: soviet remnants in the Altai Krai
  14. Tonya: how Russian children spend their time (cultural games, pastimes, school life, home life, etc…) especially in regards to children/people with disabilities