Article Courtesy of The Hutchinson Leader
Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 6:00 am | Updated: 7:26 am, Wed Aug 28, 2013.
By TERRY DAVIS firstname.lastname@example.org
For the second consecutive year, a Ridgewater College instructor will teach in a former Soviet Union country under the Fulbright Scholarship Program.
Kathy Steffen, who has taught English on the Hutchinson campus since 1997, leaves today for a semester teaching education courses at the university in Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky. It is a small city of 30,000 people about an hour from Kiev, Ukraine.
Steffen will work with both students who are studying to be teachers and with teachers upgrading their teaching skills. She’ll return in late December.
Her assignment follows on the heels of Sam Nelson, a history instructor at Ridgewater’s Willmar campus.
Nelson returned in early June following a full year in Kazan, the capital of the Tartarstan province 500 miles east of Moscow on the Volga River. His wife, Sandra, a second-grade teacher, took a leave to spend the year in Russia with him.
Inspired by mentor
Steffen said she became interested in being a Fulbright Scholar instructor through a professor who told about his Fulbright experience while teaching a class Steffen was taking.
“He suggested it was something I might want to experience, too,” she said.
When she decided to apply, the question became where to go. Applications usually are made a year before the teaching assignment. It requires letters of recommendations, course proposals for classes an instructor would teach, and an essay on why they want to participate. Applicants are screened in the U.S. and forwarded to the potential host country.
“I wanted to teach some education courses, because I teach the same graduate courses at St. Cloud (State University),” Steffen said. That focused her search on countries needing that type of instruction and led her to Ukraine, the homeland of one of her great-grandmothers.
“I was curious about that part of my heritage,” she said.
While in Ukraine, Steffen will rent an apartment. The college students are mostly fluent in English.
Her research has revealed Ukraine is caught between its past as a Soviet republic and those still tied to the communist past, mostly the older generations, and the younger people who are gravitating toward Western ideas and ways of life.
“We are ambassadors of our culture, but I want to learn as much from them as they learn from me,” she said.
She plans to send messages to Ridgewater officials who will post them to a website blog or Facebook site linked on Ridgewater College’s website.
Nelson said his year in Russia revealed some of the same generational differences. He called it a great experience to trade different perspectives of American history.
“I think (college age people) had a very rose-colored view of American history,” he said. “They very much believe in the American Dream. I had them write about America or Americans and the word dream came up all the time.”
He expected to see more of the old, Cold War animosity, but didn’t experience it among his students. But he learned there were some different views among older generations.
He was frequently asked by people, especially taxi drivers, how much money Americans made. Incomes are much lower in Russia, but they also still have many socialized services. He came to appreciate what Americans have, even with problems we may have.
Nelson, who teaches European history at the Willmar campus, will use his experience to as part of a new global studies course he will be teaching.
“It was a great honor and a life opportunity,” he said.