I have been home long enough to take a reflective look back on the Russian Fellowship. I worked in Samara and Saint Petersburg. I spoke tourist level language. I learned a lot about living in the world. There is even a video that shows the big picture of the projects.
My husband wrote,
By Vic Sutton
At a time when relations between the United States and Russia are cooling – if not cold – an innovative programme of the Eurasia Foundation continues to promote exchanges of professionals from both countries.
The ‘U.S.-Russia Social Expertise Exchange’ (SEE for short) was set up to promote co-operation between civil society leaders from the two countries.
Twelve working groups bring together experts in programme areas that include, for example, child protection, collaborative journalism, gender equity, and ‘rule of law and the community’.
My wife, Bonnie Bracey Sutton, is a member of the SEE working group on ‘Education and Youth’, and I had the chance to accompany her to its last meeting, held on 10-11 October in Washington, DC.The working group had a research seminar in March 2015,
Our greatest surprise was to discover that Russia, despite its leadership in areas like space technology, is a poor country. People take home USD 250-300 a month. Of course, prices are lower than in the U.S, so that is not so terrible in terms of purchasing power.
The U.S. Government has said that despite poor political relationships, social and cultural exchanges between the two countries will continue to be funded. We hope so, and we will see what modest support we can provide to contribute to them.
I tried to learn the Russian language, but I was not fluent. Help I received from younger fellows who were Russian Language Majors was excellent.Google Glass helped me us with menu choices, locations and navigation.
My teacher used very formal lessons which worked in very , very formal situations. Later in the trip we had others who facilitated easily.Perhaps because they were Russian ( English Language Teachers) they stayed in the background except when needed. People were friendly and accommodating. Many people speak reasonable English. There is a respect for age. People give up their seats and they help you. This was a surprise to me.
I had help from Google Glass for some things. It was like a second helper to me. I could do street signs and use Google translate for menus and programs as well. I could find things in stores, and negotiate the metro. I did not wear it much except in classrooms and in places to dine , since my Russian is at tourist level.It was helpful because it could define areas of the cities to know about , and places that I would like to visit, though I was not there for a vacation.There was little play time. Most helpful was a knowledge of cultural geography, and a refreshment reading of the Ages of Civilization ( Will and Ariel Durant’s history of the world). Internet was always available and fast in the hotels where I stayed. Schools were somewhat conservative in use of technology except in the Institute for Medicine. ( I will explain that later)
Education is very different in Russia.Here are pictures of this wonderful place. It has unusual facilities. https://www.facebook.com/bonnie.sutton/media_set?set=a.10152943058346327.593996326&type=3
Education, Race and Place
Speaking about education in the US is at best complicated, . Institutes have thematic approaches to learning that are integrated and career oriented.
I was warned about racism in Russia. it was not a problem for me.Well, I giggled like a nervous school girls when a student labeled me exotic and talked about reading Anne Rice’s novels.This student wanted to go to New Orleans and eat red beans and rice, and or gumbo. This was on a day when I was thinking to myself, hair I am, that was because I forgot to bring a curling iron or Moroccan oil and the costs of cosmetics from the US, were prohibitive.
It was then that I noticed that lots of people had blue eyes and straight hair. I never saw another person to identify as of color, except a West African who clearly was enjoying his status in Saint Petersburg as a rare individual. Once someone asked me how old I was. Once a small child kissed me . Always in the Metro, people got up and gave me a seat. That was interesting to observe. The constant rain or snow frizzed my hair on a daily basis.I think I am a weather wimp. I now understand why my part of the world (Washington DC is called the South)and I do have a pair of Uggs..
Saint Petersburg was very international. People from all over the world were visiting .It is an international city like Washington, DC.
We visited private and state schools which are termed Institutes. Institutes have a theme and students are educated , constantly on that theme so that their talents and skills can be cultivated. No need to “flip” classes, as there are not pull outs and interruptions in the school day from what we observed. The classes, sports, chorus, dance and involvement with museums and other learning institutions is after school and for a sustained period of time. Students in big cities have
access to food, after school care, and resources of a cultural or sports project.
Capital Cities. Washington, Saint Petersburg( swamp cities)
Thinking about going to Saint Petersburg , meant wading through it’s history which I am still absorbing. I was there on the anniversary of the siege of Leningrad, which was it’s name at that time. At first I did not understand what it was all about. Old men with gold medals and people
came to celebrate the breaking of the siege of Saint Petersburg. A bulletin board in a room in a school got my attention. Then I understood. Technology online gave me the story.
This is from the web site of Saint Petersburg.http://www.saint-petersburg.com/history/siege.asp
” This was undoubtedly the most tragic period in the history of the city, a period full of suffering and heroism. For everyone who lives in St. Petersburg the Blokada (the Siege) of Leningrad is an important part of the city’s heritage and a painful memory for the population’s older generations.
Less than two and a half months after the Soviet Union was attacked by Nazi Germany, German troops were already approaching Leningrad. The Red Army was outflanked and on September 8 1941 the Germans had fully encircled Leningrad and the siege began. The siege lasted for a total of 900 days, from September 8 1941 until January 27 1944. The city’s almost 3 million civilians (including about 400,000 children) refused to surrender and endured rapidly increasing hardships in the encircled city. Food and fuel stocks were limited to a mere 1-2 month supply, public transport was not operational and by the winter of 1941-42 there was no heating, no water supply, almost no electricity and very little food. In January 1942 in the depths of an unusually cold winter, the city’s food rations reached an all time low of only 125 grams (about 1/4 of a pound) of bread per person per day. In just two months, January and February of 1942, 200,000 people died in Leningrad of cold and starvation.”
Saint Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia, politically incorporated as a federal subject and was created, like Washington , DC, on a swamp. It was a Russian window to the west.. It is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. This makes it very interesting in terms of it’s geographic position, and locale.
When I was there it was a frozen city. It was cold I was not prepared for it. I think the
weather was severe for me, but I learned to manage it with the right clothing, attitude and
food. I imagine that people who live in colder climates found my discomfort interesting if not funny.
Finally, I accepted that it would snow every day and learned to walk on snow over ice. Hood, hat, scarf and thick boots. I also drank lots of hot tea ate oatmeal, rice porridge and wonderful soups.
DNA of Cultural Components
If you think food, shelter, clothing, music, schools, transportation and communication.
Russian culture has a rich history, strong traditions and influential arts, especially when it comes to literature, philosophy, classical music, ballet, architecture, painting, cinema and animation. In a museum there is a complex outreach to students in the region.
Some museums are completely supported by the state, no outside funding needed or wanted.
That was a surprise to me.