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WTAMU Faculty, Alumna Heading to Siberia with Fulbright-Hays Program

April 23, 2013

COPY BY: Rana McDonald, 806-651-2129, rmcdonald@wtamu.edu

WTAMU Faculty, Alumna Heading to Siberia with Fulbright-Hays Program

CANYON, Texas—It may not be the destination of choice for many travelers, but a West Texas A&M University faculty member and alumna are eagerly counting the days until their departure to southern Siberia as participants in a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program.

Dr. Elizabeth Clark, associate professor of history, and Jan Weston, a world geography teacher at Randall High School in Canyon, will spend four weeks this summer as part of “Siberian Voices: Mapping Culture, Environment and Everyday Life in Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude and Kyzyl.” The study seminar is hosted by the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin and funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant. Clark is the only post-secondary faculty member not from UT, and Weston will join K-12 teachers from Austin, McKinney and Laredo on the trip.Dr. Elizabeth Clark

“I’m a historian of Russia and East Central Europe, and I’ve never been to Russia,” Clark said. “This is a missing piece to my career, and I’m very excited to go and bring the experience back to my students.”

The focus of the trip will be cultural immersion, language study and curriculum development. The participants have each been given a reading list to prepare them for the trip, and lessons in the Russian language will contribute to the group’s cultural immersion. The four-week seminar also will include lectures, field trips and various experiences designed to enhance the group’s exposure to the Siberian culture and its people.

“Being a student again is exciting and intimidating at the same time,” Clark said. “But this has been my dream for a long time. When I think of Russia, the first picture in my mind is of onion domes and palaces—St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg— and I think of cultural icons of literature and music—Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. “

“I also think of ballet. It’s a good thing WT has Ed Truitt, or I’d know even less about dance and culture in Russia. He’s been a real resource for me. But just like there’s more to America than New York and Los Angeles, there’s more to Russia than big cities. This faculty development project will focus on indigenous groups in Siberia, on religious practice, land use and the historical relationship between Russians and their ‘wild, wild East.’  We’ll be studying about Eurasia, how cultures in Siberia have influenced and been influenced by Russians. It’s exciting and a good reason to study.”

The group of travelers will spend several days in Moscow before heading to Siberian region of the Russian federation. They will have the opportunity to experience a cultural cross section of Siberia with stops in Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude and Kyzyl. Field trips will include an environmental excursion to Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world. The group also will tour Decembrist (exile) houses in Irkutsk, view yurts and even ride the Trans-Siberian Railway. They will visit Orthodox churches, Buddhist temples and Buryat sacred sites.

“I am more than a little apprehensive, but I am traveling with experts in this field,” Weston, a 2009 WTAMU graduate, said. “I have found that when I have travel to a region of the world and have experienced a first-hand opportunity to study it, I come back with a sense of excitement that I could never have received from a book. My goal is to give to my students the love that I have for the course that I teach and help them become better critical thinkers. The heart of geography is that students use concepts they acquire to better understand how people, places and environments are related and connected.  Hopefully, this adventure will help me help my students make the connection.”

Another goal of the Siberian seminar is to encourage the participants to gather and learn as much information as possible along with photographs, artifacts, maps and anything else that will contribute to the classroom curriculum. Clark is looking forward to gathering items for a ‘country-in-a-box’ project she is working on with members of the staff at Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. Her ‘country-in-a-box’ is a project in global international studies with ties to the Panhandle that will travel to area schools. A Russia/East Europe curriculum is being developed to coincide with the traveling box, and Clark hopes it will help area students learn and better understand the world around them.

Clark and Weston will return home mid July. They will work on finalizing curriculum based on their experiences in Siberia and participate in a fall workshop to evaluate the newly developed curriculum units.

“When I return, I hope to be able to contribute to K-12 education as well as other courses at WTAMU like Dr. Paul Clark’s course 'Huns, Turks and Mongols' and Dr. Pearson’s on environmental history,” Clark said. “In fact, Dr. Pearson and I want to team teach a comparative environmental history course on the U.S. West and Siberia. His long interest in Baikal is an environmental one, while mine has been largely political. I’ll be interested to see if I can offer any insights on taiga management or shamanistic practice that would be useful to Dr. Pearson’s work on forestry or his classes on Native Americans.”

The Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program provides grants for overseas projects in training, research and curriculum development in modern foreign languages and area studies for teachers, students and faculty. Project may include short-term seminars, curriculum development, group research or study or advanced intensive language programs.


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