July 29, 2008
CONTACT: Dr. Barry Duman, 806-651-2523, firstname.lastname@example.org
COPY BY: Joe Wyatt, 806-651-2122, email@example.com
WTAMU Students Return from Russia—With Love
CANYON, Texas—Some misconceptions evaporated even before the jet lag did for 11 students who visited Russia in June thanks to West Texas A&M University’s Study Abroad Program.
Those students, accompanied by Dr. Barry Duman, professor of economics, discovered almost immediately that their hosts were not as impassive as they expected them to be.
And the Russians quickly learned something about their visitors, too.
“They thought we’d all be fat,” Melanie Walls, a graduate student in business from Dimmitt, said. “They were pretty sure that all Americans are obese. They soon found out that isn’t the case, and we found out they are a lot like us—happy-go-lucky, basically. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
The two-week expedition took the WTAMU students, Duman, his administrative assistant and her husband east of Moscow to the Nizhny Novgorod Commercial Institute, which had initiated the “exchange” by sending four of its students to WTAMU for the preceding spring semester.
While overseas the WTAMU contingent completed six intensive hours of class work. Russian Business Perspectives was taught by Nizhny Novgorod faculty, while Duman taught Comparative Economic Systems. Students from both countries were immersed in both classes, with a translator standing by to lessen the language barrier, which Duman says was easy since Russian students are quite serious about learning English.
“It was a truly enriching experience,” Duman said. “I was so exhilarated by our discussions of economic philosophy and so invigorated and impressed by our students and theirs, I could barely go to sleep at night.
“Our thrust was to gain an understanding of the Russian transition from socialism and communism to capitalism. We were able to hear firsthand how life over there has changed and where they think it will take them, and we gained an incredible understanding of the Russian economy that we might never have attained without actually going there.”
While they spent a vast amount of time in lectures, the information they gleaned was reinforced by sight-seeing excursions by bus to pertinent destinations. For example, they visited a mall to punctuate a discussion about marketing, and a lecture on finance was followed by a trip to the Central Bank of Russia. They even enjoyed the hospitality of a country club that once had been a communist youth camp.
Occasionally their bus would arrive back on campus well after midnight, leaving little time for rest before early morning classes. But because they were accompanied by their Russian counterparts, including those same students who spent last spring semester at WTAMU, the junkets added immensely to the overall experience.
“A lot of great friendships were made,” said Lynsee Womble, Duman’s administrative assistant. “We traveled to Moscow and even went to Red Square. It was special to travel to the various points of interest with the people who live there. We became immersed in the culture and learned what it is really like—what they’re really like—and I think some of our students and theirs started relationships that will last.”
The institute provided accommodations in a residence hall, and Duman said no matter where they went the food was superb.
“They treated us like royalty, and that added a great deal to the experience,” Duman said, “But the bottom line is that our students, many of whom were not all that worldly before this trip, got to live and breathe another culture. They got to see how people in Russia cope and thrive, and the Russians got to see us, with all our freckles, spots and moles.
“Once you get to know the Russian people, it becomes evident that they are very warm. I think it is absolutely essential that we as a University continue to participate in exchange programs like this. At times it was both physically and mentally exhausting, but I think our students received permanent value and, when they look back, they’ll say they loved every minute of it.”
WTAMU students who made the trip to Russia are listed by hometowns.
Lindsey Coleman, a senior finance major
Grant McDivitt, a junior finance major
Katie Gustainis, a sophomore speech communication major
Paula Ibanez, a junior general business major
Thomas Grissom, a junior English major
Krisda Pongpraket, a graduate student in business
Maria Puentes, a senior management major
Melanie Walls, a graduate student in business
Dirk Swope, a senior management major
Dhaval Bhavsar, a senior finance major
Kelley Walls, a senior economics major
To learn more about opportunities afforded by the Study Abroad Program at West Texas A&M University, visit wtamu.edu/studyabroad.