This week I volunteered at Kyrgyz National University for the first half of each work day. My task was to conduct training sessions with language professors who will teach English-language courses tailored to specialized topics such as international relations, economic diplomacy, etc. I have a background in tutoring and consulting English writing students, specifically those who are second-language speakers, so I was happy to accept the opportunity to help. The East-West team was very gracious in allowing me to be out of the office for half of the work week.
The experience, overall, was quite interesting. On the first day of conducting training I confused KNU with another university closer to my apartment (because there are many universities in Bishkek!), so I was a little late arriving to the session. Thankfully, my apologies were not needed as the general sense of “lateness” is different here, as in many other parts of the world. In fact, others were even later to arrive. A typical tradition, which we also practiced in my Russian courses at Ohio State, is that a late student must stop at the door and request the teacher’s permission to enter. It was humorous to finally experience being on the opposite side of this tradition. Of course, I let late-arrivers enter without protest.
I conducted the trainings in a large conference room, with myself and professors situated around a large oval-shaped table. My hope was to keep our two-hour sessions relaxed and conversational, while fulfilling my goal of sharing information about activities that were conducted both in my writing consultation sessions and undergraduate language courses. My ultimate hope is that professors can take some of these practices and apply them to their courses in a useful manner, once they begin in the fall. With that in mind, I spent the first day outlining topics I hoped to discuss and conversed with professors about what they hoped to gain from the experience.
The professors’ questions and concerns mostly centered on topics such as in-class activities, strategies for conducting these activities, issues with grading activities, student participation, and improving overall student motivation. Over the following four days, I discussed topics such as profiling student skill levels, pairing students for activities, listening activities, visual/interpretation activities, workshops, and one-on-one consultation strategies. I occasionally had professors participate in some of these activities. For instance, though professors often assign students controlled writing activities, these are usually overnight homework assignments. I introduced the concept of free-writing and explained its benefits. Then, I had the professors do their very own ten minute free-writing session. Afterward, we discussed their free-writings in a workshop setting.
Following these training sessions, I would occasionally converse or go to lunch with one of the professors from the training course. It was nice to further discuss their experiences teaching in Bishkek. I learned that professors often conduct private lessons during the summer to supplement their incomes. I offered to attend some of their private classes to converse with their students.
For the remainder of the day I returned to the office and assisted with available work. I analyzed and gave feedback on an online free-legal aid map that will soon be brought under the control and oversight of the Kyrgyz Ministry of Justice. This also entailed reading and commenting on a preliminary report/analysis written in Russian. Though its functionality is acceptable, there are a number of usability issues that Meder and I discussed. We now plan to present our concerns to the company currently overseeing the map system. Additionally, I assisted with editing a success story that highlighted efforts to renovate a pubic irrigation system in the city of Karakol.
Next week, I will be joining the team to go to the south of the country to attend the openings of free legal aid centers (FLACs). I am thrilled to see even more of the country, and locals have told me that after this trip, the only famous destination left to see will be the Issyk-Kul region. My main task during these openings is to be a photographer. As such, Fatima from the office provided me a brief training on using East-West’s DSLR camera. I am excited to attend the ceremonies, but I am a little apprehensive to try a task that is certainly outside of my comfort zone. I have been told to shoot as many photos as possible and then choose the “winners” later.
I have also had the opportunity to get out and socialize more in the last couple of weeks. I have met several Americans working with Fulbright scholarships and others who are here working for the Peace Corps. Interestingly, the first American I met is not only also from Ohio, but also studied at The Ohio State University in the same department as me. Since then, I have met two other Ohio State students/fellow alumni and numerous other interesting and talented people, who are more familiar with the local scene in Bishkek. It is interesting to consider just how small the world truly is.
On Friday, our office had a cookout for the last two hours of the workday. We ate shashlik, which is essentially what Americans would call kebabs. However, the skewers only have meat on them, with the vegetables laid-out on a platter for later addition. Kebabs = with vegetables. Shashliki = without. I will be sure to pass along the info when I return home.
Life has been going quite smoothly over the last week or so. It is hard to believe that it is already over a week into June. The date of my departure, July 26th, seems to be approaching at light speed. Nonetheless, until then, I am excited to see more of the country and to continue meeting interesting people.
If you are interested in more details regarding EWMI CGP and the wonderful work the program is doing, I encourage you to visit the EWMI CGP page on Facebook! : https://web.facebook.com/collaborative.governance.program/