Saturday, July 18, 2009

St. Scholastica - Russian college exchange program still going strong

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This month, a group of 20 Russian students, two faculty members, and one sponsor are visiting Duluth in what has become an annual exchange between the College of St. Scholastica and a Russian university. Since its inception, more than 500 students and faculty have taken part in the program.

When Tom Morgan left the Duluth News Tribune in 1989 to accept a faculty position at the College of St. Scholastica, his first thought was to call a good friend in the USSR, Vladimir Prozorov.

“It was very hard to get through,” Morgan said. “Russia was a Soviet nation at the time.”

Morgan had met Prozorov, a professor of English from Karelian State Pedagogical University in Petroza-vodsk, Russia, during a trip in 1986.

Twenty years later, the relationship his late-night phone call set into motion is continuing to grow.

This month, a group of 20 Russian students, two faculty members, and one sponsor are visiting Duluth in what has become an annual exchange between the colleges. Since its inception, more than 500 students and faculty have taken part in the program.

“I and a bunch of other people in Duluth decided that the Cold War had gone on long enough and we would establish a people-to-

people relationship with Russia,” Morgan said. “So we went there, and we struck it right.”

With his new position at St. Scholastica, Morgan worked with Prozorov to establish Karelian State and St. Scholastica as sister colleges.

“The whole idea is to make it a two-year cycle; so one year we Ameri-cans are the teachers, we are showing Russians about our way of life, and the next year we go to Russia and the role is reversed,” Morgan said.

Russians arrived July 5 and will stay until July 29. Students spend mornings in class and afternoons in activities such as wall-climbing, attending a powwow and canoeing.

Alexander Balagurov, 21, said he became involved with the exchange program last summer when a group of St. Scholastica students visited Petrozavodsk, and after that he hoped to visit Duluth. His good grades and involvement helped get him a spot on the trip this summer.

“Duluth equals paradise,” Balagurov said. “When I am asked what the highlight of the trip was, I will say, ‘The whole trip was the highlight.’ ”

The program aims to help students answer the question: “What does it mean to be an American?”

“Because it’s summer, we’re so relaxed,” Morgan said. “We do a lot of playing, too. … In playing, you establish relationships that you don’t in academics.”

Classroom topics include American religion, American justice, American Indian culture, American language and literature, jazz and

baseball.

The students are studying to become English teachers, said Alla Sakharova, 21. It is important for them to experience an English-speaking country like America, but difficult to find an opportunity.

Morgan said the exchange has had a big impact on the way Americans and Russians perceive one another, even if on a small scale.

“They were stuck in the same way of thinking as us: ‘America is bad; Russia is bad’ and I see that changing,” Morgan said. “The biggest effect — I’ve lost track of how many marriages have come out of it. There have been several. I think we’re into double-digits.” Duluth News Tribune

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