Dr. Len Holmes tours Moscow, then journeys to Siberia
Editor’s Note: Chemistry Professor Dr. Len Holmes is on a five-week education mission to Tomsk State Pedagogical University. This is the first installment of his travel journal.
By Dr. Leonard Holmes
Tuesday, March 8
After a 10-hour flight out of Raleigh-Durham airport, I arrived in Moscow and was collected by Tatiana, (email@example.com), a professor of mass media production at Moscow University and sister-in-law of Tomsk State Pedagogical University’s Rector Valery Obukhov. Customs and passport clearance were no problem .. smooth. The weather was about –5 degrees centigrade, balmy for the Muscovites.
Professor Tatiana and I were joined by her colleague Professor Irena Krivonosova (firstname.lastname@example.org). My new Russian friends took me to a wonderful lunch at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Moscow. It happened to be National Woman’s Day, a Russian national holiday, and the hotel was in good cheer. A lunch of traditional Russian foods and wines was eaten with the music of a delightful band playing many American standards, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holliday and new tunes like Stevie Wonder and other easy listening. Russian desserts are very tasty and the Russian people are particularly proud of them. We ate fish, beef and many new dishes and lots of red caviar, which I thought was berry jam! We dined for approximately three hours, and afterwards the colleagues escorted me on a tour of Moscow. Red Square is an immense mall bordering the Kremlin, which is surrounded by a high strong wall. It appeared ironic that adjacent to Red Square is a huge department store mall. It is three stories filled with all kind of shops selling merchandise from all over the world. Muscovites appeared to be very prosperous.
Driving through Moscow is a hair-rising experience. I could not determine the traffic control patterns and was thankful to be a passenger with experienced Moscow citizens. I saw the famous Bolshoi Theatre. Moscow is a city of art and has many magnificent theatres and halls.
The Moscow women are very fashionable. Mink and sable seemed to be the primary great coats worn by the women. My colleagues concurred.
Wednesday, March 9
Upon Vladimir’s departure, I spent a couple of hours walking through the town of Tomsk. The Cyrillic alphabet is very different, and it was an adventure trying to understand what the shops and buildings were about. I eventually found a small market, and purchased some basic groceries and returned to my flat.
Succumbing to extreme jet lag, I quickly fell asleep until mid afternoon, when Vladimir returned to bring me to visit with the Rector. It was good to meet Rector Obukhov again. Professor Anatoly Kopytov was there to greet me also. He visited UNCP last year with the rector. After presenting Chancellor Meador’s letter of introduction, the four of us went into Tomsk to dine. Everyone except me wore fur hats.
The Rector had made a point to assure that I was given an authentic Russian meal of fish and caviar. We toasted to the collaboration several times with Vodka produced in Tomsk, Siberia. Very cordial discussions occurred at the meal. I noted that the Rector was now able to speak much better English.
After dinner, Vladimir took me shopping. Tomsk paid me compensation of 12,000 rubles. One U.S. dollar equals 27.5 rubles. At the market, I purchased (with much help) some more basic foods, fruit, cheese, milk, juice and cookies. Upon arriving back in my flat, I again fell victim to deep sleep. Thursday, March 10 will be a busy day. I will meet faculty, students and present a seminar “Education in the USA,” as well as work with Tomsk faculty on a cross-cultural education article.
Thursday, March 10
I had the opportunity to speak to several classes of high school children at the Siberian Lyceum. Many of the kids had some basic understanding of English. Their teachers (at least in these classrooms) did not understand English.
I had the opportunity for a short interview of the lyceum’s principal who was very proud of her institution. Teachers are given the highest respect here. Upon entering one classroom, the whole class would stand up at attention, until told to sit by the teacher. The students knew of my appointment and were attentive to my lesson on the American education system. The students and teachers were very curious about the organization and structure of American schools. In the U.S., I would not expect questions from high school students about funding and the influence the federal government has on local education!I also taught a chemistry course to what would be a 9th grade class. Several of the students took turns serving as my interpreter. On the whole, it appeared that these youngsters might have had a better grasp of chemical principles than most of our incoming college freshman at UNC Pembroke. I have taught a few high school classes in the States and a main challenge was maintaining class order .. not a problem in Siberian classes!
Finally, I was taken back when many of the students asked me to autograph their notebooks. I suspect that for many in the school I was the first American they had met face-to-face.
Siberians - in Tomsk at least - are not as diverse as we are in the U.S. Mongolian heritage appears to be a small minority here. I have been told that Chinese are slowly immigrating into Siberia because of greater opportunities. In large part, the Chinese are invisible because they work very hard and stay pretty much to themselves.
As in Moscow, Siberian women dress very fashionably. Mink, raccoon and sable great coats are standard female garb for the street. They all wear hats, men and women. I did not see a single man who was bareheaded. The hats are also of fur, have earflaps and are available in several styles.
Tomsk is a large city and the seat of the Tomsk Oblast (territory) government. There are many shops in the city. I have not yet seen a “supermarket” as we have in the U.S. I live in downtown Tomsk and have discovered a small grocery store where I can purchase foods. Each solo excursion is like an adventure to me. The alphabet is Cyrillian, and not at all familiar. At this point I dare not roam too far from the apartment, because I have absolutely no idea of my address. Most adults speak very little English, if any at all. In the event I became disoriented, I could possibly find myself wandering the frozen streets for hours. There are people walking everywhere, all wearing fur and carrying shopping bags! I learned the hard way that retail shops may not provide “plastic or paper.” Because of the strangeness of the signage and the alphabet, I am only slowly expanding my range from my flat. (They are called flats, not apartments here). If I did get lost and was lucky enough to locate a policeman or English speaker, I could not tell him my address!
Functional illiteracy is my huge challenge. All media, TV, newspapers and radio is in Russian, which makes no sense to this American. I carried my little transistor radio, but alas I don’t expect to tune in All Things Considered or beach music! However, Russian music programs are sprinkled with a few familiar American tunes in English. No hip-hop or country music for the citizens of Tomsk. They may be playing such music in their autos, but of course auto windows are rolled up tight.
I have been kept very busy. My hosts have detailed a complete itinerary for me. Today, I will address the administrators and faculty of TSPU at the beginning of a general meeting. I include my short speech, which is to be published by the Institute of Education
Friday, March 11
I began the day with a morning walk before being picked up by Magarita (International Programs) and Dr. Palianov, director of pedagogical sciences. This day I wore my ski cap and was very glad that I did so. I had about one hour free, and my intention was to explore a bit of the neighborhood without getting lost. I did not know my address if it became necessary to ask for help finding my way home.
Tomsk citizens are very busy in the morning rush. There is not much socializing as far as I could detect, just walking on ice. Come to think of it, the icy walks might be the reason they talk very little, needing to pay attention to each step on the slippery surfaces. I took a few shots of ladies in fur. There is fur everywhere in Tomsk.
I saw that the public transportation was abundant in the morning. Trolleys and buses are jam-packed with commuters, especially the buses. One must be very, very careful crossing the street in Tomsk. The pedestrian does not have the right-of-way, it seems. Also, the roads, like the sidewalk are covered with snow and ice. Tomsk citizens must learn to walk and drive on ice. I look at people’s shoes and tires to see if they are very different from ours in North Carolina.
I was kept very busy today. My day was spent at Tomsk University. The night before I prepared my “speech” to the faculty and administrators. The meeting began with the provost making a few comments and introducing me to the audience. At the end of my talk there was applause. I suspect it is tradition.
In the afternoon, I gave a lecture to a conversational English class. There were about 60 students in the class. There were only two male students. I am just guessing that Russian men do not commonly go into the teaching profession. I spoke to the class about the geography, culture and government of the U.S. in the context of education in America. I had fun. Only three or four students had visited the U.S., and they were very interested in what I had to say. Questions were taken from them during the period, and hopefully I was able to help them in their questions.
The last couple hours of the afternoon were filled with a meeting with the Dean of Faculty of Foreign Languages, Professor Nina Zhukova and two other professors, Drs. Sergey Glushkov and Ludmila Ananyena. They are very, very interested in building an English as a second language program with UNCP. We exchanged questions, ideas and brainstormed the options. I will write Dr. (Alex) Chen (International Programs) to get some clarification on UNCP’s needs and expectations for such a program. My new Russian colleagues will put together a document describing their needs and expectations. There are many issues, ranging from credits, participation and financial considerations. Lots of work to do here. This will require some very substantive input from UNCP administrators.
Good bye for now..
Symposium on China is March 18 –19
On March 18 - 19, the South Atlantic States Association for Asian and African Studies (SASAAAS) will meet on our campus. The theme of this conference is "China--State of the Country."
Because UNCP is a member institution, attendance at this conference is free to our faculty, staff and students; however, anyone wishing to attend the dinner on Friday night will need to contact Dr. John Bowman regarding reservations and costs.
This professional development opportunity will begin on Friday afternoon at 4 P.M., and there will be presentations on Chinese politics, economics, music and public health issues. Please consider attending, especially those of you who are in departments that now have partnerships with Chinese universities.
For additional information or details, please contact John Bowman at extension 6626 or at email@example.com.
See updated ‘employee perks’ Web site
The Office of State Personnel (OSP) is continuously adding businesses
to the State Employee Perks Benefit Program. This week, OSP has added
some motels in the Triangle area and a Long Term Care option.
WEB SITES OF INTEREST