While reading the Reimers material, I found myself considering a line of thought similar to what Rob Leith's posted yesterday (Tuesday, 8/20). Rob wrote about how his experience leading a trip to Venice last summer connected to the idea of an exchange within our own country. Specifically:
"I wonder if BB&N has more in common with the schools abroad with which we conduct exchanges than we do with many schools in our own country, in the Deep South in particular."
I thought about this question in detail while working towards my last degree in Dublin, Ireland. I was often asked whether I experienced culture shock living abroad. Beyond some minor cultural and linguistic barriers, though, it really did not feel alien. My sense was that people my age had similar goals and expectations from life, and that people living in urban Western areas had a number of cultural touchstones in common. I agree that we may find a more dramatic difference in perspective within our own country - and that the skills that Reimers relates to cultural literacy can be effective in an analysis of the cultures within the US, especially in regards to the first and third dimensions of global competency (188, 189).
As a Russian teacher at the US who conducts the annual Russian Exchange with our sister school in Moscow, this line of reasoning led me to consider a few additional points. I began to wonder if I have drawn too much emphasis on Russian as a way to connect to foreign countries, such as Russia itself and the CIS, at the risk of excluding connections through Russian that exist within our own society (such as the sizable Russian-language immigrant population in Brookline and surrounding areas). I mention these groups during class, of course, but so much focus outside of class rests on the Russian exchange and drawing our gaze to the horizon rather than to our own back yard.
There are logical reasons for this. BB&N students have BB&N schedules during our school year, and it is quite difficult to come up with an extracurricular program that will fit their time constraints. I could, though, put more emphasis on field trips during our school day, and take advantage of local resources such as the BSO and the Harvard Slavic Department.
I was also left with a question and I would be grateful for any fresh perspectives. I strive to incorporate the exchange experiences into the classroom, and utilize these to develop the "global competency" that Reimers discusses - from the feelings of empathy in the first dimension to the comparative cultural study of the third. I have found this to be engaging for the students, and a welcome change from discussion that center around my knowledge of Russian culture. I have found it difficult, though, to navigate around the fact that a limited number of my students have traveled to Russia on the exchange, while many others have not. How can one facilitate a discussion that by nature excludes those who cannot draw on first-hand experience?
Josh Walker, US Russian