“Baker and Tsat­urov have both ob­served the dif­fer­ences be­tween schools here and schools in Amer­ica, re­mark­ing specif­i­cally on rem­nants of the Soviet Union. “There is a fo­cus on gram­mar and other text­book ex­er­cises, and stu­dents do not speak very much in c

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Mara Moet­tus

“For Mack, the dif­fer­ences came as a sur­prise. “I re­mem­ber how stunned I was at the be­gin­ning when I first taught a poem to a class of 10th graders,” she tells me. “I was met with perfect si­lence, as the stu­dents stared at me and waited for me to con­tinue lec­tur­ing. ”

Flan­nery Mack, an English Teach­ing As­sis­tant (ETA) through the Ful­bright U.S. Stu­dent Pro­gram, re­calls a les­son she taught in Sal­dus, Latvia, on the sub­ject of Martin Luther King Jr. “The les­son in­volved a brief dis­cus­sion of Amer­i­can his­tory in the 1950’s and 60’s that in­cluded a lot of pic­tures, such as po­lice in­ter­ven­tion and signs for seg­re­gated pub­lic spa­ces, “Mack tells me, not­ing that she re­peated the lec­ture in her sixth, sev­enth, tenth, and eleventh grade class­rooms. She played a video of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and later asked the stu­dents to write about their own dream for the fu­ture. She was floored by the thought­ful re­sponses, in­clud­ing a dream from a 10th grade stu­dent that “every­one who has had to leave Latvia will come back and be able to live a suc­cess­ful and happy life here.”

Mack is a par­tic­i­pant in the largest U.S. ex­change pro­gram, which op­er­ates in 140 coun­tries, and awards ap­prox­i­mately 1,900 grants each year. Started in 1946 by Arkansas Sen­a­tor Wil­liam J Ful­bright, the Ful­bright Pro­gram aims to “pro­mote in­ter­na­tional good­will through the ex­change of stu­dents in the fields of ed­u­ca­tion, cul­ture, and sci­ence.” There are two com­po­nents – English Teach­ing As­sis­tantships (ETAS) and re­search and study grants – both of which seek to fa­cil­i­tate cul­tural ex­change be­tween Amer­i­cans and cit­i­zens of other na­tions. The Stu­dent Pro­gram is just one of a hand­ful of pro­grams run by Ful­bright, in­clud­ing pro­grams that send aca­demics from the Baltic States to teach and study in Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties.

Cur­rently, ten Ful­bright Stu­dents, in­clud­ing my­self, are teach­ing and study­ing in the Baltic States. Place­ments range from Riga, Tallinn, and Vil­nius to the small town of Lub na, Latvia, where I com­mute from Madona once a week to teach in the town’s sec­ondary school.

Many of the folks in­volved with the pro­gramme are worth of a sep­a­rate story, but let me bring up a cou­ple of them who have been a great as­set to the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and the pro­gramme it­self.

Rasa Bauku­viene, the In­ter­na­tional Ex­change and Aca­demic Af­fairs Spe­cial­ist at the U.S. Em­bassy in Lithua­nia, notes that “the pro­gram has helped to es­tab­lish a net­work of Lithua­nian and Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion that ex­change lec­tur­ers, sci­en­tific re­searchers and stu­dents.” Bauku­viene sees the pro­gram as fun­da­men­tally bi­lat­eral, and em­pha­sizes that ini­tial­iz­ing con­tacts be­tween the two coun­tries can re­sult in longterm co­op­er­a­tion and part­ner­ship. This year, Lithua­nia is cel­e­brat­ing the 25th an­niver­sary of the pro­gram.

Al­li­son Ger­main, who is “ex­cited by the op­por­tu­nity to add an ex­per­i­men­tal com­po­nent to her dis­ser­ta­tion,” has been re­search­ing the syn­tax of Lithua­nian and Rus­sian in Vil­nius. Ger­main at­tends the Univer­sity of Washington for her grad­u­ate stud­ies, and has been able to con­duct a large sur­vey of na­tive speak­ers since be­gin­ning her grant. “I like that the Ful­bright is not com­pletely fo­cused on re­search and en­cour­ages grantees to get in­volved in the lo­cal com­mu­nity,” Ger­main adds, not­ing that she has been able to visit lan­guage classes in area schools.

Jus­tine Koontz, of Elder­s­burg, Mary­land, has sim­i­larly in­volved her­self in the com­mu­nity in R ga by par­tic­i­pat­ing in lo­cal choirs. Fas­ci­nated by the na­tional so­bri­quet of “the coun­try that sings,” Koontz chose Latvia in or­der to delve into the “great wealth of singing that takes place here.” Hav­ing never pre­vi­ously stud­ied or lived abroad, the Ful­bright has opened her eyes to dif­fer­ent so­cial rules and habits, not least of which in­volve singing. “I’ve not only been learn­ing a great deal about Lat­vian cho­ral cul­ture, but also a lot about Amer­i­can cho­ral cul­ture, sim­ply be­cause I can now see it from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive that wasn’t avail­able to me be­fore,” Koontz re­marks. The big­gest dif­fer­ence she has found is that Amer­ica is heav­ily fo­cused on collegiate choirs, whereas com­mu­nity, school, and pro­fes­sional choirs in Latvia have a greater in­flu­ence.

Like Koontz and Ger­main, Vic­to­ria Pre­ston and Au­den Lin­coln-vo­gel are car­ry­ing out re­search grants in the Baltics, both based in Tallinn, Es­to­nia. Yet the two Ful­bright Stu­dents came to Es­to­nia to ex­plore vastly dif­fer­ent aca­demic in­ter­ests: Pre­ston to pur­sue oceanic sci­ence, and Lin­coln-vo­gel to cre­ate an an­i­mated film.

Pre­ston, of Edgewater, Mary­land, is work­ing on de­vel­op­ing “low-cost, small, au­ton­o­mous un­der­wa­ter ro­bots” to aid his­to­ri­ans and marine arche­ol­o­gists in reach­ing places that are in­ac­ces­si­ble to hu­man divers. She came to Es­to­nia to gain ad­di­tional prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence in her field of ocean sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing prior to be­gin­ning her PHD pro­gram: “The Ful­bright grant al­lowed me to do this with one of the few labs in the world aligned with my field of ex­per­tise while also giv­ing me full con­trol over my own work.”

On the other end of the spec­trum, Lin­coln-vo­gel is work­ing on an an­i­mated film with guid­ance from Es­to­nian an­i­ma­tor Priit Parn. “The lack of pub­lic funds for the arts in the U.S. has pre­vented mar­ginal art forms like an­i­ma­tion from de­vel­op­ing from some­thing purely com­mer­cial into some­thing ar­tis­ti­cally valu­able,” Lin­coln-vo­gel ex­plains. In Es­to­nia, he is able to learn from an an­i­ma­tion tra­di­tion that fas­ci­nates him while work­ing in a coun­try that al­lo­cates greater funds to artis­tic and ex­per­i­men­tal films.

Jane Susi, who works in the Cul­tural and Ed­u­ca­tional Pro­grams depart­ment of the U.S. Em­bassy in Tallinn, ex­plains that the Ful­bright pro­gram was im­por­tant to Es­to­nia dur­ing the tran­si­tion to democ­racy. “In the early 1990’s, as Es­to­nia was re­gain­ing its right­ful place back in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, Ful­bright served as a mech­a­nism to es­tab­lish re­la­tion­ships with U.S. aca­demic com­mu­nity and bring back ideas dur­ing a time of tremen­dous change,” she tells me. As ev­i­denced by the projects be­ing com­pleted by both Pre­ston and Lin­coln-vo­gel, Es­to­nia now of­fers Ful­bright par­tic­i­pants many op­por­tu­ni­ties that are un­avail­able in the U.S. “Es­to­nia is the source of in­spi­ra­tion and in­no­va­tion in many mod­ern fields, such as Cy­ber Se­cu­rity, that U.S. part­ners want to tap into,” Susi fur­thers.

While the Ful­bright re­searchers de­sign and im­ple­ment in­di­vid­u­al­ized projects, ETA’S are sent to dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties and tasked with pro­vid­ing English lan­guage in­struc­tion in schools, uni­ver­si­ties, and other venues. The ETA ex­pe­ri­ence can vary greatly, and de­pends on the re­gion, the size of the com­mu­nity, and the in­sti­tu­tion in which you are placed.

Christina Baker, orig­i­nally from Texas, is cur­rently an ETA in Narva, Es­to­nia. Baker works at an NGO as well as the Amer­i­can Cor­ner, where she teaches in­for­mal English les­sons to stu­dents of all ages – from kinder­garten to adults – and oc­ca­sion­ally vis­its schools to lec­ture on Amer­i­can cul­ture. For Baker, the Ful­bright has given her the chance to ap­ply her the­o­ret­i­cal knowl­edge from univer­sity to a real-world con­text. “My de­gree is ac­tu­ally in Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence, and I spe­cial­ized in Post-soviet Eastern and North­ern Europe,” Baker ex­plains. “I al­ways found this re­gion to be in­ter­est­ing, and I really wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence the cul­ture first hand –not just from books.”

In Rezekne, Latvia, Alisa Tsat­urov teaches at three sec­ondary schools as well as the Rezekne Academy of Tech­nolo­gies. Tsat­urov is from Rockville, Mary­land, not far from Washington DC, and

worked at the For­eign Ser­vice In­sti­tute for two years be­fore ap­ply­ing to teach in Latvia. Tsat­urov uti­lizes games such as Taboo and Pic­tionary to en­cour­age stu­dents to speak freely, move around the class­room, and step out­side their com­fort zones.

Baker and Tsat­urov have both ob­served the dif­fer­ences be­tween schools here and schools in Amer­ica, re­mark­ing specif­i­cally on rem­nants of the Soviet Union. “There is a fo­cus on gram­mar and other text­book ex­er­cises, and stu­dents do not speak very much in class,” Tsat­urov ex­plains. Baker sees the class­rooms in Narva as char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally teacher-cen­tric. “That’s not to say Amer­i­can schools are the best at be­ing stu­dent-cen­tric classes,” she clar­i­fies, “but it’s still a strik­ing dif­fer­ence from the class­rooms I’ve seen here.”

For Mack, the dif­fer­ences came as a sur­prise. “I re­mem­ber how stunned I was at the be­gin­ning when I first taught a poem to a class of 10th graders,” she tells me. “I was met with perfect si­lence, as the stu­dents stared at me and waited for me to con­tinue lec­tur­ing.” Yet Mack is very im­pressed by the sense of the com­mu­nity and fa­mil­iar­ity be­tween in­di­vid­ual teach­ers and their stu­dents, and ob­served that no stu­dents pass through sec­ondary school un­no­ticed.

Dis­cov­er­ies of cul­tural dif­fer­ences are pre­cisely what the Ful­bright aims to fa­cil­i­tate, as they in­crease mu­tual un­der­stand­ing be­tween cit­i­zens of the Baltic na­tions and those of the United States. Given to­day’s volatile po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, Bauku­vien be­lieves that in­ter­na­tional ex­change is more vi­tal now than ever. “Some of democ­racy’s best tools in the war on ter­ror are ed­u­ca­tion, mu­tual un­der­stand­ing, co­op­er­a­tion,” she un­der­scores.

As an ETA in Madona, Ces­vaine, and Lubana, Latvia, I was able to act as a judge for the re­gional English lan­guage com­pe­ti­tion, in which stu­dents spoke on the topic of “this gen­er­a­tion”. I lis­tened in­tently as high school stu­dents elo­quently ex­pounded ideas about na­tional iden­tity, the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of to­day’s youth, and the fu­ture of the Lat­vian lan­guage and tra­di­tions. Though I came to Latvia to ex­plore the coun­try where my grand­mother grew up, the Ful­bright Stu­dent Pro­gram has given me tremen­dous in­sight into Latvia in the 21st cen­tury.

While grantees are tasked with cer­tain re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, ca­sual cul­tural ex­changes that take place dur­ing a Ful­bright year can en­hance the un­der­stand­ing of all as­pects of life in the Baltic States. In ad­di­tion to the “oo­dles” of in­for­ma­tion Pre­ston has learned about oceanic en­gi­neer­ing, she em­pha­sizes that be­ing in Es­to­nia has taught her other in­valu­able les­sons: “There is so much I have learned about hu­man per­sis­tence, re­silience, and pa­tri­o­tism from the long his­tory of oc­cu­pa­tion, and rel­a­tively re­cent in­de­pen­dence.”

Map of US Ful­bright Stu­dents in the Baltics

Mara Moet­tus on Septem­ber 1, lubana, latvia

Rezekne Academy of Tech­nolo­gies

Flan­nery Mack and Stu­dents in Sal­dus, latvia

jus­tine Koontz

Alisa Tsat­urov in Rezekne, latvia

Christina Baker in Narva, Es­to­nia

Stu­dents carve pump­kins for Hal­loween in Sal­dus, latvia

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