Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Thoughts on Cultural Exchange

The level of cultural exchange that has occurred among the students has been incredible! While at Kuchak, we had the opportunity to really get to know other students.  We had students finding any common language they could: some Americans using German to speak with Russian students if both had studied it in school, some using Russian, others English, and some using me as an interpreter between English and Russian.  We had a fantastic game of volleyball, with Russians versus Americans.  The Russian students won the first round and the Americans the second.  We wondered if we should leave it at that for friendship's sake, but decided to play a third anyway.  The Russians ended up taking the third match, and we all had a great time!  We even went down the line and congratulated all of the players.  One of the Russian students then introduced us to the Russian banya, which is like a sauna.  This was a great cultural experience for all involved, as we got to try something very Russian.  We then took back to the cabins for some card playing, with the Russians teaching the American students "fool," a card game that is very popular here.  The students from Indiana then taught the Russian students how to play Eucher (unsure of spelling here), a card game that is played a lot in Indiana.  Though some of this took place with an interpreter present, much of it did not, and the students were very creative with explaining difficult rules to speakers of other languages.  Instead of playing cards after the first few rounds, I decided to talk to some of the students who weren't playing.  We started with a group of three of us in the hall chatting, but by the end of the conversation, we had attracted quite a few interested students, and our numbers swelled to 8-10.  They were asking me questions about our culture, our educational system, and even our political system, and then I would ask them questions, and we would talk about the similarities and differences.  It was amazing to get to know the students better, and to hear their impressions of us, and to share all of the things that we have enjoyed about being in Russia.  The relationships that have been built reaffirm to me the importance of cultural exchange, study abroad, and language learning.  I have seen how the students on both sides have become more motivated to learn each other's language in order to communicate better.  I have heard several students comment on how wonderful it has been to meet other people in their field who are studying much the same questions as they are.  We look forward to contuing to build these relationships when we return home.