The Third Annual Russian American Roundtable between CSULB and the Regional Open Society Institute of Kursk, Russia, returns to campus April 27-May 2.
The roundtable will attract 18 Russian teachers, business people, administrators and doctors to campus for a week of cross-cultural activities aimed at wiping out cultural stereotypes. The conference is sponsored by the university, the College of Education, the Department of Teacher Education, the Center for International Education (CED), the CED Student Ambassadors, the President’s Ambassadors Program, the Regional Open Social Institute (ROSI), the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music, CSULB’s Service Experiences for ReVitalizing Education program, the Emeriti Retired Faculty Association and friends of the Roundtable.
“This year, we want to expose our Russian visitors to more of Southern California,” said roundtable organizer Marsha Thicksten, who joined the Teacher Education Department full-time in 2000. “They are curious about what life here is really like. I remember the comments from medical students who accompanied the first visit in 2006. They said they found the Americans not to be as scary as they thought. We want to continue to dispel myths and stereotypes about each other.”
The week begins on Sunday, April 27, with a reception and a Western Ho Down at 6 p.m. followed on Monday, April 28, in the Karl Anatol Center with conference sessions running through the day including “Special Education in Russia: A Mother’s Story” by Natalie Kitsul from 3-5 p.m. On Tuesday, April 29, the Russian visitors will get a sample of a typical American Thanksgiving feast. Friday, May 2, features a series of research pods in the morning before a presentation by the President’s Ambassadors on student affairs and student life and a series of discussions from 4:30-7 p.m. on such topics as management, business, economics, linguistics, language, psychology, special education, health care, history and social studies. The discussions will be open to the public. The day will be capped by an evening of Russian chamber music beginning at 8 p.m. in the Gerald R. Daniel Recital Hall. Tickets to the performance may be purchased through the Carpenter Center by calling 562/985-4274.
“The Bob Cole Music Conservatory has included the roundtable in its 10-day celebration of its new name,” she said. “We will feature a prominent Russian musical director who will conduct CSULB students in a performance of a composition by CSULB Music graduate Alex Sramek. Our goal is to build real partnerships between the U.S. and Russia that are meaningful but allowed to grow in the ways participants want them to grow. That is the role of this organization -- to keep planting seeds. The roundtable has made a commitment to a five-year partnership but I hope we can extend that.”
One of the goals of this year’s roundtable is a memo of understanding between the Kursk ROSI and CSULB. “We’re trying to offer the Russians in-depth information about the possibility of a partnership,” she said. “I especially want to thank the Center for International Education for their support. Our eventual goal is to extend this international contact beyond the Teacher Education Department to the rest of the university. We’re ready to help create academic partnerships as well as cultural understanding.”
Thicksten hopes for both campus and community participation in the roundtable. “It’s very important that community, students, faculty, staff and administration attend,” she said. “I don’t want this opportunity for cross-cultural activities to be held in isolation. We want to expand the dialogue.”
Thicksten applauds the Teacher Education Department for its support. “The department is filled with unsung heroes who participate in international projects,” she said. “I’m especially grateful to teacher education chair Catherine DuCharme. I’m very pleased that we have that kind of support.” Thicksten also praised the SERVE program for its backing. The Long Beach Education Partnership project administered through the Center for Collaboration in Education “have given tremendous support,” she said.
Thicksten has seen her own cultural biases fade thanks to her participation. “My participation has helped me to appreciate the importance of nuance in achieving a more peaceful work. It has helped me know myself better,” she said. “When you stand back and see what the issues are all about, you begin to understand that this is a very small world.”
She hopes to extend the project beyond Russia to potential partnerships with educators in places as different as Mexico and India. “I want to create inclusive, collaborative projects that go beyond just a few departments or research projects or even countries,” she said. “Creating opportunity is why the roundtable plants seeds. Rather than exclusivity, inclusion is the vision.”
“I challenge participants to create new stereotypes that will build a positive outlook on the experiences we are creating together through the roundtable and future projects and research together,” said ROSI President Vladimir Petrov.
What Thicksten hopes roundtable participants get out of the event is a sense of what both nations have in common. “East and West are not so different,” she said. “We have a lot to share. We can agree to disagree. Our overall goal is to foster international understanding. I want to build on the understanding we have made and, from that basis, to dispel cultural myths. In the same way that someone from my duck-and-cover generation has preconceptions about Russians to overcome; CSULB students have the opportunity to review their own biases and fears. In today’s world, we have to look at cultural globally. We need to look at our fears and understand them.”