The Press-Republican (NY)
Posted on September 28, 2002
By Stephen Bartlett, Staff Writer
PLATTSBURGH - Russian students don't sit at individual desks.
"Our students sit by twos to bring up a sense of responsibility," said Irina Savitskaya, deputy dean and senior lecturer at Tomsk State University.
"American students are individual and responsible for themselves, but in our country the students rely on other people."
The 44-year-old is one of 10 Russian education leaders studying education reform in Plattsburgh. She's eager to return home and implement the methods and skills she learned here.
"I have a strong desire to go back and work."
Opening The World
A delegation of Russian education leaders spent more than a week in Plattsburgh as part of the U.S. Congress-sponsored Open World Program.
The program, managed by the Center for Russian Leadership Development at the Library of Congress, brings Russian leaders to the United States for in-depth exposure to American democratic and economic institutions.
Its goal is to foster understanding between the United States and the Russian Federation and to assist Russia's democratic and economic reforms.
An American teacher working in Russia urged Savitskaya to take part in the program.
"Several people applied."
So much time had lapsed after she applied that she had given up hope.
"When I found out, I was jumping."
Savitskaya dreamed of teaching as a small girl and had told her parents she would be an educator after her first lesson in elementary school.
She entered the university after high school and was later invited to work there.
"I like to communicate with people," she said. "To teach them and observe their progress."
She was eager to reach the United States and absorb as much information as possible.
"Some of us worried about coming to the United States and how it would be," Savitskaya said. "But now we are all so happy."
She has visited many European countries and says the first thing she noticed about the United States was the sincerity of the people she came in contact with.
"They want to do as much as they can for you," she said. "They don't count minutes."
Yelena Vansyatskaya agreed.
"People are so friendly and hospitable," said the 30-year-old assistant professor from Russia, who had also dreamed of teaching since she was a child.
"I've always been interested in languages," said Vansyatskaya, who teaches English.
The pair instantly noticed differences here.
"When the bell rings (in the public schools), everybody stands up to leave," Savitskaya said.
In Russia, no one leaves class without the teacher's permission.
"Maybe because of breaks," she said. "Our breaks are 15 minutes, and here you only have three minutes. I don't think I could do anything in three minutes."
American volunteerism impressed Vansyatskaya.
"Everybody is so involved. It shows that the nation is really open-hearted to those who need it."
Both noted that, like the U.S. teacher shortage, Russia also doesn't have enough teachers. And the pay is low for those who enter the profession.
Savitskaya said the first American class she encountered was indifferent and didn't seem interested in their Russian visitors. So she told them about her 14-year-old daughter, who is a fan of Eminem and Britney Spears.
"We celebrated at home when Eminem got MTV awards," she said. "After that, the ice was melting, and they started asking questions."
All in all, she and Vansyatskaya have found their observations of American education useful.
"I wish I could see more," Savitskaya said.
In all, 2,500 Russian leaders will participate in Open World this year, and more than 5,000 have been hosted in 50 states since the program began.
The 10-person group visiting Plattsburgh included department heads and faculty, municipal and non-governmental organization officials involved with education and a secondary-school principal.
They participated in classes at Plattsburgh State, shadowed public-school teachers, took part in tutoring, observed classes at Momot Elementary School, visited Champlain Valley Educational Services, met with Assemblyman Chris Ortloff and visited Clinton County Correctional Facility.
Plattsburgh State faculty member Marcia Gottschall organized the Russian's visit.
"My husband and I went to a former Soviet Republic and taught there," she said. "Because of that experience, I felt I could coordinate this program."
Gottschall said that such experiences are invaluable.
"This really is an educational and peace initiative."
© Copyright, 2002, The Press-Republican. Used with permission
[Reprinted with Permission]