April 27, 2010

ALLIANCE, Ohio ? "I would have never gone to Russia if it weren't for this opportunity," said Julie Orris, a sophomore at Mount Union College. "But now I'm going to go back!"

Orris is referring to a trip taken to Kursk, Russia, by three members of the Mount Union faculty and two students who participated in the educational component of the Russia Initiative, sponsored by the East Ohio Conference (EOC) of the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Frank Triplett, professor of French and chair of the foreign language department; Dr. Mark Himmelein, assistant professor of German; Dr. Thomas Carr, assistant professor of religion and philosophy; Rebecca Hovanec, a sophomore at Mount Union; and Orris were selected as participants for the venture.

"Mount Union has participated in the EOC's Russia Initiative since 1997," said Triplett, who along with now-retired professor of religion and philosophy professor Dr. Donald Buckley was the first faculty member to travel to Kursk State Pedagogical College.

According to Triplett, the EOC implemented the program in order to provide social programs for the Russian people.

Triplett, who has returned several times to Kursk, is quick to point out that many stereotypes Americans have toward Russians are untrue. "We often see them as unfriendly, cold enemies," he said. "However, they are in reality very warm, friendly, and open to learn from us."

Although he has done his fair share of traveling, Triplett still felt inclined to say that he had "never been received so well."

On this visit, Triplett visited many classes, even having the opportunity to teach French and English to the Russians.

Although Himmelein has also traveled to Kursk three times, he said he still learns something new each visit. "Because I wrote a proposal to develop a three-week immersion study program which will take place in May of 2002," he said, "I learned to maneuver with Russian bureaucracy a little better."

Himmelein also was able to visit classes, participating as a guest speaker. He spent much time meeting with the International Program Office in order to discuss the aforementioned program and its implementation.

Orris and Hovanec, however, were struck as to how studious the Russian students were. "They were so knowledgeable about American culture," Hovanec said. "They would ask us simple questions about Russian literature and composers, and we would have to admit that we didn't know the answers. We just aren't taught much about Russia in American schools."

Orris added, "The teachers are underpaid, yet they still work six days a week and their school building seemed poor compared to American standards, but the students were still happy to be there."

Hovanec mentioned that the trip had special meaning for her, as she had been raised Russian Orthodox. "I was able to see where my religion came from," she said. "It had always been my dream to stand in front of Saint Basil's Cathedral."

Hovanec was able to realize this dream, as she and Orris toured the Cathedral, Seven Ugly Sisters, Red Square and Lenin's Tomb. They also attended classes at the college and watched traditional Russian singers, dancers and games.

In addition, Hovanec and Orris were given the responsibility of interviewing Russian students to see who the next Kursk student to attend Mount Union College would be. Orris lamented the difficult decision and said, "They were all perfect!"

These two women were chosen out of a group of 14 Mount Union students who applied to go on the trip. Four faculty members, in addition to Triplett, applied for the trip and two were chosen. The trip was completely paid for by the EOC and all participants stayed with families.

"It was a very difficult decision," Triplett said. "If students weren't chosen, they shouldn't despair because they were in good company."

Orris and Hovanec would not hesitate to recommend the trip to anyone. "We had such a good time," Hovanec said, "And we were able to build everlasting relationships."

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