Last week (June 13th-21st), Dr. Tatiana Nekrasova-Beker served as the Project Director for a cultural exchange project, titled Territory Identity of Russia and America through the Eyes of Young Generations, carried out as a part of the 2015- 2016 Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The project was conducted in collaboration with the National Research Tomsk Polytechnic University in Russia. Dr. Anthony Becker also assisted in organizing this event and helped to co-host the Russian team during their stay in Fort Collins.

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Dr. Tatiana Nekrasova-Beker

From June 13th through the 21st, students from both universities met for a weeklong seminar in Fort Collins, CO and began compiling information for an online encyclopedic dictionary (in English) of culturally specific places in Northern Colorado. They worked in international teams with 1-2 representatives from both universities.

To see their work so far, visit:  http://peertopeer.colostate.edu/

The second seminar will be held in Tomsk, Russia (August 4-15, 2016), and the students will do something similar, focusing on regions that reflect the uniqueness and significance of Tomsk and compiling information for an online encyclopedic dictionary of culturally specific places. Activities will include lectures, focus group discussions, visiting unique locations and places in the region, and working in international teams to develop and present their projects.

Ice Cream in Fort Collins with Students from Tomsk, Russia

Participants from CSU and Tomsk Polytechnic University enjoying Ice Cream in Old Town

Check out the following interviews with CSU participants, Jenny Stetson-Strange and Adele Lonas: 


 

Jenny Stetson-Strange (MA in TESL/TEFL MAY 2017)

What inspired you to apply for this program?

The desire to be in a classroom again and teach English to non-native speakers. I thoroughly enjoy building relationships with other people from various walks of life and this inspired me to go back to school and obtain a master’s degree.

What culturally-specific place did you choose to research in Colorado? Why did you choose this place?

The Mishawaka Amphitheatre. It’s unique to Colorado and this year it’s celebrating 100 years. Walter Thompson discovered Mishawaka in 1916 and deemed it a dance / music hall. It has kept its heritage for 100 years. Various musical bands frequent this hot spot throughout the year. As well, the restaurant and venue sit along the Cache La Poudre River in the canyon.

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The Mishawaka Stage (photo from http://www.themishawaka.com/)

What culturally-specific place are you going to research in Russia? 

My partner from Russia selected her place in Russia – a Monastery.

What was it like to collaborate internationally with students from Tomsk Polytechnic University?

I believe the word collaboration is key when it comes to this project. Two countries coming together to work on a single project is special. Collaboration is vital for success in this world and for us to work on a project together is of important significance as it brings unity.

What was the most rewarding part of this experience so far?

Collaborating with my friends from Russia!

What are you looking forward to most when you travel to Tomsk, Russia?

Seeing my friends again, traveling with my colleagues and professors, building relationships with friends, and working on a unique place in Tomsk, Russia.


 

Adele Lonas (Joint Masters TEFL/TESL and Spanish Language and Literature, Spring/ Summer 2017)

What inspired you to apply for this program? 

There are various things, all kind of intertwined/ connected that inspired me to apply to the exchange program. My mother had traveled to Russia (at that point, the USSR) in 1965, and had studied Russian Language and Literature in college, so my first introduction to a second language as a child was to her books in Russian. Similarly, she would tell stories to me of what she saw. The impact of this was heightened by the fact that this was in the 80’s when Russia was still the USSR.

This led to my own fascination with Dr. Zhivago as a teenager (the movie and the book, although the movie was filmed in Spain), which led to a very romanticized version of Russia as being a land of intellectual revolutionaries and endless snowy expanses.

So the idea of being able to go to Siberia, of seeing this dot named Tomsk on a map in the middle of Siberia, just north of Mongolia and Kazakhstan, a place where I would never be likely to have the money to visit, was exciting, to say the least. Also, the fact that the exchange program involved a concrete outcome (the website) really interested me. It seemed like a great opportunity to learn a skill (designing a web page) that could be used in multiple professional situations.

What culturally-specific place did you choose to research in Colorado? Why did you choose this place? 

I chose Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. I had learned about within the first month of being here, and visited, but then didn’t have the chance to go back until applying for the program. It interested me because of it’s rich historical, ecological and recreational role. The archaeological site there rewrote the understanding the human history at the time it was discovered in the 1930’s. And it is an open space–a massive expanse of protected prairie.

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The arroyo surrounding the Lindenmeier archaeological site (Folsom culture) on Soapstone Prairie Natural Area near Fort Collins, Colorado. By Sethant – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4374884

What culturally-specific place will you be researching in Russia?

My partner chose a house/ building famous for it’s architecture (I don’t remember the name of it because various of the proposals are on similar places). It is very beautiful though, because of the latticed and intricate woodwork around the eaves, windows and doors. Tomsk is surrounded by forest, and so is very famous for its woodwork according to my partner in the project (and what comes up on the internet if I google it)

What was it like to collaborate internationally with students from Tomsk Polytechnic University? 

It was really interesting and a positive experience to see how animated and expressive and engaged/ engaging the students from Tomsk were. They were excited about everything, and also very interested in everything, in listening to what we had to explain or tell about the places we visited, in experiencing new food, in the geology and history of everything we visited. In working more specifically with my partner, we each did a separate web page, but supported each other in terms of our varying strengths and weaknesses and just overall advice or suggestions. The fact that we had been skyping with our partner a few times before they arrived, really helped to set the tone for when they came, since there was then very little awkwardness in meeting them and getting to know them. It made meeting them in person even that much more interesting I think.

What was the most rewarding part of this experience so far? 

So far, the most rewarding part of the experience–that’s hard to say, because it’s every aspect of it altogether. Both getting to know the students from Russia and seeing them experiencing Colorado, getting to know the people in my own program, visiting the places (many of which I’d never been to) and learning to build a website about the different places (and seeing the webpages each team designed)

What are you looking forward to most when you travel to Tomsk, Russia?

Going! Seeing the reality of a place that otherwise would only exist as an illusive idea? Encountering and experiencing the reality behind the illusions and ideas we concoct of places in other countries and cultures is always a fascinating experience. The first time I traveled to Mexico and tasted mole, this sauce that is made from multiple spices, chile, chocolate, and other ingredients, I couldn’t even figure out if I liked it or not because it was so different from anything I’d ever tasted. I kept wanting to eat it again, to see if I could figure out whether I liked it or not, because the mix of ingredients was confusing (to taste). I think traveling to a new country and experiencing the culture there is like that, you have to keep immersing yourself to see what it is you’re experiencing and understanding about yourself within that totally new dynamic, based on how all the surrounding details and people become immersed within you.

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CSU professor Dr. Roze Hentschell recently returned from a trip to England after accompanying a group of students to Oxford University and teaching HONR 392/492, “Shakespeare in Oxford” (3 credits). This CSU faculty led summer program was sponsored by the University Honors Program.  Dr. Hentschell and her students arrived at Oxford, one of the oldest universities in the English-speaking world and one of the world’s most prestigious and rigorous centers of higher education, on May 24th and returned on June 21st. While there, students were enrolled in a 3 credit one-on-one tutorial in their major area of study taught by Oxford-affiliated faculty.

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After “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at The Globe in London

Here is an excerpt from their class blog written by Roze on June 11th: 

Quick dispatch from the professor:  This is an amazing group of women. They are smart, kind, savvy, responsible, easy going (an important trait for international travel), and a lot of fun. Not one is an English major, but they read and analyze Shakespeare like pros. It has been my privilege to get to teach them and drag them all over southern England to see Shakespeare plays.

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Getting ready to see an evening play, Taming of the Shrew

We have seen two plays at the Globe in London, Hamlet By Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and Measure for Measure by students from the Oxford School of Drama. They have heard lectures from Oxford Professors Laurie Maguire, Tiffany Stern, and Simon Palfrey. We’ve spent hours during regular class time.  Next week: a field trip to the Ashmolean Museum and the “Shakespeare is Dead” exhibit at the Bodleian Library and our final class in which the students will present their ideas for their final papers. Oh, and they will also keep up with reading and writing for their tutorials. See? Wonder women.

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Atop the tower at St. Mary’s University Church, after class in the Old Library

Make sure to check out their blog to hear more about their adventures in England!

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Five CSU students – the most in recent memory – will be headed to four different continents to study during the 2016-17 academic year, thanks to grants from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. One of those students is Teal Vickrey, a recent alumna from the English Department. Teal will be serving as an English Teaching Assistant in Prague, Czech Republic.

These Colorado State students were selected as recipients of the 2016 Fulbright Scholarship.

Fulbright Scholars from Colorado State for 2016-17 are (from left) Erin Boyd, Rina Hauptfeld, Tomas Pickering, Suzanna Shugert and Teal Vickrey. Photo by Cisco Mora, CSU Photography.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program of the United States, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The CSU recipients are among the more than 1,900 U.S. citizens selected this year on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as their record of service and demonstrated leadership in their fields.

Recipients represent the U.S. as a cultural ambassador while overseas, helping to enhance mutual understanding between Americans and the people in their host country. More than 100,000 Fulbright U.S. Student Program alumni have undertaken grants since the program began in 1948, including four from CSU last year.

Teal Vickrey graduated with a B.A. in Communication Studies and English in May of 2016. Her passion to work with youth began while she was growing up Louisville, Colo., where she loved playing with her little brothers and volunteering at her local library reading with youth in her community. In college she has spent her time volunteering as a Reading Buddy at Cache la Poudre Middle School in Fort Collins and last fall she acted as a mentor for CSU’s very own Campus Connections. She will be returning for her second year as counselor at Rocky Mountain Day Camp  before she embarks on her journey to the Czech Republic in August.

Teal became enamored with Czech culture last spring when she studied abroad in Prague at Charles University. While she was abroad she had the opportunity to teach English at Londýsnká Elementary School. Teal plans to pursue a career in educational leadership upon her return to the United States.

These CSU students were selected as recipients of the Fulbright Scholarship.

The following is an interview with Teal:

You were recently named a recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship and will be traveling to teach in Prague. What inspired you to choose Prague?   

I will be teaching an hour outside of Prague in a town called Vimperk. I first went to Prague in 2014 as a part of the AIFS study abroad program at Charles University. I took a number of literature classes and an even more interesting surrealist film class that I will never forget. I fell in love with the people, the culture, the food, the beer, and the moment I got home I began researching a way I could get back!

What are you most excited about for your time abroad? What are you most nervous about? 

I am excited to become fully immersed in the small town of Vimperk, its people, and its culture. To the point where I will become a regular at the local coffee shop, grocery, and make friends and connections with my students that will make saying goodbye hard.  But what I am most nervous about are the initial introductions and “firsts” that I will endure when I arrive: the limbo between leaving home and becoming a stranger to somewhere new. I guess that is the necessary discomfort and growth that will allow me to transition as a local and have the experience that I am hoping for.

Do you have any plans (career or otherwise) after your time in Prague?

At this time, no. I have a goal to receive my Masters in the next 10 years and get published at least once in the next year, but that is the limit of my “plans” so to speak. I have entertained the idea of becoming a principal and I have also entertained the idea of becoming a screen writer- so no I haven’t decided on anything concrete.

How do you think your degree in English has prepared you for teaching abroad? 

What I found the first time I was abroad was that connecting with the literature allowed me to connect with the culture. Reading “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka in high school was a wildly different experience than when I read it again in Prague- this time sitting in the same school Kafka attended. Suddenly the culture, the motivation and the setting was tangible and the story was one I could share with those around me.  I plan to connect with my students through common stories such as popular Czech lore, pop culture, news, and as an educator, I  hope to discover the common stories that bond youth around the world.

 What did you like about the English program at CSU? Why did you choose to study here?

To say I took a lot of time picking a college would be a lie. I grew up in Boulder and wanted a change in scenery so I picked the next best thing, CSU. I majored in the Communications Department before finding my way to the English Department to finish up my second major senior year. I was already extremely impressed with the professors and education I had encountered in the Liberal Arts Department, and the English Department was no exception. I felt comfortable connecting with professors on a personal level which allowed me to feel comfortable when stretching my creative boundaries-because I did not fear being criticized or discouraged by professors. Their over all focus wasn’t to teach us one way of learning, or one school of thought but to expand out horizons and allow us to discover the terrain on our own. So no, I didn’t put much thought into coming here but I believe it was where I was meant to be.

Was there a specific class, professor, advisor, or fellow student who made an impression on you, helped you, or inspired you when you were at CSU in the English Department?

I spent only a year in the English department itself, but the teacher who challenged me the most was Mathew Cooperman. He had such an inspiring outlook on education and he designed our capstone in such a way that if we wanted to succeed, we needed to rely on ourselves not the complex system set up by higher education- based on passing a certain number of tests and writing enough convincing essays to get a decent grade. We had to put ourselves in the field and force ourselves to discover the world around us. There was no right or wrong answer; our class was just based on the mere speculation about place and where we came from and it’s where I discovered the most about myself and my values.

What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?

In the words of Cheryl Strayed and the words I live by…

“The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”

You can read more about Teal and the other Fulbright scholars here.

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This summer CSU faculty member Kristie Yelinek is teaching a composition class at the Forestry University of Vietnam in the city of Xuan Mai. She has been recording her experiences teaching and traveling around Vietnam in a blog, “Teaching and Other Adventures: Vietnam.”  The following is an excerpt from her blog about her last day teaching.

After teaching, Kristie will be traveling to Cambodia and Thailand. Make sure to continue following her personal blog to hear about her experiences there!


 

Kristie with students in dress

Kristie with some of her students on her last day teaching in Vietnam.

 

Yesterday (Friday June 10th) was my last day at VFU. I left a little bit after lunch and had a university car to the hotel in Hanoi (yes, the same one). Because it was my last day, the university had a car take me in rather than me having to take a bus, which was really nice since I had two backpacks with me.

The last day of teaching went well and was about as I expected-mostly exciting (for me) and a little sad. Teaching has been rough, but I have had some great students. Three of them road into Hanoi with me (one of the girls said she thought I might be afraid to go by myself because she would be). It was nice to have company, but then it was nice to get into the hotel room and close the door. And grade. They turned in their last assignment to me in class yesterday so I spent all afternoon and evening and a little bit of this morning grading, but I got everything done so I can simply relax for the next three weeks.

People in Vietnam take gifts seriously and since yesterday was my last day, I got quite a few. As I was getting ready to leave the second class, there was quite a bit of conversation and the class monitor asked me to wait for a minute. Then he told me that they (as a class) wanted to get me a present, but they had just decided what it would be and now they had to figure out where to get it. Then he asked me what my schedule was for the rest of the day. When I said I was leaving shortly after lunch, the discussion got serious. Also, when I told him I wanted to run to the market, he asked if he could take me and maybe do some other business while we were there. I said sure!

It turns out that my present from the class was a beautiful tailor-made traditional Vietnamese dress. When we went to the market, we met up  with three of my other students and went to a tailor’s shop where they let me pick out the fabric and had me measured. A remarkable three hours later (about 15 minutes before I had to leave), they (and a few other students) showed up at the guest house with the dress. It’s beautiful and I am truly touched by their gift. I really don’t have the words.

Kristie in Dress

Kristie wearing the dress her students got as her goodbye gift.


This experiences has been frustrating at times, but also rewarding at times and now that I’m not in the frustration any more, I hope I can focus more on the rewarding aspects of my time teaching. But, now it’s off to Cambodia and Thailand!


 

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This summer CSU faculty member Kristie Yelinek is teaching a composition class at the Vietnamese Forestry University (VFU) in the city of Xuan Mai. She has been recording her experiences teaching and traveling around Vietnam in a blog, “Teaching and Other Adventures: Vietnam.” 

When Kristie first arrived at the Vietnamese Forestry University (VFU), she was asked to teach an additional class for students who could voluntarily join. Here is an excerpt from her blog about her last day teaching this class:


 

 Kristie with students

For our last class, we did some grammar work on parallel sentence structure, as well as some fun work with mood. Then, we took some pictures and they invited me to join them for drinks in the evening. After class, one of the students walked to the pharmacy next to the university with me and helped me buy more gauze for the burn on my leg (an exhaust pipe burn from a motorbike). It’s amazing to me how well my students take care of me. I know part of it is the respect they have for teachers and native English speakers in general, but I’d also like to think it’s because they just plain like me 🙂

Then, after dinner, one of the students picked me up on his motorbike and I joined them for fruit smoothies and iced coffee. I was truly touched by time we spent together tonight. Nine of them showed up and they were all very thoughtful about speaking English most of the time (as it got closer to time to leave and they were getting tired, they spoke more Vietnamese, but not much). They asked a lot of questions about me and my life and told me a lot about their plans for the future and where they were from. They all told me how much they had enjoyed the class with me and they wished that I could come back to teach them again next year.

I have to admit that I also really enjoyed teaching this class. Obviously the group was self-selecting in that they didn’t have to take the class and were taking time out of their busy class schedules (six total) to take an extra class. They were motivated to work and in the end the 9-10 most dedicated were the ones who stuck it out for the seven weeks. We were able to have a bit of fun in class and I really enjoyed not having to give them a grade! I gave feedback on writing they turned in, but I could reward each student for what they did well through my comments and could do the same for the areas they needed to improve without having to put a value on their work.

Two of the students gave me small gifts, which I truly appreciated. In Vietnam, giving gifts is a huge deal and a sign of appreciation. Teaching students like this and being able to interact with them on more of a personal level is definitely one of the biggest reasons I teach (and why I want to teach English and international students). With all of the frustration that has come from teaching here, this class, these students, and the experience tonight is already a huge bright spot in my time at VFU.

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A little gecko helping Kristie to grade papers 🙂

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The CSU Zambia Trip Members on Safari in Chobe Park (Botswana)


Dr. Ellen Brinks recently returned from Livingstone, Zambia where she led a group of CSU students on a study abroad program that focused on contributing to community education and health initiatives for the local people. For three weeks, they took part in experiential learning and internships through our Colorado State University Study Abroad program (and African Impact). The following field report is written by Madeline Kasic, who will be remaining in Zambia to continue working with African Impact for the next 9 weeks. Make sure to check out Madeline’s pre-departure post too!


William Carlos Williams states in his poem Paterson, “No ideas but in things” in regards to descriptive writing meaning that a writer should focus on physical objects instead of abstract concepts. This wisdom has been passed on to me many times in creative and academic writing classes during my time at Colorado State University. However, I have never understood how important the understanding things was until I began interacting with the people of Zambia.

Things are different here than in the United States; here everyday items that Americans have in abundance or consider to be disposable carry value. For example, most of my friends can go weeks without repeating an outfit and have no qualms about recycling water bottles or throwing away unwanted personal items. Zambians on the other hand may only have a few sets of clothes and it is not uncommon for them to wear the same clothes day after day. Furthermore, if a Zambian were to lose something that we might consider to be of little value, like a Nalgene water bottle, they would feel more of a sentimental loss because it was something that travelled with them daily for a significant amount of time. So when I say that things are different here in Zambia I mean that the people here interact with their personal items in a completely different way than we do in the U.S.

It may seem natural for a more impoverished group of people to have a different approach to personal items in terms of use and maintenance than an affluent group that can replace items at will, but the differences between how the Zambians see personal items goes farther than simply having less.

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Madeline Kasic teaching at Linda School in the afternoon (Photo credit: Isabell Brown)

Every morning after I walk into my fifth grade classroom at Zambezi Sawmill Community School at least four students ask me if they can borrow a pen. They ask for many different reasons. Some do not have a pen to begin with because their family can hardly afford school supplies and others ask because the pen they brought has stopped working. I carry extra pens with me just for this reason. The first day I gave one of my students a pen I thought they would keep it, which was fine with me because I figured they needed it. However, when I was packing up after class the student came up to me and returned the pen with a practiced diligence that is rare in American fifth graders.

Over the next few weeks I lent pens to many different students, carrying six or seven with me at all times just to be prepared. Each time I have lent a pen to a student they have returned it to me without fail at the end of class. And although I now expect for them to be returned to me, I still marvel at the respect my students have for such a simple item.

In the US, a pen is a disposable item. I lend pens to my classmates and usually don’t expect to get them back. I figure that any pen I lose in this exchange replaces a pen I have “borrowed” and accidently taken with me when the class ends. But here in Zambia pens are valuable.

teachingI have spent a lot of time thinking about why the Zambian children I teach are so much more respectful of my property than I expected them to be. I have come up with two reasons. The first is that as stated earlier, here, even the smallest item is valuable. The other reason is a result of the first. Because of the level of poverty and the value of simple items, there is a lot of theft in poor communities like the one my school is located in. My students, therefore go to great lengths to protect their reputation as someone who does not steal. There is no such thing as forgetting to return something at Zambezi Sawmill Community School, and the students are very aware of this fact.


The difference in the approach to personal items between Zambia and the U.S. is an unforeseen cultural difference that has begun to fascinate me. As I continue my time here I plan on learning not only the intricate details of the Zambian approach to things, but also the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach.  


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This summer CSU faculty member Kristie Yelinek is teaching a composition class at the Forestry University of Vietnam in the city of Xuan Mai. She has been recording her experiences teaching and traveling around Vietnam in a blog, “Teaching and Other Adventures: Vietnam.”  The following is an excerpt from her blog that explains some of the adventures she has been having with her students.


 

Kristie with students

Kristie (in the middle) with some of her students

On Thursday (May 19th) my students took me on another adventure to visit some sights close to Xuan Mai. We started bright and early, 7 am, so that we could try to miss the heat of the day when driving on motor bikes. There were 16 of us, two to a motor bike, and along the way, the student I was riding with asked if I wanted to drive the bike for a little bit. The road was fairly empty, so I gave it a shot. It was pretty fun, although I was happy to turn the driving over to him when we got close to a busy and confusing street market.

Our first stop was the Hoa Binh (pronounced “Hwah Bing”) hydroelectric dam, about an hour’s drive away. The dam is the largest hydroelectric dam in Vietnam, as well as South East Asia and my students said this is where our power in Xuan Mai comes from. We seemed to be the only ones there, although my students said that typically the dam has a lot of tourists visiting it and for it to be so empty was rare.

Hoa Binh (pronounced “Hwah Bing”) hydroelectric dam, the largest hydroelectric dam in Vietnam

Hoa Binh (pronounced “Hwah Bing”) hydroelectric dam, the largest hydroelectric dam in Vietnam

From the dam, we headed up a small hill to visit a statue of Ho Chi Minh. On the way there, the student who I was riding with was pulled over by the police (we passed through a tunnel and his headlight wasn’t working). When we stopped, we both got off the bike and the officers started to talk to the student. One of them glanced in my direction, looked surprised and said, “Oh! Hello!” And again, this was the end of our shared language. He gestured to me to move to the side, so I did, but he kept waving his hand at me to go further until I was in a teeny, tiny piece of shade. He pointed at the sun, pointed at me in the shade, and smiled. Communication accomplished! Whether it was the fact that I was with him or his own sweet-talking, the student got off without a ticket and we continued on to the statue.

The statue of Ho Chi Minh was constructed at about the same time as the dam and is rather impressive at about 60 feet tall. You can see it as you approach the dam. Once at the statue, you have a good view of the city of Hoa Binh and the river flowing from the dam. At the statue, you can buy flowers and incense to leave to pay your respects to Ho Chi Minh, or “Uncle Ho,” as the Vietnamese refer to him. I don’t know a lot about Ho Chi Minh, although I am learning more every day, but he is still a constant presence in the life of all Vietnamese. It’s difficult to travel anywhere in Vietnam without seeing statues, posters, pictures, and more with his face.

Kristie and some of her students at the base of the Ho Chi Minh statue

Kristie (2nd from the right) and some of her students at the base of the Ho Chi Minh statue

After the statue, we continued on to the Muong village of Giang Mo (not to be confused with the H’mong of Sa Pa, a different ethnic group. Vietnam is home to over 40 ethnic groups). Here, we planned to rest for a little while to get out of the heat of the day and have lunch. Most Vietnamese rest between 11:30 and 1:30 every day (give or take on either side) because of the heat. In Giang Mo, many people still live in traditional houses on stilts (so that they can house their cattle, buffalo, chickens, pigs, etc. under the house). Their houses are very simple without much furniture. Looking into the houses, you can see open rooms-maybe two or three total, with a hearth for a fire and then mats to sit on. Some had a cupboard for storage, but that was the only actual furniture I saw in the houses. The first house had a cat that made friends with my students and was quite excited for attention. So much so, that she let the students put a (small) basket on her head.  We all thought she looked quite regal. She did, however, protest to the student who tried to put a banana peel on her head. But, then, this student is a “young buffalo” and likes to push the envelope just a little bit every time.

cat with hat

At lunch, we sat in two circles on mats with the food laid out on banana leaves—chicken, pork, green leaf veggies, and bamboo. I initially somehow wound up in the circle with the men along with one of my female students, but one of the Muong men told her that she had to join the other group with the girls (he said nothing to me). That left me alone with the circle of all men, but one of my (female) students leaned over and said that unless I wanted to drink a lot of rice wine, I should join the girls. I quickly changed groups. The meal was delicious and once we had finished some of my students made traditional green tea for after the meal. The girls were finished long before the guys, who continued to eat and drink rice wine with the Muong men in their circle. A few of the guys had a little too much rice wine, so we had another hour or so rest so they could recover (at least a little). When it was determined that there were enough sober drivers to continue, we headed to our next destination, Dragon Head (Dau Rong) Mountain with an extensive cave system.

We explored three of the four caves that were open to visit. All of them were well-lighted and had a ton of steps to climb up or down into them. Between the second and third cave, we stopped for a snack of watermelon. After our quick snack, some students declared that they were too tired to continue, but about half of them had enough energy to visit one more cave, so I joined them.

students in cave

Once we finished walking through the third cave, it was starting to get dark, so we started the almost two-hour trip back to Xuan Mai. After spending a good amount of time on a motor bike on Thursday, I can say that they are convenient, but not the most comfortable thing to ride. Once back at the university, we all commented on which part(s) of our bodies had lost all feeling along the way!

 


Although this video was taken on a different day (in Hanoi), it gives you an idea of how crazy traffic can be in Vietnam with all the motorbikes:

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Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri

MFA Candidate in Fiction, 2018

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While getting good grades is vital, I’ve learned it’s the grade I give myself as a writer that has driven me to write, revise, and to craft smooth, well-developed short stories to send into the world, a marker by which to define myself, to sound my “barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.”


What inspired you to get a degree in English? 

I became fascinated by creative writing after taking several fiction classes as an undergraduate, and joined a writing group in my hometown (Boise, ID). During that period, I became intrigued by the idea of pursuing an MFA, and taking my fiction to the next level. I knew that writing was driving me intellectually, and I could spend my life pursuing a career as a fiction writer.

Why do you think the humanities are important? 

There is too much of an emphasis on material profits, as opposed to profiting in the sphere of ideas and discourses. Students need to be grounded in a healthy discussion of ideas and principles, to have a sense of their place in the great pantheon of history, of art, of literature. Society cannot function without healthy, intellectual debate, and without freethinkers to challenge problematic assumptions and norms, we are fostering a dangerous climate, driven by conformity and gladiator mentality, a society driven by brutal competition. As Kevin Spacey said in “Horrible Bosses”, “Life is a marathon and you cannot win a marathon without putting a few Band-Aids on your nipples.” Let us put Band-Aids on our preconceived notions, and heal our minds, rather than thinking of writing and life as brutal competition. 

You are teaching E210: Beginning Creative Writing in the fall. What is your favorite thing about teaching? 

The idea of instigating a dialogue about creative writing, and thus leaving a mark on my students. The beauty of teaching creative writing is that it opens itself up to vigorous but civil debate, a debate in which healthy dissent is encouraged, and students can begin to form their own particular philosophies and principles on the subject. I want to get students thinking about all the possibilities available to them, rather than guiding them in one particular direction.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)? How did your experience in the English Department help you with these achievements?

I have had the good fortune to get short-stories (namely flash fiction) published in various on-line journals. I’ve seen the highest caliber work from my cohorts in the program, and have subsequently been driven to better myself as a writer and self-motivator. While getting good grades is vital, I’ve learned it’s the grade I give myself as a writer that has driven me to write, revise, and to craft smooth, well-developed short stories to send into the world, a marker by which to define myself, to sound my “barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.” 

What was the last piece of writing you read or wrote? OR, What are you currently reading, writing? 

I recently wrote a story called, “Abide”, about a young woman who is a single mother, posing as the child’s older sister. She is grappling with the ramifications of this lifelong charade, as she contemplates leaving home, and leaving her son in the hands of her autocratic, overbearing father.

What are you doing with your summer break? 

We might imagine faculty hidden in secret teachers’ lounges, plotting nefarious schemes. But the only thing I’ve been plotting is publication, shooting high. With a kind of manic energy, I’ve plunged myself into a regimen of writing, revising, and submitting to top literary journals, including the Holy Grail of them all: The New Yorker. To me summer is a time to challenge myself, to push myself as far as I can go. Every day I submit, I feel an ultimate satisfaction at sending my work out into the world. With each rejection, I send a new piece out, determined to fight on. And I feel confident that I will reach “the unreachable star” to quote a favorite song.

What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?

I like to listen to Tchaikovsky and other great classical composers, in addition to my Netflix and Amazon prime binges. I feel like classical music truly induces creativity, and puts me in the proper emotional mood to write, to produce the stories that matter, the stories that induce what Nabokov referred to as “that little sob in the spine of the artist-reader.”

What is something most people don’t know about you? 

I adore Tchaikovsky and consider myself a Romantic, with a capital R. A 19th century Romantic.

What is your favorite word and why? 

Abide. I love the word. The word conveys the mantra of The Dude from my favorite movie, “The Big Lebowski.” It holds a soothing, peaceful connotation, and a signpost by which to guide my daily outlook. The word guides me away from conflict and dwelling on negativity, and into a gentle dreamlike state.

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CSU professor Dr. Roze Hentschell is currently accompanying a group of students to Oxford University and teaching HONR 392/492, “Shakespeare in Oxford” (3 credits). This CSU faculty led summer program is sponsored by the University Honors Program.  Dr. Hentschell and her students arrived at Oxford, one of the oldest universities in the English-speaking world and one of the world’s most prestigious and rigorous centers of higher education, on May 24th and will be returning on June 21st. While there, students are enrolled in a 3 credit one-on-one tutorial in their major area of study taught by Oxford-affiliated faculty.

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Still smiling after a three-hour class on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo outside the classroom at New College.

Students are studying four of Shakespeare’s plays and have an opportunity to engage with them well beyond the page. Students have taken or will take field trips to see performances at the Globe Theatre in London, by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and by actors at Oxford University. Students will also visit London, Bath, and Windsor. In Oxford, students will have access to examples of Tudor architecture (including the spectacular Duke Humphrey’s Library at The Bodleian, known by most as the library of Hogwarts), art (at the Ashmolean Museum), and religion (Oxford was the site of the prosecution and execution of Protestant martyrs).


Before students embarked on this journey, they met during the week of finals to prepare for the trip. “It’s hard to think about the experience of a lifetime when you are in the middle of finals at CSU, but we took a break to gather one last time before we meet in Oxford on May 24th. We went over the “Shakespeare in Oxford” syllabus, assignments, and schedule of classes and activities.” (Quote by Roze Hentschell taken from the Shakespeare in Oxford blog)

 

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Here is what students were most excited about:

 

And what they were nervous about:

 

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After being there a week, Roze posted this update: “We have been in Oxford since the beginning of the week. The students have: settled into their flats, had orientation, met or set up a meeting with their Oxford tutors, had their first Shakespeare class, visited Windsor Castle, been inducted into their colleges (New College or Christ Church), received library cards at the Bodleian, explored the city and its environs, met other students from U.S. universities, and have basically taken Oxford by storm.  Except, they’ve brought the sunshine instead.”

Make sure to check out the class blog to read more updates from the students!

 

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This summer CSU faculty member Kristie Yelinek is teaching a composition class at the Forestry University of Vietnam in the city of Xuan Mai. She has been recording her experiences teaching and traveling around Vietnam in a blog, “Teaching and Other Adventures: Vietnam.”  The following is an excerpt from her blog that explains some of the adventures she has been having with her students.


 

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Kristie Yelinek at Tram Ton Pass in Vietnam with Roger, “the bearded man.”


This past Sunday (May 8th), 15 of my students took me to Ba Vi National Park, which is a national park about 34 km (about 21 miles) northwest of Xuan Mai, or about an hour’s drive by motor bike. My students said they would take care of everything, all I needed to do was meet them at the front gate of the university at 9:00 am. So, at 9:00 am, I was at the front gate…but there were no students to be found. About 5 minutes later, two of them showed up on a motorbike with food and water for the trip. About 5 minutes after that, two more students showed up. As I’m starting to learn, Vietnamese time is “elastic”: 9:00 doesn’t necessarily mean 9:00. All in all, it took about 35-40 minutes for them to organize themselves before we were ready to go. There was some discussion as to who would have “teacher” ride on the back of their motor bike, but that had been pre-arranged and the student was not willing to trade his job with anyone else.

Getting ready to ride to Ba Vi National Park

Getting ready to ride to Ba Vi National Park.

So, off we went! And then we stopped so someone could pick up some soda along the way. Then, we continued on our way. And then we stopped so someone could get something else. And then we stopped again because someone took a wrong turn and was lost (there were 16 of us on 8 motor bikes). All in all, I think we made 5-6 stops along the way and it took us a little over two hours to get there. But, then we were at Ba Vi. We stopped, paid the entrance fee, and soon started to drive our way up the mountain. I could immediately feel it start to get cooler and we were soon in and out of thick and thin fog.

The drive up the mountain.

The drive up the mountain.

Our stop for lunch was amid some ruins left over from the French colonial period. We wandered around for a bit, took some pictures, and then everyone decided they were hungry. My students built a fire, put pork on skewers, popped an entire chicken on a branch (head and all), plus all of the internal organs (and feet!) on a grill, and placed everything over the fire. While some students were doing that, other students were cutting up fruit and placing it on banana leaves that they had gathered from the forest. It was all very impressive to watch!

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Ruins from the French Colonial Period.

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More ruins from the French Colonial Period

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Preparing lunch with students. Yum!

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More food prep.

After lunch, we headed further up the mountain to climb the 1,000+ steps to Ho Chi Minh’s Temple. This might have been my favorite part of the entire day because we got to see out into the valley below (when the clouds and fog allowed) and it was the closest we did to any kind of hiking that day. My students, however, were not quite as excited about it and many of them had to stop to rest along the way. A lot of them kept saying “teacher, you are so strong” because I just kept going a lot of the time. I guess all the running up the mini-mountain at the university is paying off! At the top, most of the students stopped to rest for a few minutes and soon broke out into song to recover from the strenuous climb.

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The climb up to Ho Chi Minh’s Temple. 1,000 steps!

singing and recovering

Singing and recovering with students.

the view from the top

The view from the top.

The view from the top was beautiful and I took a few minutes to visit the temple. After that, it was time to head back to Xuan Mai so that students could finish homework and get ready for classes on Monday. On the way back, we stopped for some refreshing (but too sweet for me) sugar can juice.

sugar cane juice

Sugar cane juice.

Stay tuned for more updates from Kristie’s time in Vietnam!

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