Monday, May 5, 2014

Monday, May 5

A little update on my actual work here in Saratov. Much of the content of this blog has lately involved travel and fun but as I begin to reflect upon my time here(I come home May 24), I am motivated to talk about my teaching a bit.

I was most recently the Plenary Speaker at a Institute lead conference(working language English!) on the Communicative Challenges of the 21st Century. This event took place on the day that my wife Janet and her friend Laura departed for home. This unwanted "second" goodbye had some emotional effect on me. It is not easy to be in Russia on my own. Both women were not feeling all that well, experiencing a combination of lingering upper respiratory ailments, and in Laura's case, pretty severe stomach flu. This made it difficult for me to participate in the event and for them to attend. Their train to Moscow left around 4;30 pm.

The event began around 10am. I was to share speaking honors with Dr. Tatiana Hrikova, Vice Dean for Development of Applied Languages at the University of Economics, Bratislava, Slovakia. She is incidentally, the administrator responsible for the very memorable Slovakian students I experienced in my classes in February. I cannot say enough about how impressed I was with these students, and I shared those thoughts with Dr. Hrikova.

My speech was short, probably 10 minutes, and was intended from the outset to be more of a pep talk for the Institute's students. The working title was "Marketing, Culture, and Digital  Media in the New Global Economy". My take-away here in the last four months has been that these young people, almost all of them proficient in 2 or more languages, are uniquely positioned to perhaps dominate the international job market for generations. Their thirst for travel and international study, coupled with an institutional leadership committed to internationalization give them profound potential advantages. They know Western culture better than we know theirs, giving them a leg up in the all imporant and potentially disastrous area of cultural literacy. Bringing all this to bear, I tried to trumpet these advantages for my audience, concluding with the now commonplace "World is Flat" thesis---that digital media can be exponentially leveraged to their advantage. I guess I did OK, but Dr. Hrivikova I think felt my speech bled over into the subject of her talk. She spoke on intercultural competence and cultural literacy from a much more inteelectual/academic angle and I thought did a fine job. I apologized, as I had not bothered to note the topic of her presentation prior to the event.

Following these speeches, many of the faculty( including myself )were to serve as moderators in a series of 2 hour sections divided various communication topics. My section was Organizational, Professional, and business Communication. About 15 students spoke about a variety of topics, consumerism, product placement, trade, online shopping, women in business, social media, , overworking, and many others. They were wonderful. The student audience was engaged and asked many questions. I as always(I think sometimes, selfishly) tried to ask difficult questions,and there was much good dialogue. I had a great time. We wrapped up before 2pm. I had to hustle out in order to prepare for the departure of  Janet and Laura. The wonderful International Office would have a van to drop us off at the train station. We got to see our driver from the Khvalink trip again, Nickolay, we greeted each other warmly. I was more than a little worried about the girls, both under the weather, and dragging rather heavy luggage. The plan, as delivered by Masha, was to drop us off, and I would take a bus home.

When we arrived at the station, we waited a few minutes before the track number was annouced on the big digital board. I by this time was feeling confident(a mistake) in my mastery of Russian train stations. The number came up....track 1....and I led my passengers into the tunnel leading to the tracks. No sign for track 1. I made a foray down the length of the tunnel, women waiting patiently, Laura feeling especially green. No track 1. I felt that almost overwhelming male emotion that deters us from asking directions and quickly quashed it. You can play that game on I-95 looking for the Subway, but not Russia. I found a Russian policeman, asked him in Russian for help finding track 1. He intimated we were to follow him, took us outside the station, down a long unmarked uphill, rough concrete sidewalk. No signs saying track 1, but track one is accessed outside the station. Not only did he walk us this whole way, but he took us to our actual train car. Another nice policeman. I shook his hand. I helped the girls haul into their compartment and had to say goodbye to my wife again. Tough. As I left, I saw my bus, 284b, loading up for the trip down Moscovskaya. I am like my father in that when feeling sad, a walk is a good thing. I walked home. Took me less than an hour, but I didn't feel any better really.

I am also teaching a twice weekly class for the past few weeks to students at the Institute here. The subject is supposed to be Entrpreneurship but we get into a variety of subjects. Last week we focused on employment and resume writing, before that marketing and technology. Sometimes we just talk the whole class. I am curious about them and I think they are curious about me. Sometimes the group is rather large, sometimes only 5 people. I have one today but feel like it will be small as the May Day holiday was this weekend.
I have two new things to prepare for coming up. First I am developing a series of lectures helping the English Language department teachers integrate Business Management principles into their classes. I will also participate in a conference on Economic Psychology where I plan to speak on Irrational Economic Behaviour in the Public Higher Education Marketplace. I can go on all day about that subject.

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