Lee Roby of the Friends School of Baltimore led a group of her high school students to St. Petersburg, Russia every other year for 18 years. This faculty-led travel was, as she says, “a well-oiled machine” in introducing her students to Russian culture and immersing them into the Russian language. For the past three years, however, such travel to Russia has not been possible and may not even be possible for years to come.
Working with SRAS, Lee Roby has established a new program in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan that not only immerses them in the Russian language, but also introduces them to the unique Kyrgyz culture, which is traditionally nomadic, Islamic, and, particularly in its urban centers, very much bilingual in Kyrgyz and Russian.
In the 30-minute podcast conversation below, Lee Roby and SRAS Director Renee Stillings detail how Friends School was able to offer a new and impactful program in Kyrgyzstan. For still more, keep scrolling for more description, a video of student reactions to the program, and pictures.
High School Faculty Led Study Program in Bishkek
The Friends School trip, developed with SRAS, invites students to explore the unique country of Kyrgyzstan. The students experienced the nomadic traditions of horseback riding and yurt building. They learned how to cook plov and baursak, local dishes with deep cultural roots. They met with young peer tutors who really connected with them and gave them personal introductions to the city and culture. Pre-trip, students were introduced to the culture by the many resources on SRAS’ Family of Sites.
The program also incorporated elements that had long been successful parts of their past study abroad trips. Students who used only Russian throughout the day earned “Hero of the Russian Language” awards. These daily tokens compiled to allow students to earn higher ranks within the gamified learning experience. Students kept photo journals of their experiences abroad and gave presentations in Russian at the end of the trip to better process what they learned in class and in daily interactions.
Most importantly, the students were constantly challenged to use the language and experience Kyrgyz culture. Homestays taught the students about the deeply structured role that family plays in Kyrgyz life. Events such as an expedition to the local bazaar were aimed at not only providing active communication practice but also providing varied glimpses into the local culture. Trips outside the city to places like Issyk Kul highlighted Kyrgyzstan’s urban-rural divide between the bilingual and cosmopolitan city and the Kyrgyz language and culture of the countryside.
Lee Roby attributes much of the success of the new program to the warmth of Kyrgyz people, the youthful energy and professionalism of the teachers and peer tutors, and to the intensive, diverse programming. SRAS was excited and honored to host such a bright, hardworking, and young group of students abroad in Kyrgyzstan and we look forward to seeing the next group from Friends School!
Students Present on What They Learned Abroad
Students were tasked with keeping a photo journal, which in addition to presenting them with opportunities to engage with their host family, provided small and manageable (within the context of very busy days) writing assignments. On their last day, each presented a set of the pictures that were most meaningful to them. Below are two of these presentations by Nathan and Alexander.