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From the Appalachians to the Urals: Students from Ohio University, Russia form neighborhood

Published: August 30, 2021 Author: Staff reports

A group of students from Ohio University and a Russian university spent their summer in a most unusual way — taking part in an extracurricular experience called the Bobcat-Crow Cultural Exchange Lab and moving beyond stereotypes to form their own neighborhood.

Named after the mascots of the two universities, the lab brought together 26 students in a weekly cross-cultural exchange on Zoom, where they formed their virtual neighborhood.

A crow is the mascot of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics – PERM (HSE Perm). The OHIO students included international students from Oman and Japan who are in the Ohio Program of Intensive English (OPIE), as well as undergraduates from various majors.

During 60-minute virtual exchanges, OHIO and HSE Perm students shared their views on topics such as cultural values, the American and Russian education systems, stereotypes, national symbols, and holidays.

“My experience with the Bobcat Crow Cultural Exchange was extraordinary, I have learned that the stereotypes and ambiguous information about Russia that we sometimes see and hear in the media are not true at all,” said Khalan Al Hinai, an Environmental Health Science major. “Furthermore, from our side we shared a variety of American culture aspects such as the American cuisine, lifestyle, and education. After having this unique experience, I truly believe that if you want to know about certain people, don't hear about them, but hear from them.” 

The lively online sessions featured games, surveys, mini-presentations, breakout rooms and large group discussions, and participants discovered some surprising commonalities and differences. After each session, students filled in a short survey with comments and follow-up questions. Gerry Krzic, OPIE director, received a grant from the American Councils' initiative for innovative virtual learning experiences designed to foster collaboration between U.S. and Russian schools.

“It was truly an enlightening experience that left me more knowledgeable about Russian students and Russia. It overall made me understand the importance of connecting with people from different cultures to become a well-rounded individual,” said Sarah O. Ladipo, a philosophy major and a student trustee on the OHIO Board of Trustees.

The program also helped to develop students’ leadership skills, with each session being led by students from both schools. Four faculty members, two from HSE Perm and two from OHIO, led the program and had pre-planning meetings with student leaders prior to the full group sessions, noted Rebecca Challenger, OPIE professor of instruction. The faculty from the HSE Perm were Tatiana Permyakova and Marina Sheveleva.

“The goal of the Bobcat-Crow Cultural Exchange Lab was to improve cross-cultural understanding between young people in Russia and the U.S.,” Krzic said. “The program was also promoted in a presentation at the ‘Neighbors in Research’ conference hosted by HSE Perm in May. They invited us because of our innovative use of technology to create a ‘virtual neighborhood,’ and we look forward to building upon the momentum we’ve created.”