Not only does one get to achieve higher education, but one is also able to actively learn through cultural immersion in another country. Students are able to see and experience things they only dreamed of before studying abroad.
Suren Nersisyan and Vladimir Yelakov received the ultimate opportunity when they were awarded a Muskie Fellowship.
Nersisyan and Yelakov have not only experienced America’s culture through this Fellowship program, but they have actively engaged in the U.S.’s educational system while attending NIU, which is significantly different from their countries’ theoretic way of teaching.
The Muskie Fellowship is funded by the U.S. Department of State and is leveraged by the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), which provides opportunities through the Muskie Fellowship program for international students interested in studying in the United States.
According to the IREX website, “The Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program brings emerging leaders in key professional fields from Eurasia to the United States for one to two years of graduate study at institutions across the United States.” The intent of the program is to build relationships between the countries, build civil society, and gain a better understanding of democracy.
The Muskie Fellowship is open to students throughout Eurasia and is a highly competitive program. Nersisyan was one of 15 and Yelakov was one of 10 to be accepted into the program; there were thousands of applicants overall.
Both Nersisyan and Yelakov are completing graduate degrees in higher education in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education (CAHE). Now in their final semester, the study abroad experience has left both Nersisyan and Yelakov with an engaged understanding that has prepared them for new opportunities upon their return home.
“The degree will change a lot (for me). More doors will be open,” said Nersisyan, a fine arts professor at an Armenian university. He looks forward to potentially working for the government in an educational administrative position.
Yelakov, a foreign language teacher at a university in Kazakhstan, taught English and enjoys teaching. “Sometimes work is strenuous, but it’s an important job,” Yelakov said. “I would like to continue teaching but maybe in some other area related to administration.”
“Vladimir and Suren have brought an international perspective to the classroom that is valued by faculty and students alike. Our department has a long history of engaging in study abroad opportunities, but now more students are able to learn about the educational system of other countries from our two Muskie Fellows,” CAHE Chair Barbara Johnson said.
“It has been a win-win for everyone involved, and we hope that we are able to host future Muskie Fellows.”
Yelakov recognizes that his educational experience in the United States was not necessarily easy but very valuable.
“(Studying here) has been a great challenge for me because the educational system is different, and it took me some time to get used to it,” he said. “I like that classes (in the United States) concentrate more on practical aspects and students’ personal experiences. It provides a good opportunity for students to express themselves, including their ideas, thoughts, feelings, or considerations about a particular topic they studied.”
Nersisyan agrees that their coursework has been challenging yet highly rewarding.
Nersisyan and Yelakov agree that their time spent at NIU has broadened their ideas of education and administration; additionally, they see parallels between the Muskie Fellowship goals and their experience.
Their NIU professors were more accessible than they would have been in their home countries, demonstrating a way to build relationships. Similarly, the method of teaching in the U.S. is more discussion based, or democratic. “The educational systems still resemble the Soviet system … theoretic and no discussion,” Nersisyan said.
Additionally, digital access such as NIU’s Blackboard or WebBoard does not exist in their countries. Consequently, utilization of these teaching tools could perhaps be introduced by Muskie Fellows when they return home.
Both Muskie Fellows agree that change is slow to take place in their countries and that corruption remains an issue for funding progress. In regard to the theoretic school systems, Nersisyan said, “now they are changing; now they are adapting the system with western education.”
And, because of the experience and education acquired through the Muskie Fellowship Program, Nersisyan and Yelakov are returning home after graduating this May with a vision for implementing further change.
by Janey Kubly