This article is not about history, but about the current experience of different cultures in one of the villages in the Republic of Bashkorstan, which, in order to maintain and save their national language and culture, has always honoured other minorities along with their national language and culture. This is one particular and powerful reason why there still was an official Latvian language programme as one of the foreign languages taught in the secondary school of Maksim Gorkij village. It is clear that, every year, the amount of participants has reduced, and the community becomes more and more alike, assimilating in Russian culture.
I had the possibility to experience the difference in cultures and see what the Latvian language and culture situation is like now, as a participant in the summer school in Maksim Gorkij village secondary school.
The main field where I have worked is pedagogy, which turned out to be very beneficial, having a certain picture not just about children and creative, innovative methods in education, but also about multiculturalism, integration and the ability of several cultures to exist next to each other in modern times in the countryside of Russia, in the Republic of Bashkorstan.
It would be possible to discuss many of the tendencies or processes that are linked with multiculturalism, integration and the 21st global century, but I will skip serious theoretical discussion at this time. It is possible to find enough other articles that share such theoretical perspectives.
The main purpose of this article is to describe the situation, and give some evidence of the tendencies I observed and made as a conclusion on the basis of my experience as a teacher of Latvian in Russia and Italy for several years, along with governance and communication studies and different experiences I have had with Latvians abroad, which has given me an understanding of the inside of processes of the diaspora and its migration.
This summer, for two weeks in June, I was in the village of Maksim Gorkij, in Bashkorstan, one of the most beautiful and well maintained regions in Russia. The village of Maksim Gorkij is known as the place where it is still possible to meet the next generations of Latvians who left the territory of Latvia in the times of Russian Imperialism both at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century.
This school is really alive: mostly young teachers, which give extra energy to explore, to make jokes, and to be full of energy at the time of studies.
Not only does the official programme of the school, but daily life as well, show that people live in a friendly environment, and there isn’t national discrimination in the usual daily life (maybe the difference is what makes colleagues in the school full of humour and open to communication: even at lunch, they tend to put tables together, so they can have one common lunch, not dividing in groups around smaller tables). Close to the end of the summer camp, I found myself feeling nearly like one of them, clearly understanding that I could and even would like to spend one year here as a teacher from Latvia.
The summer camp was organised as a continuation of the school year for three weeks for students from the 1st to the 7th grade. This year, there were around 70 participants, who were divided into three groups; each group had two class teachers. All participants of the camp, I divide in three parts:
1. Latvian teachers (one has been working there already for six years; the second one, me, came to visit for two weeks). The local Latvian teacher hoped to introduce more pupils to Latvian culture, to give fresh breath to the Latvian language and culture learning process for both students and herself. I came as a curious teacher, willing to help, implement through my new experience, and to get a new positive diaspora experience for myself.
2. Local teachers and society. Interested in new people, new common professional experiences, and willing to spend time with fun, less stressful than usual teaching time beyond the school year.
3. Students. Willing to spend fun times together, to do interesting things, to socialise with all children not just their classmates, willing to have some food and an interesting day; sometimes willing to avoid the work waiting at their home farm.
There was a premade plan for the summer camp; the main theme was multiculturalism. Activities which took place in the camp provoked children to think and behave in more sustainable ways –every day there are more and more growing priorities among different fields and societies. Sustainability includes not only caring about nature and an environmental friendly economy, but about tolerant communication among people, especially if there are differences among them in their religion and other fundamental values.
The first student interests in Latvia, together with the Latvian teacher, were developed through showing videos, posters and maps of Latvia, and provoking discussion about them. Students were curious about places and activities which were shown in the materials, and asked if we have tried them, then afterwards wanted to know certain words in Latvian. To help children realise more about Latvia, we used comparative methods. The preparation of tasks helped me become more informed about Bashkorstan and to better understand local Bashkir culture and nature.
Sometimes to feel like a local, for a teacher from Latvia in Bashkorstan, is not the easiest task, mainly because of huge differences in environments and cultures she has to face.
This communication showed the difference between cultures at the same time: not only expectations and understanding of what it means, “to go for a trip”; a similar situation to what you approach every time you talk about distance: there are great differences between understandings of the concepts of the words: far for Latvian is beginning from 100 km, but for Russians (specifically Bashkir) it begins from 400 km. In this situation, it is hard to find the proper social definition for ‘local’ people: nor Russian, Bashkir, Siberian Russian, Bashkir Russian; you can feel how each person identifies himself with different groups depending on certain questions, situations identification is really flexible and very broadly framed, but still framed.
As a visiting teacher, with the local Latvian teacher, we were invited to join a two-day trip to the local mountain caves. This experience made me feel happy seeing a new teacher working: Nuur, a teacher of sports, took his class (10th grade) on a trip to the mountain caves for two days. Everyone in this trip was kind, helpful, and tolerant, even when some accident happened. It wouldn’t be possible if there wasn’t trust and respect among teachers and students. The two-day trip changed my opinion about the teacher as well; daily life in school obviously doesn’t let you see the best and most valuable characteristics of people (at least not always, and not at the beginning). This is important to note about students as well, the local Latvian teacher admitted that, in school, she never saw the students so helpful, kind and hardworking as during the trip. The whole project made us ask the bigger question: how appropriate it is to ask students to behave like they would in real life, when there are no real life issues? Would it be possible to change the situation in schools, giving more trust and organisational obligations, and not only study tasks, to students?
Intercultural communication was implemented in the collaboration with our, Latvian, and other teachers in the school. We had to delegate tasks to group teachers, so they could help (to lead) the students to prepare the task: to make a poster about a horse, including the name of it in four languages, information about it which they can get from their family, local society, books, internet, folklore information about horses, drawings or shems as well. It was easy to observe that other teachers took this very seriously.
After a few days of preparation work, there were presentations, every group had a different one. Also, the task was equal it was possible to feel the impact of every teacher. This time, there was another difference in the task: 75% of points were given by a jury, but the rest 25% was given by students, which was not so easy to accept for the teachers. It was possible to learn certain things from each group: the first group, through poetry, showed that human beings will never be able to understand the horse until the end. From the second group, it was clear that the horse would always feel and understand the human being very well. The third group paid attention to the concept of the horse, of different morphemes of it in cultural information. Very quickly, the project showed the differences among cultures whose traces you can find in language as well. In this case, the group faced the challenge of finding translations of the name of a horse with a horn, a character in the Bashkir folklore, Turlup. There simply were no such concepts nor in Latvian, nor in English (apart of the same morpheme Turlup). This current situation was a bright and real example of differences, which students themselves found out, but it was necessary to help them see it not as a problem they can not manage, but as a phenomenon which not everyone is lucky enough to experience, and to help them see that they have done valuable work.
Different cultures and ethnic identities are in the village. People, even children, notice them mainly based on visual appearances, not on trying to judge someone. Ethnic roots and appearances have certain values and characteristics that are known for the locals, but people don’t remind them. Some of them might seem critical or offensive. However, local people have accepted it as an obvious and logical fact.
People live next to each other for a long time, and can have different cultures, languages and national traditions (also religions). There is a lack of understanding and consciousness about how unique every culture is, how rich its folklore is, and how deep the roots of daily life habits and traditions are. There is no tendency to understand differences in language and vocabulary among students and teachers. It is necessary to help students see their valuable characteristics and abilities to raise their self esteem and gain awareness in order to go deeper, try harder, and achieve more.
Bashkorstan is one of places where you can have multicultural experiences in different fields. In the school, you have extra possibilities which demand creative and innovative methods and attitudes to help save the specific cultural heritage.
More information about the summer camp in Latvian: http://bit.ly/1NoT0Ht
Liene Salmina is a Latvian language teacher interested in migration, transnationalism, innovative methods, and education.