For Irina Shigarova, this fall semester at Bloomsburg University is unlike any that she has ever experienced. Originally from Eastern Siberia, Shigarova was selected as BU’s first Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant with the help of Russian language professor, Mykola Polyuha, who originally came to the United States as a Fulbright scholar to complete his master’s degree at Penn State University.
Shigarova, who previously worked in the Russian city of Irkutsk with a population of approximately 600,000 people, says Bloomsburg provides a much calmer atmosphere than her previous work place. Along with the overall differences in community life, she describes the challenges that she faces on a daily basis, specifically the lack of public transportation and a much different variety of food.
She is also adjusting to a different language – a different style of the English language. Shigarova taught English at Irkutsk Language Centre Bigben, and is therefore more familiar with British English, which she states, is surprisingly different from American English.
These challenges have not stopped Shigarova. Along with teaching a Russian literature course this fall and a culture course in the spring, she is involved in the Russian Culture Club, provides native experience to students through games and books, and serves as a cultural ambassador. She also is furthering her personal interests by taking a dance class.
When asked what she hopes to bring to BU, Shigarova describes her past experiences with U.S. citizens who expressed the belief that Russians are intimidating or downright “scary.” Her main goal is to eliminate this idea, starting at BU. “The politics do not talk about real people,” Shigarova says. “We have a lot to share with each other.”
Polyuha adds, “When real people meet each other, they see real people are different from politics on TV. Having more international students, such as Irina, helps us do this.”
Shigarova’s presence at BU may also prove useful for the future of Russian study abroad. She hopes to bring a group of students back to Bloomsburg after her Fulbright experience ends. Polyuha believes having someone who knows BU firsthand will ease collaboration with Russian universities.
A similar partnership, BU’s joint-degree program with The Financial University in Moscow, Russia, has successfully provided over 165 students from Russia to graduate with a double-degree in economics at BU.
Shigarova also hopes her experience here will show her students at home “a purpose in other languages and that it can be used in real life. Places are getting more real for them when they know you’ve seen it.”
The Fulbright program is an international scholarship opportunity that strives to promote mutual understanding and instill peaceful relations among the United States and other countries by providing scholars the opportunity to experience and work at universities around the world.
In years past, the Fulbright program has provided educational opportunities to more than 325,000 individuals including professors, language assistants, and students from the U.S. and other countries. The program pays special attention to teaching languages that have been deemed important to the future of America, focusing on languages such as Arabic, Chinese, and Russian.
- Courtney Dunn, senior dual English and psychology major