Hello Friends –
I am very excited to announce that I was selected as the Winter/Spring 2017 Social Expertise Exchange Fellow through the Eurasia Foundation. In a few short days I will travel to Russia to work with Big Brother Big Sisters Moscow and St. Petersburg. This project looks to improve mentorship practices in Russia and the United States through adoption of best practices from both sides. In particular, the project will focus on increasing longevity of US mentor/mentee relationships and improving Russian methods in mentorship goal setting and mentor/guardian relationship building.
I am thankful to Sasha Telitsina, Executive Director of Big Brother Big Sisters Moscow, who introduced me to this opportunity. Sasha and I met last March while helping to launch the Center for Evidence Based Mentoring at the 2017 European Mentoring Summit. We both led workshops from a mentor practitioner standpoint on the importance of youth mentoring. A few days later we participated in a roundtable on fundraising strategies and she told me about her travels to the states through the Eurasia Foundation. Never in 100 years did I imagine a year to-the-date of the conference I would be preparing for a project learning trip about mentoring to Russia!
The process of applying for this opportunity took a lot of work and I know all of the interview essays and conversations will pay off. I have always held a special place in my heart for the country. In the 1990’s my 4th grade teacher Ms. Heidi Wagner went to Russia through the Hands Across the Water program. When she returned a teacher from Magnitogorsk (a city to the west that is about 10 hours away from Moscow) accompanied her and taught our class for a few weeks. The following summer my brother also went to Russia and we hosted two students from Magnitogorsk. From their experiences, it opened my eyes up to travel. A few years later I was able to travel through an exchange program in high school through The Rotary Club International, where I studied for a summer in Argentina. I originally wanted to go Ecuador to see the Galapagos Islands, because Andrei (our Russian exchange student) brought me back a turtle figurine. That gift sparked my massive collection of all things turtle related.
Fast forward through snail mail, some Hotmail e-mail accounts, and 25 years, Andrei and I have kept in touch on and off over the years. When I found out about this opportunity through The Eurasia Foundation, to visit Russia and exchange mentoring practices, a field that I am so passionate about, I reached out to him. The best news is that Andrei now lives in Moscow and we are going to be able to reconnect next week. He will be able to show me around his city like my family was able to do when he was here years ago!
I have experienced many emotions about making the decision to go to Russia during this geo-politcal climate. I am happy to report that most of the reactions from my friends have been supportive. For the people that are little nervous, I am looking forward to bringing back the stories of the people of the Russian Federation. Too often we are caught up in what the media wants us to think about one another and we get a very one-sided story. I have done so much research on places to visit while I am there and I can’t wait to experience the culture. Beyond the project work, I hope to at least get to one banya, visit the subways, see the Hermitage, attend a ballet and see the bridges rise at night in St. Petersburg. This is going to be an opportunity of a lifetime! I don’t know if I will sleep in the 10 days I am in the Russian Federation.
I will also try to post photos on my Instragram account @auntjulierocks