Inna Pronicheva, a Fulbright Teaching Assistant from Tula, Russia was filled with excitement when she learned she was being awarded the position to assist with teaching Russian languageat Fairfield University. “The first thing I did was to find Fairfield on Google maps. I’d never heard of the town before,” she said.
Education & Credentials
Pronicheva received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Tula State Leo Tolstoy Pedagogical University, where she studied Russian Language, Russian Literature, and English as an undergraduate and Russian Language as a graduate student. Her graduate thesis focused on linguistic and cultural studies.
“We at the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and Russian and East European Studies Program were very excited when we heard that Inna would be our third successive Fulbright Russian TA back in April of 2011,” said Elena Syssoeva, an Adjunct Professor of Russian. “We were very pleased with our previous Fulbrighters from Siberia and looked forward to partaking of Inna’s experience, expertise, and passion for teaching Russian to international students. Inna struck me as a thoughtful, conscientious, and open person, someone who was eager to share her own culture with students and who was also very enthusiastic to learn from American students. She has been a pleasure to work with,” continued Syssoeva.
Pronicheva has assisted Syssoeva in her Russian classes as well as holding tutoring sessions for students and oral practice sessions based on Rassias method. The Rassias method of teaching a foreign language was completely new for Pronicheva. During her oral practice sessions she taught Russian with no form of English translation. Pictures and photographs were used to demonstrate the meanings of the words and sentences, which was both effective and entertaining. Pronicheva claimed that she will continue to use this method throughout her teaching career. “I’ve been teaching Russian as a foreign language for two years but never used this method. I will definitely use it when I go back, and promote it at my university,” she said.
“Inna’s oral practice sessions sessions have been of immense help to our students of Russian language: they gave a boost to their confidence in speaking, helped improve their performance, and made the journey into the Russian language more pleasurable and fun. Inna has also been a great friend and a mentor,” maintained Syssoeva.
In addition to assisting, tutoring, and teaching, Pronicheva has been conducting the Russian Hour series and leading interactive discussions on Russian culture, which featured quizzes and Russian souvenirs given as prizes. “Inna has been instrumental in maintaining and enhancing our Russian Hour series,” said Syssoeva. “She comes from the ancient town of Tula that is steeped in culture and history. Just two hours away from the Russian capital, Tula is the town of honey cakes and samovars, ironworking and accordions. It is also the land of world-famous novelist Leo Tolstoy. Not only was Inna able to throw light on the question, “why it is not advisable to travel to Tula with your own samovar, but she also broadened our students’ knowledge of life in Russia discussing topics ranging from education, family traditions, travel, and the World-wide web.”
When asked what inspired her during her residency in the United States Pronicheva attributed her inspiration to her students. “It’s really encouraging to see students’ interest in my native language and culture. Since the U.S. is located in another part of the world from Russia, it`s wonderful to find people so interested in Russia.”
Differences in Learning: Russia & the United States
In addition to teaching, Pronicheva took four courses at Fairfield University: two undergraduate courses from the Department of Communication – “Interpersonal Communication Theories” with Dr. Sallyanne Ryan, “Argument and Advocacy” with Professor Julie S. Smith another undergraduate English course with Dr. Emily Orlando – “19th Century American Women Writers,” and a graduate course in Politics in Film with Donald Greenberg, associate professor of Politics.
While enrolled in these courses Pronicheva developed a liking towards American interactive methods of teaching. In Russia, classes often consist of lectures with little opportunity for class discussion. Pronicheva enjoyed the American classroom where students are able to contribute to discussion and express their point of view which helps develop independent thinking. She happily worked in a group setting in her classes.
“The classes here are very interactive. It’s not only the professor who speaks. Students think about things that are discussed, and respond, make up their own decisions, and express their thoughts,” Pronicheva stated.
In addition to having an opportunity for discussion both independently and collaboratively, Pronicheva also enjoyed the “Politics in Film” course where students were asked to watch films, pick out hidden political contexts, and write about it. This approach was new to Pronicheva and turned into a very useful learning tool. She also enjoyed reading and discussing literary works in the “19th Century American Women Writers.”
When asked if she had any expectations of Americans before coming to the country Pronicheva replied, “I don’t think I had any. We had a lot of stereotypes of Americans based on movies and novels. Russians think that Americans have such a good life that they don’t worry about anything because they can afford everything.”
She continued, “I don’t think I’m the person who follows stereotypes. There are so many stereotypes of Russians that are not true so I don’t apply that.” Pronicheva recounted an instance where she was stereotyped during a visit to the Brooklyn Bridge. She asked a man to take a photograph and he responded by asking which communist party she belonged to. “I know Americans think Russians drink vodka a lot and that we have winter in Russia the whole year. The climate is severe, but we only have winter for five months a year.” Pronicheva discussed these stereotypes during the Russian Hour series, explaining that Russia also has warmer summers where temperatures reach the high 70’s.
Although Pronicheva experienced some stereotyping she stated that there have been many positive cultural differences between America and Russia. “I was very surprised at how friendly Americans were and that they’re always in a good mood. It’s always, ‘how are you’ as part of the greeting. In Russia they just say, ‘hi’, not, ‘how are you’ at all. When a waiter or salesman asks, ‘how are you,’ I don’t how to answer.”
“I was happy to find Fairfield was so close to New York City, Washington and Boston. I’m a city person and like to explore new cities.” Pronicheva has visited NYC frequently since she has arrived and enjoys the fast paced streets of Manhattan.
When visiting NYC, Pronicheva noticed very distinct differences in the two cultures specifically in the areas of architecture and transportation. Moscow, unlike New York, does not have as many skyscrapers. In addition, the subway systems in the two different cities are viewed differently by city dwellers. “I like the Moscow subway more than the NYC subway. For New Yorkers it’s just transport. For Moscowites it’s a piece of art.”
During her time in the United States Pronicheva has also visited Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, Washington D.C., Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Lancaster County (PA), Newport (RI), Salem (MA), Cape Cod (MA) and San Francisco. “I spent Christmas in New York City with my Russian Fulbright colleagues. This city is so vibrant that one can always find something interesting to do there. NYC is truly a city that never sleeps. The contrast between the NYC and Boston or Chicago streets strikes me. I traveled to Boston with my Chinese friends, and when we walked downtown at night, we barely met anyone. I have an impression that in NYC you’re always surrounded by people, no matter if it’s day or night.”
Looking to the Future
Upon returning to Russia at the end of May, Inna Pronicheva plans on working as a Russian language instructor at the university in her hometown of Tula. “I’m greatly interested in teaching Russian to international students. During my time at Fairfield I learned a new method of teaching and also participated in the interactive and entertaining Russian classes of Professor Syssoeva. I look forward to applying this new knowledge and skills back in Russia.”
Looking back at her year in the U.S. Pronicheva said, “It’s a totally unforgettable experience of teaching Russian to American students, traveling around the country, and making friends with people from all over the world. I made friends with my Fulbright peers from different countries as well as International and American students at Fairfield University. It would be great to keep in touch with all those people. I would love to host them if they come to Russia one day! I wish I could come back to the United States too. Now I definitely know where Fairfield, Connecticut is located on a map!”
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