McCorkle Fellows Explore Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

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L-R: Frantz, Ullerich, Goodfriend and Backman in the capital city Astana.

STORM LAKE, IA (11/15/2016)(readMedia)-- In August, a group of four Buena Vista University (BVU) professors embarked on a journey to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan as part of the McCorkle Fellowship program, interweaving their disciplines and personal interests and bonding as BVU colleagues and friends.

In 1992, Dr. Wind Goodfriend, associate professor of experimental psychology, lived in Russia for one month as a high school student eager to learn about the Cold War and Russians' views of America after the conflict. 24 years later, Goodfriend proposed the 2016 McCorkle Fellowship trip to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan seeing an opportunity to return to that same corner of the world and learn about the historic Soviet Union from the viewpoint of a former soviet republic. Accompanying her on the expedition were Dr. Nathan Backman, assistant professor of computer science; Dr. Andrea Frantz, professor of digital media and Dr. Stan Ullerich, professor of economics.

Sharing eastern borders with China, the rugged, remote terrain of Kazakhstan was a drastic comparison to its incredibly modern capital city of Astana boasting striking architecture- a remarkably sophisticated location to host the 2017 World's Fair. In Kyrgyzstan, Ullerich paired his colleagues up with Kyrgyz university Central Asian Free Market Institute, hiked mountainous paths, and encountered the world's most concentrated group of ancient petroglyphs. While both nations have mixed outlooks as how to remember their history as former members of the Soviet Union and how to look forward to the future as independent nations according to the BVU group, the countries share in common warm, welcoming citizens with a certain curiosity of American tourists.

The McCorkle fellows spent the majority of their time in Kazakhstan where they were eager to see the blossoming country with their own eyes. Kazakhstan is larger than all of Western Europe combined and is the largest land-locked country in the world. With a cultural combination of Soviet, Chinese and nomadic Kazakhs, the group noticed that many statues of former Soviet leaders had been removed, while in Kyrgyzstan they remain. "In terms of where they are now culturally and politically, Kazakhstan is a very unique nation," said Goodfriend. "Their president Nursultan Nazarbayev held a high ranking in the communist party, but he is beloved by his people and even changed the constitution so he can be president longer. They see him as a sort of pioneer in their country as he moved the capital from Almaty to the newly-named Astana."

The country is now forging a new future and distancing itself from the Soviet legacy, but the group noticed certain struggles in technology, economics and even some nostalgia for "mother Russia" as Frantz called it. "Most people we met were glad to be independent, but both countries have gone in somewhat different directions," said Frantz. Voters in Kyrgyzstan have routinely replaced government leaders, but it's because they're a democracy. "Citizens are creating systems and managing infrastructure that will work for them." Frantz said that in spite of the government corruption that the group witnessed, journalists like herself claimed to be working in the "-stan" country with the freest open press. She, along with the other three professors, have many lessons to take back to the classroom including her experience with photography in a strange space. "It's about enhancing our global education and trying to bring that back in diverse ways," said Frantz.

For Goodfriend, the benefits are both academic and personal. "By the time a McCorkle Fellows trip is over, you feel like you and your colleagues are all part of one team. When you see those people back on campus, you feel closer and more of an affiliation. That closeness carries over into committee work and creates a better understanding of what happens within other departments at BVU."

As a professor who serves as the principal investigator for the Institute for the Prevention of Relationship Violence and spearheaded BVU's fully accredited minor in Trauma Advocacy, Goodfriend took a special interest in the Stalinist forced labor camp gulag for women operating from the mid-1930s to early 1950s, which are marked by the Alzhir Memorial. "It was interesting to me because on the surface it was a depressing place with thousands of babies born there, but the moments of heroism and kindness actually showed the best side of humanity," said Goodfriend.

In addition to a gulag, the group visited a variety of cities and historical locations in Kazakhstan, including the Charyn Canyon, the oldest nature preserve in Central Asia (named Aksu-Zhabagly) and The Golden Man, a national treasure of Kazakstan found in a burial mound 30 miles east of Almaty.

Many ancient burial mounds from nomadic tribes known as Kurgans, were visited in Kyrgyzstan as well as ancient petroglyphs, the remains of a town destroyed by Genghis Khan and The American University of Central Asia in Bishkek where the group met with university counterparts to discuss journalism ethics, feminism, economics and Kyrgyzstan history and politics as a group. Frantz said, "I think if you're going to be dedicated to being a global educator, you can't do that in a vacuum. It is inherently an interdisciplinary experience."

Goodfriend teaches a stereotypes and prejudice class and has already shared her experience and knowledge with her students on women's prison camps, the Cold War, stereotypes about the Soviet Union and if those stereotypes exist in the Middle East for us today. "We talked about how your culture influences the way you perceive things, and there are fascinating psychological questions about the world that only come alive when you see things for yourself." Goodfriend honors what she called the 'generous' McCorkle Fellowship program by "being a role model for my students and showing them what it really means to be a global citizen."

This was the eleventh year of the McCorkle Fellowship program, which was established through the generosity of the late Drs. Paul and Vivian McCorkle, Class of 1959, who were both Life Trustees of BVU, to provide selected faculty members with an opportunity for international travel to enhance their scholarly knowledge and to add international dimensions to the curriculum. Previous locations selected for McCorkle Fellows have included Argentina and Peru (2006); India (2007); Israel and Egypt (2008); Turkey (2009); Japan (2010); South Korea (2011); Kenya and Rwanda (2012); Spain and Morocco (2013); Rapa Nui (2014) and Vietnam and Cambodia (2015).

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Photo Details: L-R: Frantz, Ullerich, Goodfriend and Backman in the capital city Astana.