JFD program alumni reflect on their experiences at US universities
|When the political philosophy curriculum he'd studied so thoroughly became obsolete after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dr. Alisher Abidjanov decided to introduce himself to the classics of the field. |
Then he realized that many of the texts did not have Russian or Uzbek translations. If he wanted to read more of Plato or Montesquieu, he would have to study other languages.
In addition to his duties as an associate professor focusing on political theory and civil society at the National University of Uzbekistan, Abidjanov devoted himself to a year's study of English, and successfully applied for the Junior Faculty Development Program (JFDP) to spend time researching at a US university.
The JFDP was established in 1994 by the United States Information Agency (now the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs – ECA) of the US Department of State.
It was designed specifically to give opportunities to Eurasian and Southeastern European institutions of higher education to expand, get access to new resources and perspectives, and create academic networks with the West. Since 1998 it has been managed by American Councils for International Education, which administers more than thirty educational exchange and training programs.
In the JFDP, facilitated by US Embassies throughout the region, qualified professors at local institutions are able to audit classes, work with a mentor-professor on research and teaching, and observe the details that make American universities work.
When they return to their home institutions, they can begin to implement new methods or materials they have acquired during their time with the program, which is currently one semester.
Every participant's experience in the program is different. Unlike Dr. Abidjanov, who worked at the George Washington University in 2002 and 2003 for two semesters followed by two simultaneous internships in the capital, Dr. Dilmurod Rasulev spent just five months at the same university's Research Program in Social and Organizational Learning.
"Five months was far too short," said the expert in equilibrium modeling and commerce, but attending six classes and helping to teach three classes, along with attending conferences, kept him busy and fulfilled. Finding housing, paying for necessities, and improving his English in a house full of Russian speakers were the most difficult aspects of the program for him.
"In Europe it is easier to get along, but there are more educational and scientific opportunities in the United States," he said, and he used the experience to maximum advantage.
After only four years back in Uzbekistan at the State Economic University, Dr. Rasulev has already designed a new master's course in microeconomics and modeling.
Perhaps more impressive, he took ideas from what he called the "perfect facilities for teaching" at GWU, and created his own architectural and instructional design at SEU in Tashkent. The university now has 300 workstations and 24 new classrooms with modern equipment and layouts based on what Rasulev saw in the US.
Another professor of economics who wishes he could have stayed longer at the University of Delaware is Dr. Jamshid Normatov from the University of World Economy and Diplomacy. While Abidjanov lived with his family and Rasulev with colleagues from Serbia and then Uzbekistan, Normatov had the opportunity to stay with a young American couple that volunteered to host him.
Professor Saul Hoffman, Chair of the Department of Economics, worked as his program coordinator and helped find housing as well as arranging his participation in a New York conference. He was even picked up at the Philadelphia Airport by someone from the university and driven all the way to Newark, Delaware.
"I was very surprised with how friendly everyone was," said Dr. Normatov. He noticed that most people didn't lock their doors, neighbors and random passersby offered him free rides to the university on rainy and snowy days, and even the customs official in Chicago sported a large grin and said, "Welcome to America."
Despite the fact that he had less than five months, took three courses in different economic fields, met with professors, co-taught, and gave a lecture on the Uzbek economy, Normatov had time to attend the conference in New York, visit Washington, DC, and even see Pennsylvania Amish country, which he says was the most memorable experience during his stay.
"I heard of the program through a colleague and former participant," Normatov said, and he has already highly recommended the program to his fellow professors in Tashkent. He is also applying new methods of teaching to involve the students more in the course, and encouraging both group work and individual excellence. He says the program boosted his self-confidence. "I believe I can excel, and am more committed to my work now."
Dr. Rustam Sulaymanov, an economics professor at Westminster International University in Tashkent, also had the unique opportunity to stay with Americans and to experience more of the country than just the typical big coastal cities.
He participated in two conferences, joined an international public affairs association, and attended six courses in 2010 at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN.
"It was my first real rural experience in America," he said, contrasting it with his earlier visit to New York City and adding, "It was really great."
Another surprising aspect of his time in JFDP was Indiana University's Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center (IAUNRC), where Sulaymanov found large numbers of Central Asian scholars studying at one of the premier centers for Eurasian studies.
"I learned a lot about America, and a lot more about Central Asia," he said regarding his new friends from the region and the conferences in which he participated. He said he was also surprised at the number of American students in the program who were so knowledgeable about and interested in Central Asia.
One thing that unites all of the participants in the program, despite their vastly different experiences, is their contribution to education in Uzbekistan after returning, and their continuing ties to their host university.
After being back in Tashkent only a few months, Dr. Sulaymanov has already received a JFDP alumni grant to organize a teaching symposium for professors in the region, and is continuing to work with his academic advisor, Professor Michael Alexeev, on further research.
Dr. Rasulev has managed to redesign all of the classrooms in his university, has used curriculum from the United States, and has recently been invited to participate in a conference in Macedonia after submitting a paper on the financial crisis. Dr. Normatov has dramatically altered his teaching methods, and is continuing to look for new opportunities to expand his horizons.
Meanwhile, Dr. Abidjanov developed a new course on theories of civil society and traveled to GWU again in 2004 and 2005 to work with his mentor, Dr. Stuart Umpleby, who has also come to Uzbekistan twice to deliver lectures and help students.
Abidjanov also developed contacts at Harvard, the University of Washington (Seattle), and Johns Hopkins University, and took full advantage of the scholarship and research opportunities of the US capital while there.
In 2009 and 2010, he was a Fulbright Scholar at SAIS Johns Hopkins' Central Asia Caucasus Institute, researching civil society issues in the region. He has acquired many new ideas, and said that the JFDP was "an eye-opening experience."
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