UCC Mainstream Online

My experience with the 2014 Open World Delegation

Photo provided by Community Relations
The eighth annual Open World Delegation brought six Ukrainians to Douglas County to learn about UCC programs and learn about American culture.

Eating with someone is a great way to get to know a person, especially with someone from another country. I’ve spent a lot of time this week eating with the team of Ukrainian delegates. From casseroles at Roxanne’s, to turkey dinners in the bistro, to pizza and popcorn in the leadership office, I’ve enjoyed every second of it.
If you want to know a little history about the delegation, every year for the last eight years, there has been a group of five delegates who visit from Ukraine to explore UCC. Each delegate is an instructor from either Kremenchuk or Uzhhorod Universities. This year, there are five delegates, a facilitator, interpreter and intern from Open World. Each delegate stays with a host family, such as a UCC faculty member. I think that is incredible for someone to open their home and immerse a complete stranger in their culture.
As an ASUCC officer and after covering the delegation last year for The Mainstream, I was given the opportunity to have front row seats for this year’s festivities. I was involved with some of the planning stages and had the opportunity to represent UCC students several times in discussion and at social events.
The delegates started off their immersion to Douglas County culture by touring the Douglas County Museum, then enjoying a performance by the Umpqua Singers and a delicious BBQ dinner. I’m pretty sure the delegates’ favorite part was taking photos with all of the animals that are preserved in the museum. One of the delegates shared with me that all of his favorite memories have been captured on his camera; throughout the tour, I never saw him without his camera. The delegates were very much in awe over the vast amounts of preserved artifacts in the museum.
The next day, the delegates visited the Oregon Coast with travel guide Jason Aase, dean of Arts and Sciences, to see the most glorious rocks and dive into the coldest water in the Pacific Northwest. That’s right. Three of the five delegates dove into the frigid Pacific Waters. Considering when I go to the coast, I merely splash in ankle deep water because it is so cold, I was impressed.
On Monday, delegates toured UCC and learned about campus programs and procedures. On Tuesday, the delegates traveled to Oregon State University to learn more about universities, as opposed to community colleges.
Wednesday was the first opportunity I had to interact with the delegates over Thanksgiving dinner, provided by River Rush Catering using Vice President of Instruction Roxanne Kelley’s delicious recipes. I’d have to say one of my favorite parts of the delegation thus far was watching the delegates try new foods. Many of them were very skeptical about trying the cranberry sauce; they thought it looked weird. Well, most opted to try it and it quickly became a favorite. One of the delegates even put cranberry sauce on his pumpkin pie and made arrangements to take some home with him.
Another part of the dinner I enjoyed was the company. Language wasn’t a barrier, as the three delegates I sat with spoke very good conversational English. I was impressed. The translator was also very thorough.
It was very interesting to have conversations about the way education works in Ukraine. Education starts in kindergarten, which is followed by 11 years of rigorous education followed by a series of exams one must pass in order to graduate and go to a university.
A big difference between UCC and these Ukrainian universities I talked about was the difference in student age. I noticed shocked expressions when they were introduced to nontraditional students. At UCC, the average student age is around 28 years old. Ukrainian education is very different. In Ukraine, the majority of students go to university right after their high school graduation, at 16 or 17 years old. The majority of these students know exactly what they want to do right after their high school graduation and do not change their major, according to the delegate I was speaking with. The impression I got from these representatives was that the Ukrainian education system is very efficient with high graduation rates.
The next day, three ASUCC executive officers, Kristapher Yates, Michael Lewis and myself, had the opportunity to talk student politics with the delegates over pizza. They asked a lot of questions about the student government budget and services that we offer our students. One major difference was the activities, which is the position I hold. At UCC, I have an ASUCC activities budget of $10,000 a year. At the two universities represented, they have student leaders, but they are not given funding from the school to carry out operations. Student leaders in Ukraine rely heavily on fundraising. There also isn’t a large push for student extracurricular activities either, according to one of the delegates. School is very serious and time spent at school is for dedicating to studies; students can use other time for fun.
Also another interesting tidbit, when instructors in Ukraine enter the classroom, all the students who are able stand up as a sign of respect. When addressing their instructors, they use the instructor’s father’s name, first name and last name, as it is the traditional way. In comparison to the United States, I see our culture as more relaxed. I really like the respect for education and instructors. I believe education is valued and taken more seriously in Ukraine.
In another part of the delegation, I was involved with a conversation about student life in Ukraine and the United States, which was a continuation from our lunch conversation. We showed the delegates how we do “Techno Tuesday” in the leadership office, where we turn on fun music and a disco light and relax for an hour. We also gave them glow sticks, popcorn and energy drinks.
During this time, we talked about the current turmoil between Ukraine and Russia. I worried this would be an uncomfortable topic, but I noticed the delegates were very eager to share information about their country and greatly appreciated awareness of the current situation. One of the delegates shared there were a handful of Ukrainian students looking to move to a different university away from the turbulent region and that was causing financial strain on the students. The delegate explained that students are given scholarships from the government for particular schools and changing school can potentially nullify the funds, much like a UCC Foundation Scholarship.
We also talked about campus housing. UCC has no campus housing, while in Ukraine, a lot of students live in dormitories. I couldn’t help but snicker when one of the delegates asked if college was really like “American Pie.” I was glad to break the stereotyping about partying and hazing in college. While it might be an issue at larger institutions, it is not an issue here.
As the delegation came to a close, I was sad to see our new friends get ready to head home. The U.S. is 10 hours behind Ukraine and the delegates have had 10 jam packed days of immersion in the UCC culture. They were tired and ready to see their spouses, children and students again.
I have enjoyed every laugh, conversation and meal I’ve shared with these fine educators. I cannot stress the importance of getting out of your bubble and meeting people who are different than you. Listening to their stories, comparing your beliefs and lifestyles and being open to new experiences that may change your life.