The trip is the result of a cultural exchange program spearheaded by David McChesney, Braxton County Schools’ special education director. Students will depart from Washington, D.C., on May 3 and will return to the United States on May 17.
“I first became interested in cultural exchange programs in 1992 through the West Virginia Department of Education,” he explained. “After learning more about opportunities with Russia, I decided that we could do something a little different in Braxton County.”
According to McChesney, a total of over 40 Russian teachers and students have made Braxton County their home from late September to late November during the past two years. Known as the “Russia School in the Hills” to the Russian guests, Braxton County Middle School hosted the students during the school day, while area families served as hosts for Russian students and teachers during the evenings and weekends.
Participating in classes led by Braxton County teachers in the morning and classes taught by their Russian teachers in the afternoon, the guests learned about American culture while continuing their regular studies.
“They learned that we aren’t the affluent, gun-carrying, judo experts they see on television,” he laughed. “Seriously, they learned that the American and Russian cultures are very similar when you take away the language barriers. Both cultures care about their children and work hard to make the world a better place for them. We’re much more similar than we are different.”
McChesney has taken seven trips to Russia in the past nine years –- trips that he said have been “life changing.”
“Although I’ve learned a lot about the Russian culture, I’ve learned more about myself,” he explained. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience of learning about another culture, and it has helped me to become a better person and a better educator. I’ve learned to appreciate the differences in cultures much like I value the differences in students.”
McChesney said that he hopes the Braxton County students return home to the United States with a similar perspective.
“I want the students to be able to learn a little of the Russian content in school, but more importantly, I want our students to immerse themselves in the Russian culture,” he noted. “In doing so, these students will learn to appreciate the Russian culture, while appreciating their own culture even more.”
For more information about this program, contact McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org.