It has been another action-packed year for the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center’s outreach program. With the advent of Coronavirus lockdown in the second half of the Spring Semester, you might have expected a hiatus to ensue—but no! The team has been working hard to expand our online offering and make our resources and services available to both parents and teachers as they meet the challenge of providing a virtual learning environment for their students.
We have been making up for the cancellation of Bloomington’s Lotus Blossoms World Bazaar—usually a prized opportunity to share a regional craft with local elementary school children and their families—by setting up an IAUNRC Pinterest account to share our craft ideas with a wider audience. Our “pins” link to craft activity packs on the IAUNRC website that are designed to get students engaged with Central Eurasia, and this collection is growing by the week.
The Center’s ongoing partnership with the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC) has enabled us to connect not only with schools, but also with community centers and retirement homes across the United States. We have delivered live video conferences to diverse audiences on topics including the modern history of Afghanistan, the Soviet Space Race, contemporary arts in Central Asia, the exchange of science and technology along the Silk Road, and the Mongol Empire. Since schools closed, we have visited 6th-grade students at their homes in Nebraska with an interactive Zoom presentation on the History of the Silk Road, and have twice participated in CILC’s weekly program of virtual learning for K-6 students with a live Mongolian discovery and storytelling session aimed at K-2 learners. The latter is currently available on the IAUNRC’s YouTube channel (also a new project!), as well as via CILC’s own YouTube channel and website.
Back in the “real” world, the IAUNRC continues to be a committed sponsor of IU’s Bridges: Children, Languages, World program to bring less commonly taught languages to K-12 learners. This year we returned to Fairview Elementary with a team of dedicated volunteers to run a weekly Persian Club for the Banneker at the View after-school program. As well as playing a lot of games and learning some basic interactions and vocabulary in Persian, our 2nd and 3rd grade students discovered the Persian alphabet through Persian names and their meanings, made Persian sweets, explored Iran’s cityscapes, enjoyed various Persian-themed craft activities, and learned about the countries where Persian is spoken through flags and traditional clothing. Our 24-week program was cut three weeks short by COVID-19—but not before we had celebrated Persian New Year!
Persian Club Volunteer John Godoshian tells students about traditional clothing in the Persian-speaking world.
Rewinding to the Fall Semester, snow once again threatened to cancel The Project School International Night in November, but in the end the K-8th grade students of TPS turned out in spite of the cold—and brought their parents and siblings along too. At the IAUNRC table, we were making Himmeli, a traditional Finnish Christmas decoration (it is amazing what you can do with a few lengths of drinking straw and a piece of string). Our Kyrgyz felt pattern craft also got an outing this year, travelling to IU East along with the Center’s model yurt to engage and enlighten 65 3rd-graders.
Ready to make Himmeli at Project International Night.
In December, we were delighted to be invited back to Edgewood Primary School in nearby Ellettsville, where six international students shared a traditional celebration in their country with the school’s 1st grade. Students learned about Mikulás (Hungarian Santa); the kite festival, Uttarayan, in northern India; Nowruz (Persian New Year) in Kyrgyzstan; Losar (Tibetan New Year); National Sovereignty and Children’s Day in Turkey; and Bonfire Night in the UK. In their thank-you letters, students said how much they had enjoyed meeting the presenters and hearing about their different countries and traditions.
Dinara Abakirova telling her audience about Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan.
We made another return visit to Bloomington’s Clear Creek Elementary school, where a team of Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs) from the Department of Central Eurasian Studies led a Central Eurasian games session for the school’s three kindergarten classes. Sanni Törmänen, the Finnish FLTA, taught the students how to play Tervapata (“tar pot”)—similar to Duck-Duck-Goose, but with an added element of cunning and concentration; Meruyert Omirzakova, the Kazakh FLTA, brought along her collection of sheep knuckle bones and showed the students how to play Assyk; and Tattybubu Aidarova, the Kyrgyz FLTA, had her audience tossing pebbles in a game of Top Tash. The students were later captured on camera playing Tervapata in the school playground.
Learning to play Top Tash with Kyrgyz FLTA Tattybubu Aidarova.
Meruyert and Sanni also volunteered to contribute to Multicultural Month at Bloomington’s Harmony School in March, which enjoyed two successful weeks before the lockdown. Sanni introduced 3rd-6th-grade students to Finnish language and culture, including a session on traditional sports and games in Finland (wife-carrying or swamp soccer, anyone?). Tervapata made a comeback alongside Peili (“mirror,” similar to Red Light, Green Light), Purkkis (“can,” like hide-and-seek with a ball) and Kuka pelkää lumimiestä (“Who is afraid of the snow monster”). Meruyert led her group of 7th-10th-graders in a Kazakh dance lesson, decking out the students in traditional Kazakh clothing and hats from the IAUNRC’s collection.
Learning to dance Kazakh-style with the Kazakh FLTA Meruyert Omirzakova.
We didn’t just go to students: students also came to us! In February, the entire 7th grade at Central Middle School in Columbus, IN joined us at the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies to get inspiration and content for a Mongol Conquest-themed game design project. The morning’s activities included shagai (sheep knuckle bone) games, a quiz involving the Center’s artifacts and clothing collection, a game design session, and a mini-campus tour. Students of Mongolian language and history at IU volunteered to run the activities and share their enthusiasm and expertise with the visitors. This is the second year in a row that we have successfully run this program for Central Middle School, and we hope to see them back in Bloomington next year.
The IAUNRC would like to thank all those who have contributed to the Center’s outreach program this year. We look forward to continuing our mission to bring Central Eurasia to learners of all ages next year—in person or otherwise.