Engaging Eurasia Teacher Fellowship 2023: “Everyday Life in the Soviet Union” Workshop

by Sarah Linkert

On October 8, 2022, ten high school and community college educators from across the U.S. congregated on the UW-Madison campus to participate in a workshop as part of the Engaging Eurasia Teacher Fellowship (EETF) program. Coordinated by Title VI international area studies centers at UW-Madison, Harvard University, The Ohio State University, and the University of Pittsburgh, the EETF is a professional development program that provides educators the opportunity to spend one academic year undertaking an in-depth study of the people, histories, cultures, and current events of Eurasia.

Now in its third year, each EETF cohort focuses on a different theme, with the 2022-23 program devoted to “Everyday Life in the Soviet Union.” During this year’s fellowship, participants will take a deep dive into the lived experiences of Soviet citizens and how their beliefs changed over the course of the USSR’s 70-year history. The fellows consider novels, poetry, art, film and other media that shaped the worldview and cultural identity of the Soviet people and also how that worldview was exported globally. During the academic year, fellows participate in monthly content webinars and one in-person workshop, hearing from scholars with expertise on the fellowship topic; at the end of the year they design a curriculum or annotated bibliography based on something that intrigued them about the fellowship topic.

This year, UW-Madison’s Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia (CREECA) hosted the EETF workshop. Eight fellows traveled to Madison for the workshop, while two participated virtually. UW-Madison’s Office of the Registrar generously lent CREECA their hybrid conference room for the event, which allowed the remote attendees to interact with their counterparts in Madison. Not to mention that the 11th-floor conference room overlooking lakes Mendota, Monona, and Wingra offered the visiting attendees one of the most scenic views in Madison.

The 2022 workshop theme was focused on “everyday life in the Soviet Union during the Stalin years.” During the day, fellows learned about Soviet celebration culture from Dr. Karen Petrone (University of Kentucky), toured the Chazen Museum’s Joseph E. Davies’ collection with Dr. Jennifer Tishler (UW-Madison), and discussed the Stalinist court system with Dr. Kathryn Hendley (UW-Madison). The fellows also had the opportunity to network with high school teachers from Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine visiting Madison with the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program. At the end of the day, the fellows split into breakout groups for a synthesizing activity that helped them reflect on the day’s content.

As the workshop concluded, participants expressed appreciation for their new understanding of life in the USSR and their experience in Madison. As Fellow Katherine Bielawa Stamper, a teacher from the Community College of Vermont, said of her experience at the workshop, “Spending in-person time forging relationships, learning together, and collaborating on activities—as we did at the EETF weekend at the University of Madison—laid a strong foundation for the year ahead. Technology is a helpful tool; in-person interactions spark deeper connections.” This program is a collaboration between the Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Harvard University Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, the Center for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the Ohio State University, and the Center for Russia, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. It is funded through a Title VI/National Resource Center Grant from the U.S. Department of Education.