Conversations with Nonna Kovrizhnykh, Partner Director of AFS Russia
Interviewed by Divya Arora, National Director, AFS India
Brief Bio: Nonna says, “I am a teacher by profession, used to work at school for 29 years as a teacher and a vice-principal. Since 1991 I am with AFS. First as a host mom (2 girls from the USA), then from 1993 as a Regional director and since 2005 as a National one. My family hosted 6 times – besides two young Americans a boy from Bolivia, a boy from Brasil, and two boys from Germany. I have twins-daughters. One is a librarian and the second is a restorer. My grandson was on AFS program in Costa Rica. This summer he is going to get his Master’s degree on anthropology and ethnography. He is a very active AFS volunteer right now and I am very proud of him. I am happy to have one more adopted daughter too. She was on AFS program in the US in 1998, then she married an American guy, former AFSer in Russia. That’s why now I have also 2 American granddaughters of 12 and 14 years old. Hope soon they will be AFSers as well. So, you see my life and my family is very closely connected with AFS.”
How do you feel that AFS as an organization can contribute to fostering intercultural competence around the world especially during these times of uncertainty?
Nowadays many frontiers have disappeared, opening up the way to countless journeys, migratory movements and exchanges which have brought in their wake a huge mixture of cultures and languages. However, a multicultural reality have proved potential sources of incomprehension and conflict. Societies are fraught with all kinds of tensions; intolerance towards people who are different is on the increase. It sometimes seems that despite all efforts mankind is moving backwards rather than forwards . Paradoxically, at the beginning of this the 21st century real frontiers are being replaced by psychological and sociological ones. That’s why I believe AFS as an educational organization which mission is to open minds and hearts to “others” is extremely important. AFS does not allow to forget that “others” exist and people ultimately have to learn how to live together.
Education has always been the key to expanding the vision of people. How do you feel intercultural learning incorporated within the educational framework to help in broadening the overall learning process for individuals?
People need intercultural education. Nowadays, in this multicultural, plurilingual world, the acquisition of intercultural skills is becoming more and more essential in order to live, work and communicate with other people. It is a process which makes it possible for the representatives of different cultures and languages to coexist in harmony and peace. Thus intercultural education is proving to be one of the principal objectives of all teaching/learning at school.
In order to make the learner aware of difference and develop his capacity to communicate effectively with those who are different, the methods and means must go beyond the theory.
AFS adds a practical approach, interaction with representatives of other cultures and languages. It helps intercultural skills to be based on the common fulfilment of practical tasks carried out in real-life situations.
What initiatives has AFS undertaken to shape the international education worldwide? How do you think these initiatives have been helpful to Indian Schools, Educators & Students?
It’s a difficult question because I guess it’s quite hard to estimate the role of one organization in a larger scale of the world. We do our best to reach as many people as we can to make participation in AFS program easier and more sufficient for more young people and families. We are trying to prove our participants with different scholarships which help them financially. We have a wide range of programs – not only core AFS program but also short, thematic, class exchange programs, programs within Russia for children and adults etc. We are addressing to wide audience using all possible events and places like libraries or clubs where young people and their parents could probably get together.
Any suggestions as to how the intercultural learning can be given due importance/ awareness in lesser explored areas so as to reach out for more openness and awareness in obtaining intercultural learning.
Intercultural competence comprises a certain amount of “knowledge”, but it is primarily skills that determine one’s ability to enter into relationships with others, to communicate and interact with them. So the teacher is not obliged to possess all kinds of knowledge and facts about the culture of the country.
The teacher should have the intercultural awareness him/herself that will enable him/her to encourage students to be aware of the differences, making them responsive to them and teaching them to adopt their own context, always with reference to their own culture.
Schools are important partners in the growth of AFS programs. How has AFS involved schools in the country to make them strong partners? What are some kinds of activities that AFS has been doing to improve school relationships, and can be an example for others in the field of Global Education?
Over the years AFS has had a good relationship We are proud to say that school as a social institute is a base of AFS RUS. We establish AFS chapters only if in this very city or village we have a school ready to work and closely cooperate with AFS RUS. Planning any of our activities we first of all think about how school can participate in it, what interest school can have re this event and how AFS RUS can contribute to it.
We have a lot of activities for school – learning sessions for teachers and parents, game programs for students of different age on intercultural learning, training for students, teachers and parents on intercultural issues and conflict resolution. We run seminars in English which attract foreign language teachers who want to get more chances to use the language etc.
Volunteers are the pillars when it comes to the functioning of AFS. What can more initiatives be brought forth to garner motivation amongst the volunteers?
More than 70% of our volunteers are school teachers so everything mentioned above motivates them to work with AFS. AFS supports teachers’ professional growth first of all and this is the most valuable for them. As well as the possibilities to see the world and experience exciting feelings and emotions without leaving their homes. As for the other 30% they are mostly AFS returnees. For them to continue their AFS active life is happiness and fun. Our task just to give them task and teach how better to do it.
How has the AFS experienced/helped you?
AFS changed my life! It’s a cliché but it’s true. I have been working with AFS for almost 25 years. I was 6 times AFS mom, my grandson was an AFS student, I was on different positions as AFS staff and last 11 years I am a National Director of AFS RUS.
I met so many outstanding people, spoke to very interesting persons, experienced so many good and bad (sometimes) days. I have learned different things, which I even could not imagine before, got so many friends all over the world. So the only what I have to add to it is to say that I am lucky enough that once I didn’t refuse to try and stepped into this AFS World which I believe I will not leave up to my last day.