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International Fellows Program helps Blugold discover his roots

| Daniel Pfab

For most students, going home means driving from campus back to where they grew up. For students like Sergei Raspel, going home has a completely different meaning.

Sergei, a UW-Eau Claire senior majoring in elementary education and minoring in general science teaching and music voice, was born in Russia. As a child he was adopted by a family from Omro. Sergei has dual citizenship for both the United States and Russia.

While growing up in the United States, Sergei was welcomed by his classmates and teachers, but at the same time he knew there were cultural differences.

“I could tell I was different from most American kids my age," Sergei said. "I had a unique name and different tastes and likes for things that typical American children don’t. I really didn’t understand why there were many differences, but I always thought it was due to my heritage.”

Since coming to the United States Sergei has always wanted to visit his home country and explore the culture where he was born, but he never had the opportunity. That all changed this summer when Sergei was given the chance to visit Russia for three weeks thanks to UW-Eau Claire’s International Fellows Program.  

The International Fellows Program was created to help UW-Eau Claire students participate in research, service and creative activity all over the world. The International Fellows Program capitalizes on the strength and success of high impact academic experiences and is dedicated to supporting student-faculty collaborative research/creative activity and research service-learning.

Sergei was invited to join UW-Eau Claire chemistry professor Dr. David E. Lewis to perform a research project. Dr. Lewis' project looked at the similarities and the differences between the United States and Russian education systems.

“I did a comparative analysis of the social political terms and how that effects the educational system,” Sergei said. 

Sergei found there are not many differences between the United States and Russia’s education system until a student reaches the college level.

“In the United States you see more colleges and universities that have liberal education programs, such as UW-Eau Claire," Sergei said. "While in Russia the universities are more specialized to one specific topic.”

Sergei got to spend time in three different cities, Kazan, Tomsk and Moscow, where he learned about his culture and heritage.

“I got to talk and meet some local Russians, I got to hear about their lifestyle and culture on a daily basis,” he said. “The food was fantastic, the people where amazing. I really enjoyed being able to just immerse myself in my culture.”  

On the final week of his visit Sergei attended an international seminar on inclusion compounds and youth school on supramolecular and coordination chemistry conference at Kazan Federal University.

“There where people from all over the world. France, China, England, Slovakia, there were many countries represented," Sergei said. "It was truly an international event.”

During the international conference three UW-Eau Claire students, Anna Giebink, Dylan Rothbauer, and Carly Goedhart presented chemistry research they completed at UW-Eau Claire. Sergei did not present research at the conference, but his Russian ties and extroverted personality made him a key piece to the conference.

“Sergei helped the students make contact with Russian students at Kazan Federal University, which was a big help when it came to interacting with other students from across the world.” Dr. Lewis said.

Sergei hopes he will be able to take some of the skills and knowledge he learned in Russia and apply them to his own classroom one day.

“When I am a teacher I would love to incorporate parts of my culture into my classroom. I am proud of my culture and I am proud of where I am from. It would be great to display and teach this to my students.”

Following his return to UW-Eau Claire, Sergei has had time to reflect on his time in Russia. “My favorite part of the trip was the pre-conceived biases I had for Russia and having those be eradicated” Sergei said. “When you hear about Russia in America, most of the times it’s not positive. It was nice to see that everything you hear is not always true.”

Sergei said he has come full circle and can now put any myths about Russia aside after experiencing the country this summer.

“Without the International Fellows Program, the College of Education and Human Sciences as well as Dr. Lewis putting together a program that would help me learn and grow in my career as well as take in my culture, I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to go to Russia in my college career.”