Apr 292012
Authors: Elisabeth Willner

American children like multiple-choice questions, according to Ayrat Abdullin. They also like funny photos. So to catch the interest of elementary school classes, Abdullin showed a photograph of himself in northeast Siberia riding in a small, un-armed tank.

“A Siberian taxi,” he joked, explaining that the tanks are sometimes used as transportation in areas of Siberia that lack roads.

Abdullin came to CSU from Kazan, Russia, the capital of the region of Tatarstan, to get his master’s degree as part of a government scholars program. But now, thanks to Fort Collins’ Global Ambassadors program, he’s also an impromptu teacher.

Over the past year, Abdullin and fellow Russian student Ildus Mingazetdinov have been giving presentations as part of the program, which is coordinated by the Fort Collins International Center, CSU’s Office of International Programs and a newly formed Global Ambassadors student organization that connects local schools with international visitors.

Monday Abdullin and others will go to Bennett Elementary School to give 20-minute presentations about their native countries. Presentations include facts about the country as well as personal stories from presenters.

From Abdullin and Mingazetdinov, for instance, students will learn to write their names with the Russian alphabet. They’ll also look at photographs from Russia and hear about the animals, holidays and geography of the country.

Roxy Fajda, the president of the Global Ambassadors student organization, said the program aims to expose American children to other cultures.

“Our main goal is to put a face to a country, so it’s not just a random piece of earth they’ve never seen,” Fajda said.

Overall, speakers in the program come from about 30 different countries, including India, Bosnia, Malaysia and others. CSU international students participate, as well as other international community members.

Along with hosting events like the one at Bennett Elementary, Global Ambassadors also provides presenters to teachers who request them. If a class is learning about Africa, for instance, the teacher can ask for an African presenter.

This element of the program has existed for a long time. Fifteen years ago, the Fort Collins International Center used to arrange classroom visits by international speakers through a program they called the “International Speaker’s Bureau.”

In those days, however, the organization was informal and it eventually died out.

Roy Mongelli, a former CSU professor, helped revive the program six years ago when he asked a Mexican student if she would like to speak in classrooms about her decision to become a veterinarian.

“It was just a wild idea for a one-time shot,” Mongelli said.

The presentation was so successful, however, that the principal hugged Mongelli afterward. With the help of Kate Wormus, then a master’s student who now works in student affairs, Mongelli got a new program together by 2007, and it has grown ever since.

Global Ambassadors now markets to schools like Bennett Elementary, rather than just waiting for requests.

Abdullin said that the experience with Global Ambassadors might encourage students to visit other countries and expand their worldview.

“If they are excited about it when they are small, I think they will have an intention to go to Russia some day,” Abdullin said. “And that’s great from a cultural change perspective.”

Collegian writer Elisabeth Willner can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Global Ambassadors
14 group members
58 presenters from 30 countries
232 presentations at 12 schools and organizations
226 hours of volunteering

Presentation excerpt
As part of their presentation, Russian students Ayrat Abdullin and Ildus Mingazetdinov teach elementary school children to write their names in the Russian (cyrillic) alphabet.

Here is how to write “Collegian” in Russian:


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