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IAUNRC Expands Local Outreach Efforts

Alissa Davis, IAUNRC Outreach CoorCentral Asian Storytelling in Bedforddinator, has seen notable growth in the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center’s local outreach efforts over the last year.  “We’ve been doing a lot of storytelling in elementary schools,” she remarked recently, “as well as some more lecture-like presentations in middle schools.”   Central Asian storytelling in particular has been very popular with teachers and young audiences in southern Indiana, and she, along with other graduate students from Indiana University, has quite frequently driven out to rural community schools.  “It can be really exciting for the kids,” Davis said. “It’s not every day that they get to learn about a completely different culture!”

Central Asian storytelling has brought Kazakh legends to kindergartners, Uyghur folk tales to first graders, and a wide variety of brightly colored takhya, tubeteke, telpek and other Central Asian hats to children across Monroe County, but it’s only one piece of the IAUNRC’s larger local outreach efforts.   Working with teachers in Bedford, Indianapolis, Heltonville and elsewhere, the Center has been able to provide educational seminars on the religions of the Eurasian region, such as Buddhism and Islam, the history of Ancient Persia, and other related topics.  By working with the highly talented and knowledgeable core of Indiana University’s graduate students, moreover, the IAUNRC has striven to make these presentations as lively and accessible as possible.  For example, Peter Faggen, a PhD student at IU’s Department of Central Eurasian Studies who specializes in Tibetan reincarnation lineages, worked this January with Davis to develop a lecture about his experiences in Tibet for a Bloomington retirement home. “I loved meeting with the residents,” Faggen noted later, “and what really made this such an enjoyable outing was the participation and reaction from the audience.  I was quite impressed with their hard-hitting questions about the Dalai Lama and Tibetan history!”Ancient Kazakh Hat Ceremony

Local outreach activities are an essential part of the IAUNRC’s broader mandate to spread information about the countries in its region of interest – from the folk dances of Hungary to the religious practices of Tibetan Buddhists.   In addition to working in local classrooms and retirement homes, moreover, the IAUNRC outreach team makes sure to closely coordinate with cultural festivals, such as the Lotus Blossoms World Bazaar and annual Navruz celebrations, as well as to organize its own events for wider audiences and the public.  Throughout February, to take just one example, the IAUNRC will be organizing Eurasian dance workshops at the St. Charles School in Bloomington. 

In combination with its award-winning videoconference offerings and K-12 lesson plans, local outreach remains an ongoing and important part of the IAUNRC’s broader mission.  Teacher responses have been consistently positive, Davis says, and the plan is to continue improving on past offerings and develop new ways of reaching out to classrooms across the area. As Gerry Moore, a 3rd grade teacher in Heltonville, put it, “I teach in a very rural community and I love exposing my students to lots of geography and different cultures.  This may be the only exposure they will see!” Bringing a completely new and intriguing culture to a classroom is of course more than just educational. It can also be a lot of fun.

The IAURNC offers a variety of in-classroom outreach activities related to Central Eurasia and its broader area of regional and cultural focus.  Teachers interested in working with the IAUNRC should contact Alissa Davis, IAUNRC Outreach Coordinator, at iaau@indiana.edu.