Fulbright Scholar: Kazakhstan

Disa Woodland, Copy Desk Chief~

As a Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Richard Burke, professor of English at Lynchburg College since 1985, was able to teach in Kazakhstan during the fall 2017 semester. Burke was posted to the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk on the easternmost edge of Kazakhstan. The city boasts a population of about 300,000. Burke taught classes on British and American literature at the Kazakh-American Free University (KAFU).

Many of his students were studying English/foreign languages or translation studies in the hopes of pursuing careers as translators, among other things. To be a successful translator, one needs to know the cultural significance of a word or phrase as well as its literal meaning, and his courses helped promote understanding of certain colloquialisms of the English language.

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Dr. Richard Burke with two traditionally dressed Kazakhs.

While in Kazakhstan on the U.S. Department of State-funded Fulbright program, Burke presented guest lectures and workshops which focused on American literature and poetry. One of these lectures was held at a university in Novo-Sibiersk, Siberia. “Surprisingly, it wasn’t as cold as expected,” Burke said.

Kazakhstan is a former Soviet-held country that gained independence in 1991. The city of Ust-Kamenogorsk did not appear on maps for some time because it was a mining town rich with minerals and used for processing Soviet uranium during the Cold War. The former Soviet occupation means that Russian is one of the predominant languages spoken in the country, but through efforts of the U.S. Department of State and the Kazakhstani government, English is becoming more widely spoken. According to Burke, “many young people see English as very useful, if not a necessity if they want to be successful working in other countries.”

The Fulbright program, as well as many other endeavors, are helping to spread information and diversify the global cultural landscape. Many native English-speakers, are migrating to Kazakhstan which is challenging the top-down Russian-influenced Kazakhstani leadership model.“People need to learn new ways of leading,” Burke said.