In a world where global cultures and societies are becoming ever more interwoven, Virginia Tech students need to learn to communicate across differences and find areas of mutual understanding.

Students can develop these skills through interactions with citizens of other nations and experts on international issues. Cranwell International Center addresses this need by supporting the Mozaiko Global Fellow in Residence (GFIR) program.

GFIR promotes international understanding on campus by providing short-term housing for a globally oriented researcher or speaker. Departments submit an application requesting lodging the semester prior to a guest’s visit. The selected fellows live in an apartment in Harper Hall for a period of up to one month. The fellows’ collaborations with departments provide a diversity of perspective on formal research topics or trends in higher education. Each fellow also organizes a cultural event in conjunction with student leaders in the Mozaiko living-learning community.

The most heavily attended GFIR event of the fall semester was the Russian culture night, which featured a holiday delicacy called “herring under a fur coat” or shuba, meat pies, borscht, a crepe-like dessert, and kompot, a drink made by boiling fruits and sugar. While they ate, the Mozaikans, as the students refer to one another, got an explanation from Varvara Lukyanchikova, a fellow sponsored by the Department of Entomology, about why she chose the dishes that she made.

“It was the most difficult part for me — choosing,” she said. “In Russia we have a lot of food and dishes … I have nice memories from my childhood of when my grandma made these for big family events.” Lukyanchikova devoted an entire afternoon to preparing the food because she wanted the students to experience as many dishes as possible. 

A Russian holiday delicacy called “herring under a fur coat.”

A Russian holiday delicacy called “herring under a fur coat.”
“Herring under a fur coat” is a dish commonly served for celebratory occasions in Russia. Photo by J. Scott Parker for Virginia Tech.

One student in particular, De’Vonte Tinsley, received multiple benefits from his interactions with Lukyanchikova. Tinsley is a first-year Russian major who has been fascinated by the country ever since he came across it in an atlas in fifth grade. Tinsley’s interest in Russia runs so deep that he is already investigating graduate school opportunities there.

While he helped Lukyanchikova chop potatoes and carrots for the cultural night, Tinsley was able to ask questions about institutions he had seen online. Lukyanchikova also came to a language hour for students in Mozaiko’s Russian house. Tinsley was able to ask about an expression he’d be struggling with: “bсего xорошего” (good luck). “We learned it in class, but I kept forgetting how to pronounce it. Talking to Varvara helped me get it,” said Tinsley.

Sophomore Sarah Shelton holds the student leadership position of Mozaiko Director of Programming - International Business and is a student ambassador for Pamplin International Programs. Shelton collaborated with Pamplin and Mozaiko staff to organize a presentation to Mozaiko students by Hope Qi, a native of China who works at the Dialectical Behavioral Center of Greater Washington. Qi came to campus as part of the Pamplin Global Speakers series, and she agreed to give a separate presentation on the difficulties of working in another culture to International Business Minors in the living-learning community. 

Qi’s presentation gave Shelton a better understanding of what it might be like to work full-time in another country. “She really had to fight for herself to be accepted into programs and to be viewed equally in the workplace. And that was a really interesting thing to hear because I want to work internationally, said Shelton. “And I think, ‘Oh, I speak X language, and I have lived in X country, so I think I’ll understand.’ But she thought the same thing about us … You really have to market for yourself.”

Laura Castle McCullough, assistant director for intercultural learning and program director for Mozaiko, values the unique chances for learning offered by the GFIR program.

“The Mozaiko Global Fellow in Residence Program is a powerful opportunity that allows students and globally oriented visitors to interact in meaningful ways that they normally wouldn’t be exposed to. Most importantly, the program creates space for fellows and students to learn from each other through events, cooking meals, dialogue, language practice, etc.,” she said.

Laura Castle McCullough, assistant director for intercultural learning and program director for Mozaiko, with Global Fellow in Residence Varvara Lukyanchikova at the Russian culture night.

Laura Castle McCullough, Assistant Director for Intercultural Learning and Program Director for Mozaiko, with Global Fellow in Residence Varvara Lukyanchikova at the Russian culture night.
Laura Castle McCullough, assistant director for intercultural learning and program director for Mozaiko, with Global Fellow in Residence Varvara Lukyanchikova at the Russian culture night. Photo by Diahann McRoy for Virginia Tech.

In some instances, the Global Fellow in Residence participants are part of campus-wide initiatives. For example, Amer Ahmed spoke at InclusiveVT 2019 on the “U.S. versus International Dichotomy: Creating Synergy between Intercultural and Diversity/Social Justice Approaches.” He explored the idea of defining empathy as “validating someone’s experiences as true for them” as well as the illusory nature of race as a social construct.

This spring, the Global Fellow in Residence program will welcome individuals sponsored by the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, the Department of Engineering Education, the Global Education Office, and the Asian Cultural Engagement Center. There is no charge to departments whose applications are selected, but they must provide other resources to cover costs beyond housing. Applications for the 2020-21 academic year are currently open.

-- Written by J. Scott Parker