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Building Bridges with Kazakhstan

At the request of the Silicon Valley Innovation Center, the SPICE staff was invited on December 5, 2014 to give an overview of its work to a group of 20 educators from Kazakhstan. The educators are counseling specialists and school administrators from Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS). The NIS is a network of schools for exceptional students of ages 12 to 18 throughout Kazakhstan. The primary purpose of the visit to Stanford University and also to U.C. Berkeley was to learn more about the admission process to competitive universities in the United States.

After opening comments by Dr. Gary Mukai, Jonas Edman introduced SPICE’s curriculum development process and described two SPICE curriculum units that are historically- and culturally-relevant to Kazakhstan. They are called The Mongol Empire and Islamic Civilization and the Arts. Both topics are required in many world history courses taught at public secondary schools in the United States. Jonas’ talk inspired discussions about how curriculum materials on topics such as world religions can help to raise levels of cultural sensitivity not only among students but also among educators, including counseling specialists who need to be aware of the cultural diversity represented among students.  

Naomi Funahashi described SPICE’s distance-learning programs on Japan and Korea for high school students in the United States. Her presentation was interspersed with energetic discussions about the possibility of engaging students from NIS with SPICE’s distance-learning programs. The possibility of developing a SPICE distance-learning course for NIS was met with enthusiasm. The proposed course could introduce NIS students to U.S. society and culture as a way to help prepare them for college life in the United States and to also encourage students to someday pursue careers in U.S.–Kazakhstan relations.  

Johanna Wee shared SPICE’s web-based resources and illustrated components of a curriculum unit, Along the Silk Road, that are available on SPICE’s website and are also historically and culturally important to the people in Kazakhstan. One of the NIS educators said that he was grateful to SPICE for its work on the Silk Road and for introducing the Silk Road’s cultural significance—in particular, important cities along the historic Silk Road located in Kazakhstan—to young students in the United States.

Gary spoke about SPICE’s collaboration with Stanford’s Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (CREEES) and also SPICE’s teacher professional development initiatives with independent schools abroad that are affiliated with the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) and the East Asia Regional Council of Independent Schools (EARCOS). Gary recommended that the educators explore the CREEES website to learn about the ways Stanford is promoting the study of and research on the Central Asian Republics.

In her closing comments, Dr. Almagul Kanagatova, a director of the NIS Astana campus, expressed how rewarding it was to be on the Stanford campus and how she feels that students at NIS are ready to take on the challenge of studying at top universities like U.C. Berkeley and Stanford. An invitation was extended to SPICE to participate in an NIS-led teacher conference in Astana in October 2015. If participation in the October 2015 teacher conference becomes a reality, it will be the first time in SPICE’s nearly 40-year history that SPICE would formally collaborate with a school in one of the Central Asian Republics.