The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 6, 2008

CCHS to host exchange students from Turkmenistan

Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) English teacher David Nurenberg received permission from the Regional School Committee (RSC) on May 27 to start an exchange program between Balkanabat School #17 in Turkmenistan and CCHS. Nurenberg spent two weeks in Balkanabat during April through a “Teaching Excellence and Achievement” Program grant, a “TEA Fellowship,” from the US State Department.

Turkmenistan is a Central Asian nation roughly the size of California with a population of about six million people. It is bordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran and the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan gained its independence from the USSR in 1991.

Exchange details

The plan is to have two students, one girl and one boy from Balkanabat School #17, stay with Concord or Carlisle families for one nine-week, academic quarter. The students would be chosen by the following criteria: they would already have strong English skills, strong overall grades, excellent behavior and maturity, adaptability, and the commitment to work to educate their peers about their experiences in America, and to do what they can to help maintain our sister-school relationship, upon their return to Balkanabat. The students are expected to be 14 to 16 years old.

When reached after the meeting, Nurenberg said, “I believe travel – the kind where you actually live with and work with the locals – to be the number one most transformative educational experience a person can have.” He has traveled to two dozen countries in the last 12 years, and he has been involved with the sister-school relations program with Japan at CCHS. “It’s why I’m trying to set up a similar program with Turkmenistan,” he said.

When asked why he chose Turkmenistan, Nurenberg replied, “It is a country that I (and most Americans, I’d wager) knew almost nothing about. It was one of the most closed, repressed societies in the world until the ginger steps its new administration has been taking very recently to open communications and borders with other nations. I wanted to be in on the ground level of that process, especially since it’s a Muslim nation, and so much of what we see and hear in the American media about Muslims is so one-dimensionally negative.”

Because it is a brand new program, the U.S. State Department’s Public Affairs office in Ashgabat felt a small-scale exchange program would be a good way to proceed with the relationship between CCHS and the school in Turkmenistan. In April, 2007 Nurenberg received word that he had been chosen through a competitive selection process to go to Turkmenistan. In August he was flown to Nebraska for preparation programming.

The Public Affairs Office estimated that the per-student cost to bring the Turkmenistan students to the US would be $4000 which would cover: airfare, health and travel insurance, visas and a stipend of about $150/month/student. Nurenberg said, “Representatives from the Public Affairs Office have told me, orally, that the State Department plans to fund the program, and that CCHS is not expected to shoulder any costs. If for some reason that changes, then it’s a whole new discussion.”

RSC member Jan McGinn enthusiastically said, “It’s another example of the people in this building making a big world small. Our kids are so lucky.” RSC member Dale Ryder added, “It is fantastic for the kids.” RSC member Jerry Wedge wondered if 14 to16 year-olds seemed young for this brand-new exchange program. Superintendent Brenda Finn said, “The Turkmenistan culture has not been open to the world. This program is singularly exciting. It is increasing the amount of global education. I think it is just fantastic.” All voted in favor of supporting the exchange. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito