Chase Stoudenmire, back row, third from right, and his students presented a play called "Beauty Is a Beast" at the Experimental Stage of Kutaisi State Theatre in Georgia.
Alumnus, Fulbright Fellow to Discuss Experiences Teaching in Former USSR
University of Arkansas alumnus Chase Stoudenmire will deliver a one-hour interactive presentation on the Fayetteville campus Oct. 20 reflecting on his experiences as a student in America and a teacher in the Caucasus region of Eurasia.
The presentation is scheduled at 1 p.m. in the auditorium of the Graduate Education Building, Room 166. It's called "Born in the USA; Back from the (Former) GSSR."
Stoudenmire, who earned a Master of Education degree in higher education in 2010, spent the 2010-2011 academic year teaching in the former Soviet republic of Georgia as the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship from the U.S. Department of State.
Stoudenmire described the event as "a romp through Georgian history and culture, a glance at the trials and triumphs of teaching English as a second language, and a sermon on what my experience as an American ‘innocent abroad’ taught me about the United States."
Currently, Stoudenmire is pursuing further graduate work in history in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. He is a graduate assistant in the office of the Dean of Students and also teaches English composition to U.S. military veterans on campus through Veterans' Upward Bound. A South Carolina native, Stoudenmire holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of South Carolina, and he earned certification as an English language instructor from the University of Cambridge.
In addition to teaching English in two public schools and Akaki Tsereteli State University in Georgia, Stoudenmire undertook an ambitious project with his high school students, producing a play called "Beauty Is a Beast."
"The play was designed for students learning English as a foreign language," he said. "It was an incredibly ambitious project, and I was genuinely concerned until about three days before we opened whether we were going to be ready."
According to Stoudenmire, extracurricular activities the way we know them are largely American phenomena and less common outside of the United States. When one school director indicated he would like to start a drama club, Stoudenmire challenged them to put on a full production by the end of the year.
"Sixty students auditioned and 15 were cast," he said. "Other students built the set. Everything exceeded my expectations. Every English teacher at the school contributed in some way. One of the students translated the script into Georgian for the director to use, which enabled members of the local theater establishment to help with the production."
One of Stoudenmire's professors, Ketevan Mamiseishvili, partially inspired his decision to go to Georgia. A native of Georgia, Mamiseishvili joined the faculty of the College of Education and Health Professions in 2008.
When Stoudenmire talked to her about applying for a Fulbright grant to work and study abroad, she threw out the former Soviet Socialist Republic where she grew up as a possible destination.
“I was really joking, and I didn't push him,” Mamiseishvili said about her suggestion. “I am proud of him. Georgia is not a popular destination for students who want to study abroad. A lot of students choose countries that are not very different from the United States.”
Stoudenmire lived in Mamiseishvili's home city of Kutaisi and taught at the school she attended. He visited her family and took a trip to the Black Sea with them.
Stoudenmire issued a broad invitation to his presentation.
"I think this presentation will be of interest to any graduate or undergraduate students interested in education as a social process, travel, international relations, history and the spaces where they overlap," Stoudenmire said. "It will be relevant to any person or persons who have ever called themselves American or lived in a world in which America exists."
The Fulbright program is the U.S. Department of State's flagship educational and cultural exchange program. It was established by the late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. Fulbright, who also served as president of the University of Arkansas from 1939 to 1941, is the longest serving chairman in the history of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Stoudenmire had traveled internationally before his Fulbright year but only for short periods of time to countries in Europe and North America very similar to the United States. Crossing national borders does not always involve crossing cultural borders, Stoudenmire explained.
"The greatest benefit I associate with the intercultural immersion provided by my Fulbright year is the discovery that so many things you once believed universal and thus never bothered to evaluate for merit, be it something as trivial as the polite way to serve food to a guest or as fundamental as how ‘god’ is imagined, are actually cultural variables," he said. "The impact of that realization is as tremendous as suddenly being able to see a deep world in three dimensions where you were previously limited to a shallow two. Those discoveries have an extremely liberating effect on the degree to which you perceive and respect the unwritten rules of your own culture, and an irreversibly humanizing effect on your politics.”