Collective Experiencing: The Unifying Force of Blogs

How do we, in an age of transience, find a degree of permanence? How do we make others care about the things we do? And, most importantly, how do we make them realize that we care about them?

If an audience is empathetic and curious, a single human experience can be a powerful thing, a catalyst for growth. Sometimes, however, you need to take extra steps to elevate your personal experience in order to enable it to actually be an influential force.

This year, all of the US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange’s (SEE) 2015 fellows are attempting to do just that – through online blogs. “I am trying to make sense of the world,” writes Daria Slepenkina, an Emerging Professional from Irvine, California. “My blog will report my experiences as a SEE fellow, but above all, it will express a human experience. Hopefully I can narrow the gap that exists between everyday Russians and Americans by acting as… a window to another world and a bridge between two cultures.”

As Slepenkina is opening a window between two geographic and cultural worlds, so are the other 71 fellows peeking through a window that bridges the physical and the digital. For the first time, the program’s chosen cultural ambassadors are chronicling their fellowship experiences by means of online blogs, cementing the goings-on of the physical world in a digital archive.

Many fellows are enthusiastically writing more than the expected two posts. Most blogs begin with a post expressing the fellow’s excitement at the opportunity to be on a transatlantic, transcultural odyssey – an equally strong sentiment among Russian and American fellows alike. This may be followed by a post signaling that the fellow has arrived at their first target location. After this point, the only commonality between the blogs is the fellows’ detailed and excited discussions of their multifaceted interests. For a number of posts, many fellows, like Emerging Professional Aleksandr Kharevskii, would describe their first experiences of collaborating with their host organizations. “I was studying how the organization was structured and what its sphere of activity was, interviewing its employees and reading its literature,” Kharevskii writes about the Ohio-based WSOS.

Soon, the simple accounts of the fellows’ initial experiences yield to in-depth comparative analyses and revelations with regards to specific aspects of an organization’s programs or professional methodologies. Emerging Professional Rikki Brown offers an impressively detailed insider look into the inner workings of a Russian elementary school in Petrozavodsk. “I will enlighten you with more beautiful pictures of the school, its premises, and all that there is to learn from these youngsters,” she assures the reader and proceeds to explain the ins and outs of the Russian grading system, the school’s cafeteria, and a slew of other likenesses and dissimilarities with typical American schools.

As she promises, Brown accompanies her explanations with pictures, highlighting a critical strength of the blog as a medium. A blog’s multimedia attributes enable the fellows to lend visceral support to their retellings, which is especially helpful when trying to bridge cultural gaps. Fellows’ photos and videos work in tandem with their written text, offering elucidating vividness for the folks back home.

Blogs also allow the fellows to easily chronicle everything that resonates with them throughout their fellowships and demonstrate to their readers “miscellaneous” cultural curiosities that would otherwise be elided, but instead feed into the fellows’ mission to foster mutual understanding and interest. These sentiments are embodied in one of Brown’s photos, which features a paper ornament made by elementary school children: the “Rule of Friendship flower,” on which is written: “be trustworthy; be polite; be responsible; be sincere.”

Emerging Professional Alina Gnevasheva, one of the first to conclude her fellowship, finishes her digital diary with a photo of her final sunset in America. “Most important [during my fellowship] were the people that surrounded me! Very erudite, experienced, talented, and simply pleasant! This is the chief treasure that I take back with me!”

Gnevasheva, along with many others is already carrying her human experience home with her, though the sunset has not yet come for many other fellows. They are still only just firing up their blogs, priming themselves to weave the many enduring moments of their fellowships into holistic and permanent tapestries of powerful human experiences. And as the Russian and American fellows open windows to each other’s countries, so will the blogs open windows into the joys and collaborative efforts of our fellows.

If you are interested in reading the fellows’ blogs, subscribe to our Scoop.It or follow us Twitter. We are currently in the middle of our #followourfellows campaign, where we highlight a different fellow’s blog every few days.