This past winter, a Fulbright Fellowship took Associate Professor Mary Jo Kietzman Gifford to Kazakhstan where she spent six months teaching English classes and running a drama club. As the time drew near for her to leave, she realized that once she left, there would be no more literature lessons at Semey State Pedagogical Institute where she was teaching.
"The idea came to me walking home from the Russian Orthodox Church one day… Why not get UM-Flint graduate students to help me run an online book club. If this could be, then my Kazakh girls could continue to study." recalled Kietzman Gifford.
Her idea is to get graduate students working in an experimental online group with Kazakhstani students. They would discuss coming-of-age novels written in English. The students would also write about the books. The online book club would provide further educational opportunity for students from Semey, give UM-Flint graduate students teaching experience, and provide a mutually energizing cross-cultural experience.
For the students in Kazakhstan, Kietzman Gifford believes the book club represents hope for the future: to continue developing their language skills, to have a community with whom to exchange ideas, and to develop themselves for future professions, and for their own sense of fulfillment.
She points to one major problem in launching the project, "There are only two book stores in Semey with a very limited selection, and no books in English. Internet is too expensive for most students to have at home. Job prospects are dim."
In the meantime, she has set up a Google Group. "We are scanning and uploading the first novel which is Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?"
Because of economic situation in Kazakhstan, she is hoping to locate a sponsor to assist with future book purchases/donations and shipping costs. She recently received some good news, the UM-Flint English Department, the English Master's Program, and the College of Arts and Sciences will fund the purchase and shipment of the second novel.
"Many feel that it would be great if we could buy books for the participating students. Since books are hard to come by, they really are treasured. If the project is successful, it will no longer be taken as independent study credit but will be its own course, "Literary Pedagogy."