Heather Fledderjohann, a graduate of both Lakeview High School and Western Oregon University, recently had the chance to travel overseas for the first time.
Her trip with a group of other current and future teachers was funded by the Center for Geography Education (C-GEO) in Oregon, which encourages Oregon teachers to learn firsthand about other areas of the world through trips like Fledderjohann’s.
Fledderjohann earned her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, and plans to return this next school year to begin work on a Master’s degree in Special Education.
According to Fledderjohann, the program she participated in this summer is open to any Oregon teacher and allows those who are chosen for the trips to get experience with other countries, cultures, geography, and foreign education systems.
Her trip began in St. Petersburg, which she arrived after a few flight changes in places like Dusseldorf.
Air fare was completely covered through the C-GEO program, which provided everything but money for food, passports, and souvenirs.
“St. Petersburg contains a lot of buildings with a very European style of architecture, Fledderjohann said. The style was favored by its founder, Peter the Great. He had the city built on a river delta with many canals, making it the ‘Venice of Russia’.
The group of about 15 with Fledderjohann broke into smaller groups to explore the city. The entire group then toured the Russian Geographic Society building.
“It was a very prestigious location with a large collection of books, many of which were originally gathered by various czars,” said Fledderjohann. The group stayed in St. Petersburg for two days.
Fledderjohann then went with the others to Moscow, which she describes as stark compared to St. Petersburg, with more of a feeling of the presence of the Russian government.
Only one day was spent in Moscow, but the group visited the Red Square and the Kremlin.
“The Red Square isn’t named after the Communist Party, but instead because the color red has special significance as being the most beautiful color in Russian culture,” said Fledderjohann.
After Fledderjohann left Moscow, she traveled for four days along the Trans-Siberian Railway and an offshoot of it, the Trans-Mongolian Railway.
During the ride, the train crossed the Ural Mountains and the geographic divide between Europe and Asia.
Eventually, the group made it to Irkutsk, and took a bus to Listvyanka near Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake. There she spotted a group of the lake’s freshwater seals, and waded in for a very short time in the frigid water of the lake, which is said to bring good luck.
The next stop for the trip was Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. Of the three million or so people who live in Mongolia, two million live in Ulaanbaatar, Fledderjohann said.
Ulaanbaatar itself is still developing, with an interesting juxtaposition of old and new, according to Fledderjohann.
She visited another school there, as well as an old Buddhist monastery. The monastery the group visited is one of the few that remain in the country from before a period of Stalinist repression, when Stalin was responsible for the destruction of many such monasteries.
They also visited the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan. “It’s been turned into a museum full of items related to the former Khans of Mongolia,” said Fledderjohann of the Palace.
Once the group had finished sightseeing in Ulaanbaatar, they drove to Terelj National Park, stopping off at a giant, 40 meter high statue of Genghis Khan on the way.
The Park offered an opportunity to camp in yurt-like gers, ride short Mongolian horses, and travel some of the mountain trails of the area. This was Fledderjohann’s favorite part of the whole trip, getting to ride around the park with a guide.
Though the trip itself was virtually free, Fledderjohann had to attend a conference put on by the organization responsible for funding the program, and will have to present to groups about the trip itself.
She will also be required to answer some questions about what she learned along the way and share most or all of her photos.