By Hiro Chang, Presidio of Monterey Public AffairsApril 22, 2009
PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- At least three or four times a year, gaps are bridged in Hayes Park Community Center on Ord Military Community. Not to be confused with physical structures, the gaps bridged are the type the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center is famous for: language and culture. In this case, it is Russian. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency Russian Arms Control Speaking Proficiency Course is a 47-week course with a focus on interpretation, speaking and vocabulary. Within the course, students are given the opportunity to learn outside the classroom, by relaxing and holding a traditional get-together that features many Russian traditions.
"This is an opportunity we get (at least three times) a year to try our hand at making Russian foods, conducting a feast with singing and dancing," said Air Force Master Sgt. Chad Duffield, senior class leader and toastmaster or tamada (in Russian) of the feast.
"You can't get away from singing and dancing in a Russian feast," Duffield joked.
The all-day event is prepared by the senior students with the junior students participating and partaking in the event.
"The senior class is basically responsible for everything," said Elena Krasnyanskaya, a DTRA professor. Although the feast is an occasion that cuts from the norm of classroom work, it is still a great learning experience for the DTRA students with their future careers.
"This is an important part of daily life for Russians," said Air Force Staff Sgt. David Riley, a junior class member.
Serving traditional fare such as borscht, pierogi and "olivie" salad make up components to the soup, meat and salad dishes that are the basic components of a Russian feast or Banket (in Russian).
"I mean the only thing not traditional about this is the lack of vodka," Riley said. "So things like this and the strict military work, cultural tours and the ability to bridge the cultural gap is important for our next assignments (after graduation)," he added.
Because of the focus on interpretation and speaking (most basic DLI classes focus on the listening), it gives the students the ability to provide discourse on a wide range of topics such as history, religion, medicine and foreign policy, said Krasnyanskaya. The opportunity to conduct a near authentic feast like this with the Russian staff is a valuable experience not lost on Duffield.
"We couldn't have accomplished any of this without the help of our teaching team," Duffield said. "We might as well all be sitting in Moscow with the quality of study we've received," he added.