We began our class with Russian undergraduates today and for the first time since we have been here we are disappointed in our class. Someone had told us they wanted us to see what differences we saw in the Romanian and Russian students. (Remember that Russian and Romanian refers to the language they speak; not what country they come from) There is so much competition between the two groups but we had not expected to find much difference in teaching them. The Russian students are much more resistant to what we have to say and don’t seem to think that we could possibly understand their culture or what they can do in their countries. Of the 12 students in the class only 5 of them entered in to conversation with us and the others showed little or no interest in what we were teaching. It was as if they had to be there but they were not going to pay any attention to what was going on. This was not our experience with the graduate or undergrad students we had in class in the previous weeks. We will just have to see how the rest of the week goes. Hopefully we can convince them that these social work skills can be helpful for them in their countries as well as in the U.S. Some of their resistance may come from their distrust of Americans.
One student with some force in her voice said, “Here the purpose of social work is to bring people to Christ.” Shortly thereafter, she asked Preston directly, “How many people have been saved as a result of your social work?” He replied that he had no idea and only knew that clients had said to him that they thought he was a Christian based on the way he had worked with them as a social worker. He then asked the students if they thought that the social work students at the State University in Chisinau would agree that bringing people to Jesus was the primary purpose of social work. That sort of took them back and they finally agreed that they would not. They then got into a debate as to whether a Christian would ever need a social work. They were divided on that question but most seemed to agree that a Christian could solve their own problems with God’s help. Wow! Where are Garland, Sherwood and Yancey when you need them? This is where class ended, ten minutes after we were supposed to the done. I think this is why we felt so badly at the end of the day.
What a difference a day makes. We don’t know what made a difference but today it was like we had a different group of students. We began by asking what they had heard yesterday that was new to them. They stated several things and asked good questions. We went on with the discussions and most of them were interested in what was being said. By the middle of the day they were being very friendly. At one point they were talking among themselves and took a vote. Preston asked what they were voting on and they said they couldn’t tell us. But they did ask if we had anything to do after class on Thursday. When we said we didn’t, they said they would have a surprise for us. We wish we knew what made the difference. Maybe having some time to think about what was said in class gave them a better perspective or maybe they were tired. Still they are not as interested in learning the helping process as they are in discussing how social work is done in America—who does it, who do they see, etc. Most of the students are from central Asia and really have little idea of what social work as a profession is like.
Shortly after we started this morning a student asked, “You said yesterday that you did not believe that saving souls was the main purpose of social work. What do you think is the main purpose?” Preston replied, “Helping people solve their problems in living.” He talked a bit about the Mathew 26 passage (“I was hungry and you fed me. etc) and that ended it. We picked back up with the helping process and the issue did not come up again. We talked some about this with Oleg and he was not surprised given the amount of theology that is a part of their curriculum. Their BSW is a three year program and is heavy on Bible study.
We only have two more days and then we will be on our way home. Actually the time has gone very quickly. But we are ready to come home!