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Political Sciences’ Martinez Leads a Class to Kazakhstan

Published: June 1, 2009

Political Science’s Larry Martinez leads a class to Kazakhstan this month when CSULB joins Marco Polo on the track of the fabled Silk Road.

Martinez, who joined CSULB in 1988, is organizing and team teaching a study abroad course titled “Politics and Cultures Along the Silk Road” to run June 1-19 in partnership with a course titled “Political Culture” from the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research (KIMEP), the nation’s elite business school. Both courses will incorporate a Model UN simulation of UNESCO with meetings focusing on Central Asian cultural issues.

KIMEP was founded in 1992 by a resolution sponsored by Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Today, KIMEP’s student body of 4,700 students is engaged in pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in an extensive range of business and social science degree programs.

“Instruction is in English with graduates heading to careers with the world’s leading business and managerial multinational enterprises, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations,” said Martinez. “CSULB participants will have the opportunity to meet and learn with the leaders of tomorrow’s Central Asian republics in one of the world’s most dynamically growing regions.”

The campus’ English-only instruction will help facilitate the immersion of CSULB students into the Kazakh culture. “Our students will have the opportunity to stay in the homes of their Kazakh student counterparts,” he said. “That way, they’ll be able to experience Kazakh family life first-hand.”

KIMEP and CSULB students will each receive academic credit from their respective institutions while attending the same lectures, participating in the joint academic activities and fulfilling the same academic assignments.

The partnered KIMEP-CSULB courses will promote student interaction through preparation for the simulated Model UN meeting of UNESCO’s Central Asian Working Group, which is directly integrated into the courses’ curricula. Course assignments will focus on preparing the joint KIMEP-CSULB country delegations for effective representation of their assigned country’s views.

“There has been incredible student enthusiasm for the trip,” said Martinez. “They see Kazakhstan as intriguing. Everybody’s been to Paris but who has been to Almaty? The `stans’ are perceived as very exotic.”

The students’ first stop will be Istanbul to visit a friend of Martinez who edits an English language newspaper. “Then we fly six hours to Kazakhstan, then to Western China and finally to Samarkand, Bukhara, Uzbekistan and Kashgar in China,” he explained. “KIMEP is located on the campus of what was once a Communist Party training ground. There used to be busts of Lenin in this place. Now it’s gone from communism to capitalism.”

Martinez thanked the university for its support. “The Center for International Education has vastly streamlined the process of developing and marketing such a course to CSULB students,” he said. “I’m also very grateful to the College of Continuing and Professional Education as well as the Department of Political Science for their support over the years on this project.”

Recalling his most recent Kazakhstan visit in the summer of 2008, Martinez counted construction cranes bending all over Almaty. “They are on a building boom that is really incredible,” he said. “Their new capital is a showcase for a large but under populated nation. This is an opportunity for CSULB students to know more about a country that will meet the future as a broker between Russia and China. They will play a big role in Central Asia’s future and this represents an opportunity for CSULB students to engage fully with that.”

Larry Martinez
Photo by Victoria Sanchez
Larry Martinez

One of the stereotypes he wants his students to overcome is the idea that the “stans” are primitive in lifestyle and culture. “Even though Almaty is in Central Asia, it lends a very cosmopolitan European look to its unique Asian feel,” he said. The combination of old and new makes for a special city that rests at the foot of snow-covered mountains. American tourists can board a $1 bus and be ice skating in 30 minutes even in June. “Students will see a famed animal trainer with a ranch devoted to hunting birds such as eagles, hawks and owls. Falconry was the favorite sport of Genghis Khan,” he said. “We’ll be getting up close and personal with giant eagles.”

Being a successful globetrotter takes practice. “The key to long-distance travel like this, and Kazakhstan is 14 time zones away from the US, is to pack lightly,” he said. “For instance, I recommend baggage that can be seen in the dark because the last time I passed through Moscow, the airport suffered a power blackout but I could still pick out my bags on the luggage carousel.”

Martinez is an expert in the international politics of high technology who led a dozen students to the Harvard National Model United Nations conference in 2007. He also received a Fulbright grant in 1998-99. He received his A.A. from Cuesta College and his bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara, the latter in 1984. He attended the Universities of Goettingen and Tubingen in the 1970s and later the Universities of Geneva and Cologne.

Martinez believes experiences like these will help propel CSULB students to international service careers in a globalizing world. “To be competitive in the marketplace of the future demands these kinds of experiences,” he said. “It is valuable to know how another culture operates and how it sees the world. Knowledge about languages and belief systems make for a more competitive jobseeker.”

Huddling in Mongolian yurts and visiting countryside which most Americans have seen only in the movies has deepened Martinez’ understanding of Central Asia. “Eating the food and traveling the terrain adds appreciation to any culture but especially Kazakhstan,” he said. “Visiting there has taught me to identify emotionally with the Silk Road. The wonderful thing is that it increases your desire to travel even more.”