The seeds of Siberian Bridges were sown during a concert planning trip made by pianist Thomas Dickinson in 1988. His contacts took him to northeast China, an area that had received few Western artists.
One’s first glimpse of China is always eye-opening, but it was made all the more remarkable for Dickinson when he found himself sharing a train compartment with six Russians from the Siberian city of Chita. When they learned why Dickinson was there they encouraged him to come to their city, the closest Soviet city to Beijing on the Beijing-Moscow train route.
This chance encounter reflected the enormous changes taking place in the world. As a military center and repository for nuclear missiles aimed at the US and China, Chita had been closed to the outside world since shortly after the 1917 revolution. Its borders were opened - the missiles having been dismantled - only five months before the meeting on the train in 1988.
The men, representing various state enterprises, proudly showed their new international passports. For them it was a miracle that they were actually traveling in China (only a few years before China and the USSR had been edging toward war) and then that they should meet an American! The meeting was momentous for Dickinson as well. He never imagined that one day he would perform in the two great socialist countries of the world - countries he had been taught as a child to hate and fear - not only in major cities, but in remote areas rarely visited by Americans.
Thus, Dickinson’s relationship with the city of Chita began. A 1989 tour was followed by another in 1991 to China and the Soviet Union (Chita, Irkutsk, Khabarovsk, Angarsk, Ulan Ude). In 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, he returned to Chita a third time to teach music and English, becoming the first foreign teacher at the Music College and the first native speaker ever to teach English in Chita.
It was on this third visit that Dickinson recognized a serious need for neighborly contact between the West and these remote parts of China and Russia. This was intensified by how warmly, almost desperately, his teaching was welcomed in Chita, inspiring him to form Musical Bridge, now Siberian Bridges in 1993.
Tom Dickinson teaching at Pedagogical University
From 1995 to 2005, Siberian Bridges sent high school and college level teachers of English to Chita. One of those teachers taught for two school years and another taught for three years in a small village school.
Since January 2009. SB-US and the newly formed SB-Russia have collaborated on a broad array of projects.
Siberian Bridges believes in civil society and intercultural cooperation. Recognizing the power of person-to-person contact, we emphasize educational, cultural, informational, and social initiatives. We do this by promoting collaboration between American and Siberian institutions, non-government organization and cultural groups, providing teachers and materials and coordinating a variety of exchanges and other educational training programs.
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