The idea of Interpretation is something that we have known about here in Russia; but it has always been a bit different from the way it is practiced in America and the West. From an international point of view, nature interpretation is where you take scientific or technical facts and terminologies and try to liven them up, for other people to understand and enjoy.
A good interpreter is a nature guide or a teacher who finds the means to engage their listeners emotionally as well as intellectually—so that they come away much more interested or intrigued by the subject at hand. A good interpreter’s audience also will come away caring more about their natural and cultural environment.
There are many professional interpreters who now work in the US national parks. These park employees and docents are always trying to change the way in which tourists relate to their natural surroundings. They try to help open visitors’ eyes so that they see the true value of our natural, historical, or cultural heritage.
Our first interpretive exchanges were organized alongside our American partners. These Americans were asked by several leading Baikal activists if it would be possible for us to learn more about the interpretive movement abroad. Spearheading this exchange for us were Professors Rob Cole and Jean MacGregor from Olympia, Washington.
With their help and training skills, we started by arranging a special 3-week training program in the US for leading activists and practitioners from Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, and Severobaikalsk. The first exchange trip took place at the end of 2011, after which Baikal now had it first team of specially trained interpretive guides. Several of these trainees were long-time partners and friends of the GBT. As with the previous exchange, next groups were offered an intensive 4-day interpretive training course that is put on regularly by the National Association of Interpreters in America (see: http://www.interpnet.com/). All of our Russian exchange participants have, as a result of this training, been certified by the NAI as professional interpretive guides. Upon completion of this training, each of our exchange groups went out to visit US national parks, museums, and other key sites where local interpretive staff showed us how nature guiding is practiced in real life.
These 3 American expeditions have inspired all the participants to initiate our own interpretive movement here at Lake Baikal. In so doing, we at the GBT have helped set up and run several shorter courses for our public partners, programs that we call “The Basics of Interpretation.” This local training has now been run multiple times at Baikal—often in our own offices here at the GBT.
During these seminars we share the western concepts behind interpretation, as well as the principles and methodologies that will make any interpretive presentation or talk more exciting and effective for one’s audience. At each workshop we’ve asked our local trainers to act out a number of examples of really good interpretive talks, sharing stories and engaging our listeners in a way that has not been very traditional here in Russia—at least not yet.
We also asked each of the participants in these local seminars to prepare and deliver their own interpretive talks, relying on the lessons they learned earlier from our regional trainings.