Saint Petersburg summers are widely known for the remarkable natural phenomenon called 'White Nights.’ This summer, however, was also marked as arguably the coldest summer in the last decade and as the summer we welcomed our largest summer program cohort ever. Fifty-one students spent two months learning Russian language in the beautiful city of St. Petersburg. No amount of rain could dampen our students' enthusiasm for new experiences!
CIEE Russian Language students posing in front of St. Isaac’s cathedral on their first day in St. Petersburg
GETTING SAVVY WITH RUSSIAN CULTURE THROUGH CIEE’S ‘Russian Seasons’ PROGRAM
Exposure to the language both at home and in school and intensive classes taught by experienced St. Petersburg State University faculty give our students an opportunity to immerse themselves in the culture and expand their knowledge of the language. Russian language is not just about complex grammar structures and mastering that “being-punched-in-the-stomach” sound, Russian language is also a reflection of some of the world’s finest traditions in art: ballet, classical music, literature and cinema – these are only a few areas where Russians have established great traditions.
CIEE, in cooperation with the Saint Petersburg State Universit, has designed a unique program to support student learning. Named after the ballet that set off the creation of Sergei Diaghilev’s greatest achievement – Ballets Russes, the Russian Seasons program is an eight week program, with each week having its own specific theme that provides both a glimpse of Russian culture and an outline for language classes. The CIEE extracurricular schedule is structured to support the material studied in class – whether it is a theater, sports or Russian cuisine. This approach gives our students the opportunity to practice the language they learn in class in a real-world environment.
Right: RLP students during the Siege of Leningrad tour
Students’ emotions and attention level play an important role in language learning. Always in search of new approaches and methodologies to make the learning process more rewarding, our language professors recently introduced interactive whiteboards to the CIEE classroom. Our professors find that the adoption of multimedia directly affects cognitive processes and improves language acquisition.
‘The Interactive Whiteboard makes learning process more dynamic, allows the visualization of concepts through pictures, video clips, maps, and more. Students listen to recordings with samples of intonation constructions, write their own dialogues using photos and try to find familiar intonation patterns in video clips.
Pictures and an e-quill allows teachers to demonstrate the exact position of tongue for students, as they are speaking. Students are actively engaged in class – they use the interactive whiteboard to study transcription, making learning more productive.
A compulsory element of every listening comprehension class is listening to a speech pattern and repeating it without looking at the text. The interactive whiteboard has a feature especially for that task – the teacher can ‘hide’ certain parts of displayed text to encourage students to practice more on their own and not simply read the same sentence over and over again.’
Anna Olegovna Fedotova, Phonetics and Listening Comprehension professor
Anna Olegovna explaining complex aspects of Russian phonetics using the interactive whiteboard
Van Holthenrichs (Pennsylvania State University), a student in Anna Fedotova’s class, shares his impressions of phonetics class:
‘In this particular class we watch an assortment of video clips on numerous different topics. After each video we do some in class exercises about it, answer questions and discuss our thoughts on the video. It’s very good listening practice because, for me, it’s very difficult to hear and understand the news, films, etc. in Russian due to the speed, poor sound quality, and a number of new, difficult words. However, in this class we’ve been taught to better listen to and understand Russian in video format, more Russian words, and a number of new language constructions. And if we ever have a problem in class, Anna Fedotova, our teacher, is always ready to lend a helpful hand.’
CONTINUING CIEE’S LONG TRADITION OF GUEST LECTURES
This summer CIEE welcomed Dr. Vlad Strukov who joined our faculty for the first time, and our students were given a unique opportunity to attend a guest lecture on patriotism in Russia — ‘What do we see if we turn off the TV: Patriotism in Russia’. Dr. Strukov’s experience and vast academic and research background in the subject of patriotism in Russia was a fitting addition to our “Russian Seasons” program.
David Pasmanik (Seton Hall University) reflects on his experience in Dr. Strukov’s lecture:
‘Recently, I had the pleasure to attend a lecture by Dr. Vlad Strukov — a very talented researcher — detailing how the people of Russia manifest their patriotism. Unlike America, Russians don’t display giant flags and banners on their homes and in the street — but rather they have a tendency to take pride in the aspects of their country that are unrelated to their government. Examples of such include their rich history, complex literature, and stunning art. Conversely, the presenter also made it apparent that the places where Russians felt least patriotic were all related to the government including; the quality of their healthcare, the robustness of their education system, and the strength of their economy. Dr. Strukov explained this — in part — due to the fact that, as a country with a stunning amount of different ethnic groups, Russia should be seen more as a conglomeration, a coalition of different peoples; this explains as to why there is a certain lack of unification, and henceforth patriotism, in the Russian government. Overall, the lecture was a fascinating look into the average Russian’s views on patriotism which is manifested very differently compared to America.’
EXPERIENCING LANGUAGE IN THE CITY
For CIEE students the adventure begins as soon as they land – the first week in St. Petersburg our students participate in a Scavenger Hunt, an opportunity for the students to explore and get a sense of the city in just two hours. In completing the Scavenger Hunt, students get out of their comfort zones and use Russian language in a variety of situations. Finding a place to purchase tickets to a soccer game seems easy until you have to do it all in Russian! After completing the tasks, students not only get the lay of the land, but also learn basic survival skills for living in the vibrant city of St. Petersburg. Winners of the Scavenger Hunt received tickets to Manon Lescaut, one of Puccini’s early operas.
CIEE encourages students to get the most of their language learning experience by offering them opportunities to participate in events that revolve around speaking Russian in a variety of situations. Learning in class is only one part of the process-- being surrounded by Russian-speaking environment, as our students attest, greatly contributes to classroom learning.
Anthony Janocko (University of Pennsylvania) shares a story about his adventures in St. Petersburg:
‘In addition to our language classes, there are innumerable opportunities to speak Russian while immersed in Saint-Petersburg. I had a family friend living in the city and it was great having her show me around. Half way through the summer, she broke her leg and could not leave her apartment for a week. In order to help, I agreed to run some errands. My friend directed me to a traditional Russian market where I successfully purchased caviar and salo (lard) while communicating only in Russian. These are the types of immersion experiences CIEE not only encourages, but rewards.’
Ronan Sefton (University of Vermont) reflects on how living in St. Petersburg challenges you to speak the language:
‘Before coming to Russia as any American student might do, I had many ideas as to what it may be like, and how the people would be that I can now say are close to me. An average day would consist of waking up, engaging in the morning ritual with my host family of struggling through tiredly remembering phrases in Russian as I eat a delicious traditional Russia breakfast. (Kasha, Blini) Its moments like that which make a study abroad unique, as you are putting yourself in a situation where you are forced to use the language, and you can always find a way. With my host brother, a common ritual would be walking through the maze of parks in a not so "Petersburg" area, as where I lived was far out from the center of the city. The area was unique in terms of anything I had ever seen, from what looked like abandoned buildings to tall, almost skyscraper like ones that were familiar to Soviet Architecture.’
CIEE TRAVEL ENDEAVOURS
The Summer Russian Language Program gives students the opportunity to travel outside of St. Petersburg and glimpse life beyond the culture capital. Over the past two months, CIEE students embarked on two journeys. First, student spent a weekend in Veliky Novgorod, the ‘Birthplace of Russia’ and historic center for trade, literacy, democracy and the spread of Orthodoxy. Later, they spent a long weekend discovering Moscow, the capital and historical, architectural and business center of Russia.
Right: Brian Zdancewicz (Pennsylvania State University) and Molly O’Brien (University of Washington-Seattle Campus) in Novgorod
Lera Osipov (Pennsylvania State University) describes differences between Novgorod and Saint Petersburg:
‘Last weekend, we took a break from St. Petersburg's urban scenery and traveled to one of Russia's most ancient cities, Velikiy Novgorod. Rich with several centuries of history, the quiet countryside whispered times of Old Russia. One of my favorite places we visited was Vitoslavlisty, an outdoor exhibition of intricate izbas dating back to the 16th century. The wooden village is essentially a Russian fairy-tale brought to life. Velikiy Novgorod provided us with a different cultural experience of the narodnost’, or spirit of the Russian people far from St. Peterburg's historic elegance.’
Left: Elen Gasparyan (University of California-EAP) dressed in traditional Russian dress
Right: Lera Osipov (Pennsylvania State University), Meryl Press (University of California-EAP), Ainsley Walker (University of Virginia-Main Campus), Simran Jagtiani (Carnegie Mellon University) and Maddy Martin (University of California-EAP)
This summer marked the anniversary of our Pub Quiz. First introduced in the spring of 2013, this now traditional event is aimed at bringing Russian students and CIEE students together. Over the course of three years our staff has mastered the art of writingt trivia questions that are not only entertaining, but also challenging and educational. Every three weeks CIEE staff and Russian volunteers put their heads together to come up with questions that test our students’ knowledge of Russian language and culture.
Casey Symons (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities) reflects on his experience with CIEE’s events and excursions this summer:
‘The CIEE excursions with Russian students were some of the best. The Pub Quiz nights allowed for the most interaction while maintaining a casual atmosphere. Speaking with them helped to build conservational skills as well as confidence speaking with Russians. Our encounters provided insight into the similarities between cultures. Overall, it greatly increased our perspective on what it means to be a student abroad.’
Left: Brenna Fisher (Pennsylvania State University), Kylie Doran (Pennsylvania State University), Alex Albrecht (Colgate University), Jake Hansen (University of Washington-Seattle Campus) and Nastya Kostina CIEE RASP Student Services Assistant playing board games at our traditional Game Night
Right: Casey Symons (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), Liam Fitzmorris (Dickinson College), Alex Albrecht (Colgate University), Andrew Walters (University of California-EAP), David Pasmanik (Seton Hall University) and Ayza Privalova, our Russian Buddy singing Russian songs at CIEE Karaoke Night with Russian students
HOST FAMILIES: GETTING A GLIMPSE INTO MYSTERIOUS RUSSIAN SOUL
CIEE students in St. Petersburg live in homestays, an experience that adds a valuable dimension to their experience in Russia. After all, what can provide a better look into everyday Russian life than living with a host family?
Laine Mines (Ohio State University-Main Campus) shares the impact living with a host family had on her understanding of the Russian culture:
‘Understanding culture to the fullest potential is only possible through the immersive experience of living with and like another person from an opposite culture. I feel that the Russian soul can be glimpsed at through observing closely the mundane daily rituals of a person and culture. The most important objective for those coming to Russia is to really learn the language, not just memorize vocabulary. Living with a Russian pushes your education to limits hard to reach in a classroom back in the states. It is a unique and once in a lifetime opportunity to live like a family in Russia, regardless if there are future plans to live here because you are treated as a son, daughter, or respected guest. I can tell that my host mother really cares about what I am doing and how I am. She also had the difficult task of preparing vegetarian food for me and I have rarely eaten one meal twice. She's an amazing cook! I really love waking up to the smell of blini being made.’
In the late 1890s George Rapall Noyes, a pioneering scholar of Russian language and Slavic culture, studied abroad in Saint Petersburg. He struggled with understanding the language – nothing seemed to ease his frustration towards his attempts to speak and be understood and nothing seemed to change no matter how hard he tried. But he persevered and stayed, eventually not only learning Russian, but becoming one of its great scholars.
Mr. Noyes’ story likely resonates with most study abroad students. Living in a foreign country and learning a foreign language can be frustrating. But students on CIEE’s Summer Russian Language Program took advantage of opportunities to engage with the language and culture and persevered. We wish our students the best of luck in all of their future endeavors and more great achievements with the Russian language! As we like to say in Russia, Terpenie i trud vse peretrut (Russian: Little strokes fell great oaks)
S nailuchshimi pozhelaniyami (Best regards),
Katya Kavchenko, Student Services Assistant
Nika Afanasyeva, Administrative Assistant
Anton Stepanov, Program Officer
Katya Rubtsova, Program Coordinator
Svetlana Mantsvetova, Housing Coordinator
Julia Semibratova, Excursions Coordinator
Dr. Irina Makoveeva, Center Director