Greetings from sunny St. Petersburg!
It's hard to believe, but the summer semester has almost come to a close. Indeed, it seems like only yesterday that our intrepid Russian Language students emerged wide-eyed from customs control at Pulkovo Airport. The warm days and white nights of St. Petersburg in the summertime have simply flown by as we've lived and learned together at Smolny. In the following passages we've endeavored to give you an idea of what our students have been up to!
Among the required courses at our study center, conversation class is usually the loudest. The thick walls at Smolny frequently fail to contain the enthusiastic and impassioned bits of conversation that spill out into the corridor from classes led by Dr. Mikhail Krundyshev. Mikhail sits at the head of the room, a plan laid out on the table in front of him. He sticks to the topic at hand, encouraging, explicating and even provoking when necessary. His exaggerated expressions and gestures lead the discussion when necessary and offer lessons of their own for students attempting to gain a deeper understanding of the nuances of Russian conversation. As the class period goes on, the students gain confidence and sooner than later Mikhail’s job is done: his students lose themselves in the conversation, employing terms and expressions that were new to them at the beginning of class. Russian language student Emil Patino (Georgetown) is full of praise for Mikhail:
Mikhail is such a great and experienced teacher. Having class with him is always fun and enlightening. He always has so much to talk about and is always patient and understanding. Having him is like having a window into the Russian soul.
One of the most important classes at our study center remains "Discovering Russia: Film, Music and Current Press." The longevity and success of this course is in large part due to the efforts of its charismatic and musically gifted leader, Dr. Irina Guliakova. But what would her efforts come to without the brave and talented students who embrace the spirit of this course every semester? Irina's class offers these students more than just the opportunity to come closer to Russian culture through film, music and media; the musical aspect of the course requires them to learn classic Russian and Soviet songs. Through this process they are given a chance to work on and improve their phonetics and vocabulary. Every time a new song is introduced, Irina first conducts a discussion in which she explains the origins of the piece, its cultural significance, its vocabulary, and even goes over areas in the lyrics that offer specific phonetic challenges. This allows our students to gain a deep understanding of the song's meaning and improve their Russian. With Irina’s passion and our students’ determination, "Discovering Russia: Film, Music and Current Press" is always a great success!
One of the first mandatory excursions we led our students on this semester was a “Blockade Tour” of St. Petersburg. The blockade is not a light-hearted summertime subject, but it's important that we consistently tell our students this story every semester. It is imperative that they gain an understanding and appreciation for the immensity of the 872 day siege of Leningrad that resulted in the deaths of close to 1.5 million Soviet citizens and soldiers. As always, our tour ended with a somber visit to the Piskarev cemetary, where more than 500 thousand citizens and soldiers are buried.
As always, the meeting point was behind Kazansky Cathedral. Our students approached the bus yawning and blinking as their eyes adjusted to the pale morning light. Everyone arrived on time and soon we were cruising down Moskovsky Avenue on our way to Novgorod!
Upon arrival in Novgorod we embarked on a walking tour of the ancient city center. This summer the weather proved to be a challenge for some of us. The sun was shining and the air was hot and heavy with moisture. But we continued on all the same, fascinated by the accounts of our tour guides. As we exited the Kremlin, at the very heart of the city, a panorama of the Volkhov river opened up before us. Our tour guides had already expounded upon the historical significance of this strategic waterway, but they hadn't mentioned the sandy beach on its Western shore. After the tour ended, the majority of our students returned to this spot to cool off. This is what Russian language student Will Hanlon (Columbia) had to say about the Novgorod excursion:
Coming to Russia, everyone obviously expects ancient fortresses, grand palaces, and historic monuments, but swimming and diving in a gorgeous river directly next to an 800 year old Kremlin caught me off guard. It was great!
Rain clouds moved in quickly as we concluded our excursion to the village museum of Vitoslavitsy. Luckily, the next destination on our itinerary wasn’t too far away; it was dinner time! We made it to the safety of the restaurant before the sky broke. Little did we know, but the rustic atmosphere and delicious fare of the Russian banquet hall would be complimented by a special performance just for us. Traditional costumes, folk songs, whirling dances along with gleeful whistles and whoops accented a thoroughly entertaining private performance. Our students even took part in the show: dancing, clapping, and even joining in with traditional Russian instruments. This was a great way for our students to practice their Russian and learn a little bit about traditional Russian songs and dances. Before long the rain had stopped and the show was over. We made our way back to our buses and began our journey back to St. Petersburg.
Students tour the Kremlin
almost impossible to visit Moscow without descending into the metro at least
once. As on past excursions to Moscow, this summer some of our students chose
to take a guided tour of the city’s unique and historic metro system. This time
the tour was led by Moscow native and Program Director Irina Efimovna. Many of
the metro stations located under the streets of central Moscow have become
functional monuments of a bygone era. Each station is an engineering feat and
an artistic composition of its own. The character of these subterranean
platforms is established through architectural and decorative motifs and
designs that vary from stop to stop. The group listened intently over the roar
of passing metro cars, as Irina related the story of each stop and pointed out its unique features.
Tula and Yasnaya Polyana
This summer our traditional weekend excursion to Moscow was complimented by an extraordinary daytrip. For the first time in Smolny history, Student Services Coordinator Katya Rubtsova led a group of Russian Language students as well as Student Services Manager Jarlath McGuckin on a trip to Tula and Yasnaya Polyana. As a native of Tula, Katya was able to employ her knowledge of the area to design and lead a thorough and intimate excursion that was both educational and a lot of fun. The group was able to explore the grounds of Yasnaya Polyana, tour the house where Leo Tolstoy spent the final years of his life, and visit his gravesite. For students familiar with Tolstoy, this was a rare and much appreciated opportunity to come closer to Tolstoy as an author and a man. For Russian language student Jelena Breedlove, this was a very special trip:
Tolstoy was always my favorite writer. His educational stories taught me about science, morals and charity. On this trip I got an opportunity to visit Tolstoy’s estate, see where he lived, and feel the harmony with nature that he felt. The best of all was standing in his house and listening to the recording of his speech, given to school children, about the importance of education. That speech was so relevant to me at that moment that it completely colored that trip.
Dartmouth Professor and Faculty Leader Dr. Deborah Garretson, accompanied her students to Yasnaya Polyana and Tula. This is how she described the trip:
This is a wonderful excursion. It adds a whole new dimesion for understanding Tolstoi and his work. It also provides an outing into the countryside of Tolstoy's estate, as well as an opportunity to see, in the neighboring town of Tula, the Russia that exists outside its major metropolises.
Another first-time excursion in Moscow this summer was a visit to one of Stalin's fabled bunkers. Though the bunker itself is quite small, its historical significance is hard to overlook. As our knowledgeable tour guide and the museum's curator told us the story of the bunker, the drama of those desperate days in the autumn of 1941 played out before our very eyes. This was the bunker in which Stalin and his generals decided to defend Moscow against the seemingly unstoppable German advance. After the story was told we were given the opportunity to tour the rest of the bunker; visiting one of Stalin's private studies, the dining and conference rooms, and looking over some of Stalin's personal articles.Students listen intently to our tour guide and the museum's curator
Though our study center is dedicated to our students' academic growth, we recognize the importance of physicall activity and an occassional break from the books. During the summer semester, student services assistant Ashley Morse has continued to take interested students climbing at least once a week. Here's what Dominic Leach (University of Virginia) had to say about the weekly excursions to the local boulder hall:
Our climbing gym offers an off-the-beaten-path, authentic, friendly Russian experience. The once a week excursions to Igel's through a long-deceased, soviet industrial park have solidified for me the age-old adage that one should not judge a book by its cover; although the path appears at first to be mug-central, the rundown back alleys are actually regularly traveled trails for the workers of Petersburg. The climbing gym itself is a great place to meet locals. Igel's will open your eyes as it demonstrates some of the similarities between your country's culture and Russia's. It's also a lot of fun!
Udelnaya is a flea-market located in the northern suburbs of St. Petersburg. It has become a popular destination for many of our students over the years. Here's why:
“Bathing suits starting at fifty rubles!”
“Scarves, come get your scarves! This winter will be the coldest one yet!"
“That’s ridiculous, these kids need swimsuits! Come get your swimsuits!”
“Hey, grandma, why don’t you mind your own business?”
Business is supposed to be what all the hub-bub is a about. But the Udelnaya market offers a lot more than just business to our students. It’s an adventure that has become a must almost every semester. Whether haggling over souvenirs for family and friends back home or just chatting with the locals, our students are able to practice their Russian and enjoy the unique sensory experience of an authentic Russian market. At the end of the day, empty handed or not, a visitor to Udelnaya cannot claim they didn’t get something out of the experience.
Visitors from Portland
Two colleagues from CIEE Headquarters in Portland, Maine made the effort to come visit our center for a week. In addition to attending such student activities as a Georgian cooking class, a matreshka painting class and a stimulating pub quiz, Cloud and Vanessa also took the time to visit homestays and meet with students from our Area Studies and Russian Language programs. These meetings gave our students the opportunity to voice their opinions about the program and offer suggestions for improvement in the future. Our study center is dedicated to keeping the student experience in Russia educational, safe, and fun. Meetings like these guarantee that our program will only improve!
Vanessa and Cloud take part in the matreshka painting class
In closing it is also important to note that our study center will be saying farewell to a dear friend and colleague this summer. Jarlath McGuckin has decided to say good-bye after working for seven memorable years in student services at Smolny. His hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm helped make our study center what it is today. As author and editor of the newsletter, he has now passed the baton on to me. So, on behalf of the Smolny staff it is now my duty to wish Jarlath all the best in his new life!
Student Services Assistant
Student Services Assistant
Student Services Assistant
Student Services Coordinator
Student Services Manager