Lazy, summer days spent along the beach or a whirlwind of new discoveries during a summer semester abroad? Our students chose the latter, traveling to St. Petersburg for a six-week plunge into Russian and Russian culture and history. Students could not have chosen a more magical time to visit the Northern Capital; during the summer months, the sun doesn’t descend far enough below the horizon for the sky to darken, resulting in the magical phenomena of White Nights.
(Left to Right) Lisa Eichhorn (UVA ’15), Madeleine Anderson (University of Minnesota ’14), Danielle Olson (Mercyhurst University ’15) , Lizzie Kressler (University of Puget Sound ‘16), Ellyn DeMuynck (University of California ’15), Alex Deitz (University of Oregon ’16), and Taryn Kurtanich (University of Southern California ‘ 15) pose outside the Grottos of the Cascade Fountain at Peterhof, spelling out CIEE.
Without wasting any time, on the first weekend of the semester, students set out to explore the city by participating in CIEE’s long-withstanding Scavenger Hunt Contest. Equipped with a city map and a list of tasks in hand, teams of students discovered interesting places in the city, tried local food, and practiced their Russian. Winners of the scavenger hunt received Evgeniy Onegin opera tickets in the world famous Mikhailovsky Theater.
On the first full day in Russia, between orientation sessions, the RAS group took a bus tour of St. Petersburg, stopping to take a picture in front of the Russian Cruiser Aurora!
Interesting Summer Courses
In addition to language courses, the summer semester boasts three very unique courses:
The Politics of the Image and the Image of Politics in Russian Art of the 20th and 21st Centuries, gives students a unique perspective on the political and social history of Russia as it has influenced and is influenced by the art of the period. Dr. Olesya Turkina’s years of research and work at the State Russian Museum, make her an invaluable professor, leading students from the Silver Age through the emergence of Avant-garde art. Visiting museums such as the Museum of Avant-garde (Matyushin’s House), the Museum of Nonconformist Art, and the Ludvig Museum collection at the State Russian Museum.
The Cultural Myths and Realities of St. Petersburg course, specially designed for our program by Prof. Leonid Loshenkov, a St. Petersburg native and expert on the cultural history of Russia, adds a unique dimension to students’ understanding and knowledge of St. Petersburg and Russia as a whole.
As University of Virginia student, Lisa Eichhorn (’15) explained:
“You learn a lot about Russian people through this course. Leonid Valdimirovich helped us understand how life can be very contradictory in Russia; how weather, and natural disasters and floods in Petersburg’s history have influenced the Russian mentality. And despite a pessimism existing, there is a warmth in the people that goes very deep."
Students learn about this ‘splendid yet tragic’ city through lectures and field trips to museums like the Dostoevsky and Nabokov museum. A particular favorite amongst the students was the trip to the Summer Garden.
As Ellyn DeMuynck (University of California ’15), reflected:
“That was a really cool day. Our professor taught us how children in Russia really learn through walks with their parents or families. Such as Greek mythology of the Greek statues in the Summer Garden."
The Topics in Post-Soviet Russian Politics is a popular course amongst our area studies students, many of whom study international relations, history, or politics in the US. Dr. Alexander Sherstobitov, a political science expert, leads students through the evolution of the political life in contemporary Russia.
The Siege of Leningrad
While passing St. Isaac’s Cathedral, many of its admirers may notice the bullet holes scarring its tremendous columns. These are the wounds of a difficult era, the Siege of Leningrad. Touring the city center, CIEE students visited the places which were the most significant for the city during the Second World War. The tour culminated in a visit to the eternal flame at Piskaryovskoe Memorial Cemetery which burns in memory eternal of those whose lives were taken.
American University (’16) student Andrew Arrington:
"The Siege of Leningrad tour was by far one of the most interesting and sobering experiences. It really gave me a sense of what exactly this city and the people went through during the war. The memory of the war is very present all throughout the city, but not always in the sense of the mourning. There’s a sense of honor, triumph, and appreciation that you can only fully experience by living here and being immersed. The tour definitely opened a lot of our eyes to this dimension of the city„
Group photo at the Piskaryovskoe Memorial Cemetery, which holds the graves of 420,000 civilians and 70,000 soldiers, who died during the Siege of Leningrad.
To CIEE students’ delight, the Mikhailovsky Theater once again welcomed us with open arms and a wonderful showing of the classic ballet, Sleeping Beauty. Even those who do not follow ballet, could not deny that this magnificent show was breathtaking. The talented ballet dancers successfully expressed the tragedy of sleeping beauty, making this deeply emotional and well known story, resonate with the audience members.
Madeleine Anderson (University of Minnesota ’14)
"This was my first time going to a ballet and it wasa wonderful experience. I expected it to be exciting and fun, because I had heard many good things about ballets, and in particular, Russian ballets – But, it was more than that. I had a lot of fun seeing all the beautiful costumes and scenery. I also had a lot of fun going to something with the whole RAS group. I’m excited to go to more ballets in the U.S."
Peter and Paul Fortress
A trip to St. Petersburg is not complete without a visit to the place on which the city was founded, the Peter and Paul Fortress. Within the tall, reddened walls of the fortress, housing the highest bell tower in the city center, students viewed the final resting place of Russian tsars Peter I through Alexander III in the Peter and Paul Cathedral, and visited the prison, which imprisoned high-ranking and political prisoners during the 18th and 19th century. Students viewed, and were able to enter many of the cells which imprisoned many of Russia’s greats, such as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Maxim Gorky.
At the height of White Nights, students embarked on the Alexander Suvorovsky, and began their journey down the Neva River to the Island of Valaam in Lake Ladoga in the Republic of Karelia. This unique 2-day tour is often full of pilgrims, journeying to visit Valaam’s Transfiguration of the Savior male monastery and the small monastic communities hidden throughout the natural beauty of the island.
Group photo outside the walls of the Transfiguration of the Saviour male monastery (Spaso-Preobrazhenskiy Valaamskiy monastyr).
This 14th century monastery and isolated religious island, provided students with a unique window into a Russian Orthodox faith removed from the hustle and bustle of city life. While touring the Transfiguration of the Saviour male monastery, we had the opportunity to listen to four members of the choir sing a number of religious hymns in the church.
Katherine Landau(Georgetown University ’17) reflected on the trip to Valaam:
“After having spent the day walking through the island and the sketes (small monastic communities allowing for relative reclusion), I spent nearly an hour and a half on the stern of the boat. I was trying to imagine why they chose this place to be their holy islands. And after standing there, looking around at the island and Lake Ladoga, and listening to the way the wind blew through the leaves, I just kind of understood„
Near the end of the light hike touring the monastic communities on the island of Valaam, we tasted tea and milk made from scratch by the monastery.
Crime and Punishment
Whether walking home from classes or strolling through the city, you’ll inevitably encounter the homes and old haunts of some of Russia’s greatest writers, composers, and artists, and walk along the same streets and see the same sights which inspired their masterpieces. On one luckily rainless Wednesday afternoon, students followed the very paths of the characters from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a masterpiece set in the heart of St. Petersburg. Students walked past the apartment in which Dostoevsky lived while writing Crime and Punishment, and retraced Raskolnikov’s steps, literally counting the very steps he took as he spiraled into madness, leaving his apartment, axe in hand, on his way to murder the pawnbroker. In the book, he covers the distance in 739 steps. We covered it in about 780 steps.
Libby Bistline (Portland State University ‘14):
“After reading the book so many times, I always admired how much thought and detail Dostoevsky put into the detail of the city, almost as if the city itself is a character. It gives you a window into how St. Petersburg was at that time, and walking through the city, following Dostoevsky’s descriptions and characters footsteps, gave a great cultural perspective into how the city is now compared to how it was."
RASP students, Libby Bistline (Portland State University) and Danielle Olson (Mercyhurst University ’15) during the Crime and Punishment walking tour.
Board Games, Trivia Nights, and Beach Volleyball!
What could make a summer more complete, than evenings full of board games like Alias or Krokodil (a Russian version of charades), trivia nights at a local pub, and indoor beach volleyball? The trivia nights are full of tricky questions on Russian and American history and culture, ranging from naming the date the first Russian State Duma was established to naming what is depicted on the back of a $20 bill.
Paulo Seabra (Rutgers University ‘16)
“Looking back, Game Night was one of the best events of the semester. Not only was it a great way to chill with everyone, but it was the perfect event to meet Russians and build connections. The language barrier was definitely present, but made it a lot more fun interacting with each other. Having to put on tapochki (slippers) at the door, the loads of games and free tea, along with the even better company made it very memorable."
Pictures from the first Board Game Night!
A Russian Celebration of America’s 238th Birthday
A summer in St. Petersburg is an exciting adventure full of new discoveries. No matter how wonderful of an experience studying abroad may be, on some holidays it’s especially easy to miss home. On the fourth of July, to bring a little taste of America to Russia and CIEE students’ new Russian friends, we celebrated Independence Day in an indoor multiplex entertainment center by playing laser tag, roller skating, playing bumper cars, and arcade games.
The State Hermitage Museum
Wondering through the halls which once housed the former Russian emperors, while feasting your eyes on more than 3 million works of art spanning countless epochs and periods, is exactly how students spent a Saturday afternoon. Excursions coordinator, Julia Semibratova guided students through the Hermitage’s vast collection, highlighting the pieces that mustn’t be missed. Many of the students came early, wondering through the Winter Palace before the start of the tour. One of the pluses of being a student: free entrance!
Lizzie Kressler (University of Puget Sound ‘16):
“Ellyn and I were completely in awe of the level of detail and intricacy of the interiors. It would be perfect to just sit and stare up at the ceilings all day. One of the other things that stood out to me was how vast the collection is. It’s not all from Russia, but it’s amazing to see the world’s treasures in the former palaces of the imperial family. It’s crazy to think people actually lived there. It was just magical and I loved it."
Every semester, our students become involved in a multitude of various activities. One activity many of our students take advantage of is the opportunity to volunteer in Petersburg’s beautiful museums, and teach English in St. Petersburg State University and local language schools. This summer, students offered their assistance to Russia’s largest contemporary art museum, Erarta, and the Hermitage Museum. The volunteer opportunities varied from editing or translating texts for new exhibitions, writing pieces in English on interesting paintings, to leading discussion clubs.
James Janison (Brown University ’16), a volunteer at the Hermitage reflected on his time:
“Being a volunteer at the Hermitage was a good experience for several reasons: it’s a great institution with an immensely valuable cultural heritage, which I, of course, feel good about helping, and it was a fantastic way to develop conversational Russian skills. I’d strongly recommend it to other students looking to immerse themselves in Russian culture."
The St. Petersburg Baltika Brewery
Studying abroad in Russia inevitably involves numerous tours of beautiful Orthodox churches, ancient fortresses, and countless museums. However, it also involves a tour of the headquarters of the largest brewing company in Russia, the St. Petersburg Baltika Brewery. The students saw first-hand what the production of the number one beer in Europe (in terms of sales) looks like, and were able to taste many of Baltika’s over 40 different brands of beer and non-beer brands.
Alexandra Deitz (University of Oregon ’16):
“The brewery was an amazing opportunity to tour a company with a proud Russian tradition and global success. The taste test at the end also proved where the breweries success comes from!"
CIEE Chefs of Russian Cuisine
Borsht with a dollop of sour cream and baked bread-crusted chicken cutlets on a bed of a balsamic infused garden salad with oven roasted potatoes and mushrooms. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? These talented young chefs (yes, your student/son/daughter/friend), prepared this scrumptious meal during Russian Cooking Class. When returning to the US, our students will be able to take a little piece of Russia with them to share with friends and family.
An Overnight Train to Moscow!
A train boardwalk full of scurrying passengers seeking their compartments on the train sounds like a short clip from an old film. However, our students became one of those scurrying passengers as they boarded the overnight train headed to Moscow. This city of nearly 12 million enchanted the students with its incomparable rhythm of life, and unique mix of traditional and modern aspects.
Lisa Eichhorn (UVA ’15) In front of GUM, an upscale department store on the Red Square. Helpful tip: The pistachio ice-cream is delicious!
Ellyn DeMuynck (University of California ’15):
“Obviously, the Red Square is what everybody thinks about when they think about Moscow and Russia and it really didn’t disappoint. My favorite part was St. Basils Cathedral. An a cappella group was singing and the acoustics in the church made the music really moving – I teared up. The Red Square at night was also breathtaking. Moscow has an interesting feel that combines imperial, soviet and modern architecture which made Russian history visible and easy to appreciate. All in all, Moscow was very memorable."
The Armoury Chamber was especially captivating: not many people can say they have stood inches away from the very crowns which adorned the former emperors’ and empresses’ of Russia’s heads, and were within arm’s length of a modest portion of the tens of thousands dresses which Catherine the Great wore. Students filled their time exploring the city and its wide array of museums, such as the Museum of Cosmonautics, Lenin’s Mausoleum, and the Great Patriotic War Museum. Many enthusiastic students filled their free time with as many museums as possible, some reaching 3 museums a day!
Banya Babes make their Return
After a few hours of steaming, lightly hitting one another with a small bunch of birch branches (it’s good for circulation, as per Russian tradition!), dipping into a cool swimming pool, and steaming again, fellow banya go-ers should congratulate one another on a good steam by saying S Legkim Parom. A group of CIEE girls did just that the last weekend in St. Petersburg. A good reenergizing steam to prepare for the last week of classes and finals!
Ellyn DeMuynck (University of California ’15)
“The banya was one of my favorite experiences. It was a great way to relax at the end of the trip! Plus, coming to Russia, I wanted to do what the locals do, so the banya was exactly what I wanted to experience."
Students enjoyed a sunny, summer day strolling through the gardens and fountains of Peter the Great’s summer palace grounds.
(Iskrenne Vashi) Sincerely yours,
The RAS Summer newsletter editors, Liz & Pasha, and the CIEE staff
Liz McBean, RASP Student Services Assistant
Pasha Sergeev, RASPStudent Services Assistant
Svetlana Mantsvetova, Housing Coordinator
Julia Semibratova, Excursions Coordinator
Nika Afanasyeva, Administrative Assistant
Katya Rubtsova, Program Coordinator
Irina Navrotskaya, Administrative Coordinator
Irina Makoveeva, Center Director