The fading of the magical St. Petersburg white nights season, during which the sun never seems to set, marked the end of our summer study abroad semester. The two months that the Russian Language Program students spent together enjoying the vast selection of university courses at the Smolny campus and exploring the magnificently beautiful city of St. Petersburg, were filled with the joy of new challenges, accomplishments, and discoveries.
Our students wearing their brand-new university apparel in front of the Smolny Study Center
LIVING AND LEARNING TOGETHER ON SMOLNY CAMPUS
No matter how tough it seems to study in the summertime, the educational process proved to be very enjoyable and rewarding for our students. Our professors did their best to make the courses effective, yet interesting and exciting at the same time. Students agree that these summer classes have been challenging, but helped them to learn a lot about not only Russian grammar and phonetics, but also about Russian culture, such as the ballet, national pride, traditions, and daily routines.
Indeed, Smolny never fails to provide different class settings to our CIEE students!
Considering the language of instruction in all the classes is Russian, it has not been difficult for our students to follow the Russian-only rule while on campus. This whole semester we have been waiting for the opportunity to issue our “English ticket” to at least one of the students, but they never gave us the chance!
During the Russian language courses (grammar, conversation, & phonetics) our students had a chance to deepen and expand their knowledge of morphology, syntax and phonetic system of the Russian language. Mostly, the coursework included the completion of a significant amount of oral and written exercises, as well as the composition of short essays and creating dialogues and monologues utilizing studied grammatical structures and new vocabulary.
Emily Nicol (Georgetown University ‘16) reflects on her Grammar course:
“One of my favorite classes this summer, quite unexpectedly, was Grammar. We had a wonderful professor with a fantastic sense of humor. She made what is usually the driest and most difficult subject the highlight of our day.”
The Discovering Russia courses provided our students with an excellent opportunity to excel and shape the already acquired language skills and use them as tools to discovering more about Russian culture and everyday life here. Watching movies and cartoons, the quotes from which every Russian knows by heart, analyzing song lyrics and singing “Katyusha,” and learning all about the development of Russian mass media definitely helped students to immerse themselves into their unique study abroad environment.
As Songhyun Park (Emory University ‘16) explains:
“I thought that Kino would be a dull class of merely watching movies, but it came to be delightly surprising as it is a class of both passive and active learning. In this way, I was able to analyze and understand what I would have taken superficially.”
While preparing for the final rehearsal with students, the Music class professor Irina Gennadevna Guliakova reflects on the result of the past summer semester:
“By the spark in their eyes, I can always tell they realize that they are not doing this for schools credits or for me. They are doing this for themselves, gradually getting more and more excited about being able to sing these beautiful songs in proper Russian and, moreover, understand the exact meaning behind the song lyrics.”
LET THE ADVENTURES BEGIN!
The best way to kick off the exciting adventure of studying abroad in St. Petersburg is through CIEE’s expertly designed city scavenger hunt. Tasting pyshki and kvas (St. Petersburg style donuts and a traditional Russian beverage made from fermented bread), finding the major bridges connecting the islands of the city, and making their way to the recommended medical clinic of the city, were a few of the many fun and useful tasks students completed; their first steps in getting acquainted with the Northern Capital. The competitive nature of the scavenger hunt made the endeavor even more enjoyable for the students, as the winning team was awarded opera tickets at the Mikhailovsky Theater.
From left to right: Tyler Hunt-Smith (Georgetown University ‘16), Alisha Zespy (Georgetown University ‘15), Sarah Best (University of Washington ‘15), Jenny Jarrett (University of Washington ‘15) and Dominic LaMantia (Georgetown University ‘17) exploring the city bridges
CONNOISSEURS OF ART
ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE: visiting ballet and opera
That was just the beginning! Some of our students genuinely fell in love with Petersburg’s artistic heritage and spent several evenings enjoying the beautiful ballet and opera performances at the most renowned theaters and concert halls of the Northern Capital.
Emily Scranton (University of New Haven ’14) shares her feelings about the ballet and opera experience:
“The ballet was the most memorable of the (seemingly) hundreds of city excursions this summer. All the students spiffed up to watch “Romeo and Juliet” at the famous Mikhailovsky Theater. The dancing was a mix of harsh modern movements and classic ballet, a style, which allowed for humor along with tragedy and romance, paired with a brilliantly minimal set. I was convinced the Russians know how to do ballet right.”
REVEALING THE TRUE ENCHANTMENT OF THE RUSSIAN LANGUAGE: famous literature-themed tours
The classical excursions and tours following the life and literary heritage of Russia’s greatest writers and poets, helped students reach a new level of depth in their knowledge of Russian literature. During the summer, students had a chance to participate in the Dostoyevsky walking tour and to visit both Anna Akhmatova’s and Alexander Pushkin’s historic apartments in downtown Petersburg.
A group picture near the apartment building where Dostoyevsky wrote his famous "Crime and Punishment"
Aldo Arellano (Dartmouth College ‘17) shares his thoughts and insights on the experience:
“In a cultural center as renown as St. Petersburg, it was truly inspiring to stand in the spaces once inhabited by perhaps the most culturally influential minds in Russia's history. Having already read much of Dostoevsky's work, it was moving to enter his mind and explore the fictitious realm of his "Crime and Punishment". Walking up the steps where Raskolnikov is said to have approached his victim, and seeing the building he is said to have inhabited, was riveting. The Anna Akhmatova Museum was different because I hadn't yet heard of her work. Having now learned her story, I look forward to exploring a more modern, but equally important part of Russia's resilient literary history. And last of all, was of course the unconquerable Pushkin, whose namesake apartment-museum granted me an opportunity to observe the extent the writer has shaped Russian culture, to watch a Russian woman cry over the death mask of the nepovtorimy pisatel (one of a kind writer).”
THE SIEGE OF LENINGRAD TOUR ON RUSSIAN REMEMBRANCE DAY
June 22 is a meaningful and unforgettable date in Russia, as it commemorates the start of the Great Patriotic War (The Russian-German front of World War II) in the Soviet Union, and forebodes the years of suffering and perseverance St. Petersburg underwent during the years of the Siege of Leningrad. This summer, the Siege of Leningrad tour coincided with this national holiday, Remembrance Day. It is Russian tradition to bring flowers and wreaths to the Great Patriotic War memorials all across the country. By visiting the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery,students got a glimpse into the weight of this holiday and the mindset of St. Petersburg’s residents on this day of remembrance and grieving.
Elia Hohauser-Thatcher (Loyola University of Chicago ‘15) reflects on the tour:
“Visiting the monument and gravestone for the siege of Leningrad was both an intense and rewarding experience. It is incredibly difficult for many Americans to grasp the concept of an entire population being immersed in warfare, and I was very glad to have been brought there, and at least partially understand the experience. This is representative of all the great programs and excursions CIEE has offered me while in St. Petersburg, and I am very thankful for these opportunities.”
VELIKY NOVGOROD WEEKEND GETAWAY
One Saturday morning this summer, our students boarded the tour bus that would take them to the cradle of Russian heritage—Veliky Novgorod, also known as Novgorod the Great. During the two exciting days spent in Novgorod, students visited the Cathedral of St. Sophia (one of the oldest stone cathedrals of Russia), walked around the Novgorod Kremlin, and scrutinized the details of the 1000-year Anniversary of the Founding of Russia monument (an encyclopedia of Russian history cast in bronze). Visiting the museum of wooden architecture “Vitoslavlitsy” was one of the highlights of the trip; there, students were able to acquaint themselves with Russian village life of the 16th to 18th century.
From left to right: Clifton Rose (University of Oregon ‘14), Jeffrey Yu (Pennsylvania State University 15), Emily Scranton (University of New Haven ’14), Elia Hohauser-Thatcher (Loyola University of Chicago’ 15), Jessica Tong (Dartmouth College ‘17), Haley Teel (University of North Texas ’14) and Gabe Sheir (University of Vermont ‘16) visiting churches of Veliky Novgorod
Dominic LaMantia (Georgetown University ’17) tells about his impressions of Veliky Novgorod:
“The calm and tranquility of the city impressed us all, and gave us a taste of life in less-urban Russia. The beauty of the churches and landscape also touched me, as we experienced this holy and historic city.”
WALKING THE STREETS OF MOSCOW
From experiencing the real Russian train ride to tasting the delicious ice-cream at GUM (ГУМ, main universal store in Moscow) and taking multiple pictures at the Red square during different times of the day—Moscow provided the students a drastically different, thus unique, experience. Over the five-day trip to the capital of Russia students got to walk the Moscow Kremlin grounds, view the Lenin mausoleum, enjoy the Tretyakov gallery, discover the Space exploration museum, learn at the State Museum of the Great Patriotic war, and admire the Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance, among many sites and attractions.
Katherine Uhalde (Portland State University ‘14), Charles Springer (Dartmouth College ‘17) and Sarah Best (University of Washington ‘15) are excited to check out the Space Exploration Museum
As Gabe Sheir (University of Vermont ’16) reflects on his impressions from the trip to Moscow:
“The trip to Moscow was an incredible experience. The city seems almost infinite, sprawling past the horizon. We immersed ourselves in the history immediately with in-depth bus tours and visits to historical sites and museums. It was as if in Moscow, we could see Russia’s past, present, and future—all at once. It’s the only place where you can view Lenin in the morning, Laika (a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth) in the afternoon and the lights of Moscow at night. The trip was the highlight of the entire program and all students enjoyed it immensely.”
EXPLORING THE CULTURALLY ENHANCED SUBURBS OF PETERSBURG
A person could spend years exploring all St. Petersburg has to offer, and they will still continue to unearth new discoveries. Despite the city’s enchantment, it is important to remember the gems located outside the city skirts! There you’ll find the magnificent palaces of Tsarskoe Selo, the former residence of the imperial family and visiting nobility, and UNESCO heritage site, Peterhof. Students enjoyed weekend trips to these gems, gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for the historical figures of imperial Russia. Seeing the Amber room in Catherine’s Palace and visiting the Grottos of the Cascade Fountain at Peterhof were definitely some of the most exciting experiences of the summer!
Some insightful recounts of Peterhof and Tsarskoe Selo by Jessica Tong (Dartmouth College ’17), first year student of Russian:
“Going to Peterhof was our first time encountering the true scale of what royalty and opulence meant three centuries ago. Once all the fountains and music came on, we all wanted to both capture the beauty on our phones or just soak it all in at the same time. Following the show, we received our first tour in only Russian. Of course, this means I understood approximately two percent of what I'm sure was fascinating history, but did at least learn the word for "pipes" and that the fountains of Peterhof, as a result of the intricate system of pipes, do not use any pumps. All in all, it was lovely to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city to enjoy the pranks of the jokester Peter the Great.
Of course, like all the other beautiful palaces and cathedrals in St. Petersburg, the Catherine Palace was breathtaking, the second we stepped on the open grounds, surrounded by the palace. Our tour was filled with history, both of the royals and of the restorations that were undertaken after World War Two. The Amber Room and the Ball Room truly encapsulated the majesty of the palace. What can we say, Rastrelli was quite the legend.”
RLP group picture outside of the Grottos of the Cascade Fountain at Peterhof
MUSEUM OF POLITICAL HISTORY OF RUSSIA
The Moscow trip definitely inspired our students to learn as much as they can about Russian history and to understand how the historic experience shaped modern Russia. The State Museum of Political History of Russia was very enlightening and inspiring as it enabled students to walk through the country’s history step-by-step.
Robert Costa (Tufts University ‘16) explains:
“Not until the political history tour had already started did I realize we were standing in the former headquarters of the Bolshevik revolution! Learning about Lenin's life, I was able to lean out onto the same balcony where he delivered his first speeches. After imagining myself speaking to enthralled crowds from Lenin's balcony, our tour guide then invited me to sit at the desk of Nicholas II, placed in the museum from his train compartment. Contemplating political history from both the royal desk and from Lenin's balcony helped me to understand not only the necessity of the Bolshevik revolution, but also the tragedy of what befell Nicholas II and his family.”
BOARD GAME NIGHTS, TRIVIA NIGHTS, AND MATRYOSHKA PAINTING
What's the best way to experience full immersion into Russian language, if not spending time with Russian peers! Enjoying trivia games at a local pub and board game nights at the biggest playloft in the city definitely was a great way to practice Russian, and make new friends.
Breaking the language barrier while playing board games with some Russians!
Jeffrey Yu (Pennsylvania State University ‘15) recalls one of his favorite extracurricular events:
“Pub quizzes with CIEE were a wondrous and merry time to both test your knowledge about world culture and history as well as meet with new Russian friends! We all know how hard it is to meet and make friends with locals in a foreign country, so here was the perfect opportunity. The best part? Questions are mainly split between American and Russian based questions - so teamwork is a must!”
There is nothing more Russian than the matryoshka dolls. This summer our students had an exciting chance to not only learn about the principles of painting and the traditional painting patterns, but also to explore the story behind the matryoshka doll as they painted their own matryoshkas. In the process, students learned some Russian fairytales, and even dressed up in traditional Russian clothing!
As explained by one of the active master-class participants, Haley Teel (University of North Texas ’14):
“The matryoshka class was a unique opportunity to immerse ourselves in Russian culture, while making a personal souvenir to memorialize the moment. However, it was much more than an adventure into Russian craftsmanship. The teacher started with the origin of the classic doll and showed the multiple uses of them, as well explaining the various aspects of the doll itself. Further, music and traditional garb were incorporated into the lesson making for an exhilarating and educational afternoon, after which the students leave with an interesting new skill and a holistic knowledge thereof.”
Haley Teel (University of North Texas ‘14) and David Robinson (University of California) letting their inner Russian souls out
VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES AND PROJECTS
Volunteering has become an interesting aspect of the Russian Language Program student experience here in St. Petersburg. This summer, many of our students chose to volunteer for a number of the city’s language schools, discussion clubs, and museums. The students improved their language proficiency by volunteering part-time translating materials for Lenfilm studio (the oldest production unit of the Russian film industry) and for the Erarta museum of modern art.
Others aided language schools; Hop&Scotch, Soft English and I SPEAK ENGLISH. Over these past two months, with the guidance of experienced language teachers, our students have successfully developed their own lesson plans.. The students definitely enjoyed leading phonetics classes, conversation and discussion clubs and special weekend cultural projects.
Exploring the wonders of Erarta Modern Art Museum
One of the most memorable projects volunteers assisted in this summer was the language festival, Bez Shengena. As Katelyn Barnes (University of New Hampshire–Main campus ‘15) explains:
“The Bez Shengena festival in June was focused on exposing children to foreign languages in a way that would make it fun and accessible, and still actually teach them something! There were four stations, Britain, Italy, Spain, and Germany, all with different activities specially designed to get kids involved with learning in an atypical environment (the bright, sun-shiny, beautiful outdoors). I volunteered at the British table, where we helped kids make a collage of pictures related to Britain and held a British tea party. Having the chance to get to know the kids that participated, as well as the teachers of the fantastic Hop&Scotch school was one of the best memories I made here in Saint Petersburg, as it was a wonderfully strange collaboration of broken English, broken Russian, but still perfectly functioning in its aim of being a kid-friendly, educational way to spend a Saturday. The joy of that sunny day, filled with people genuinely interested in communicating with each other was a refreshing delight more than likely felt by all who attended.”
“SPORT, SPORT, SPORT”
The obvious advantage of spending a summer in Petersburg is being able to enjoy outdoor athletic activities. Our students took this initiative to a new level, inviting their Russian friends for a game of beach volleyball, or soccer (football, as Russians call it) one sunny Wednesday morning.
Sara Anderson (Portland State University) and Elia Hohauser-Thatcher (Loyola University of Chicago ’15) together with their Russian teammates and cheerleaders
Another great sporting initiative was implemented with the leadership of Catherine Manning (University of Vermont ‘15)—a licensed zumba-fitness instructor, who was happy to share her expertise, dance moves and igniting energy with her fellow students and their Russian friends.
SCARLET SAILS, THE MOST MAGICAL NIGHT OF THE YEAR
Our summer students were really lucky to witness and enjoy not only the delightful White Nights season in Petersburg, but also the annual Scarlet Sails festival— the most massive and famous public event during the White Nights, celebrating the end of the school year. The tradition is highly popular for its spectacular fireworks, numerous music concerts, and a massive water show. Eternalizing the legacy of the famous Russian writer, Alexander Grin, author of the story, that became the holiday’s namesake. Our students could not miss this exciting opportunity to see the firework show and the beautifully lit ship sail along the Neva River, symbolizing youth, freedom and friendship.
NAVY DAY SHIPS PARADE
Another remarkable event of this summer did not go unnoticed by our students. A lot of the Russian Language Program students spent the morning and afternoon of the last Sunday of July strolling along the streets of St. Petersburg enjoying the festivity of this Russian national holiday.
Daniel Contreras (University of Colorado Boulder ‘15) helps us feel the ambience of that day:
“For Fleet Day, the Russian Navy displayed several of their ships on the Neva, including cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. The navy also held a ceremony and a parade along the Neva, in which commissioned and non-commissioned marched. Several sailors and former sailors were present at the event and could be seen on the street cheering and driving in dodge trucks with mounted machineguns! At 300-year Park,the navy displayed some BTR-82A’s and held mock battles with individuals wearing chainmail and brandishing swords. Indeed, Fleet Day was an outstanding display of Russian patriotism and pride. Hoorah!”
BALTIKA BREWERIES: TASTING AND LEARNING!
Having walked around the humongous premises of the St. Petersburg Baltika brewery and learning about the management of such a huge successful business enterprise, students were very excited to have fully discovered the roots of some of Russia’s most famous beverages.
As Charles Springer (Dartmouth College ’17) puts it:
“Touring the Балтика beer factory was definitely one of the most interesting excursions we have gone on. Seeing all of the massive distilleries and machines used was amazing, and we were given beers to taste and free mugs as gifts after the tour. We witnessed firsthand the complexity of the daily maintenance of the factory, we were told the strategies behind the company's marketing, and we learned about the factory's production process. The entire group loved the trip, and I highly recommend it.”
MASTERING THE COOKING SKILLS
Our students managed to not only adjust to Russian food and start to enjoy the sour cream and dill in every meal, but also managed to tackle the challenge of learning how to cook it themselves! The two comprehensive and interactive classes on Russian and Georgian cuisine were filled with borsch making, meat mincing and crepe flipping. Now our chefs are ready to bring home a part of Russia that they enjoyed during their stay!
Alisha Zespy (Georgetown University ’15), Haley Teel (University of North Texas ’14), Emily Scranton (University of New Haven ’14), Jeffrey Yu (Pennsylvania State University ‘15), Malachi Price (Dartmouth College ’17), Sara Anderson (Portland State University)
Искренне Ваши (Sincerely yours),
The new RLP Summer newsletter editor, Ira, and the CIEE staff
Ira Vasilyeva, RLP Student Services Assistant
Anton Stepanov, RLP Student Services Assistant
Nika Afanasyeva, Administrative Assistant
Svetlana Mantsvetova, Housing Coordinator
Julia Semibratova, Excursions Coordinator
Katya Rubtsova, Program Coordinator
Irina Navrotskaya, Administrative Coordinator
Irina Makoveeva, Center Director