As the first month of the semester ends, we would like to send greetings from Petersburg, the Northern Capital of Russia! As always, we have happy welcomed another group of CIEE students to our Saint Petersburg State University campus, marking the 47th year of our Study Center’s existence!
CIEE students in front of Smolny on their first day in the city.
"I love you, Peter’s great creation,
I love your view of stern and grace,
The Neva wave’s regal procession,
The grayish granite - her bank’s dress,
The airy iron-casting fences,
The gentle transparent twilight,
The moonless gleam of your nights restless,
When I so easy read and write"
This fall has been unusually warm and sunny, making it even more impossible for our students to not agree with these famous words from Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, and fall in love with the enigmatic city that St. Petersburg is.
Keep Calm and Study Hard
Studying abroad is nothing less of paradise for the curious. It is an intense semester of endless streams of learning experiences that quench the inquisitive and wanderlust souls. The world truly becomes your classroom, and your academic world expands exponentially, opening its reach to a whole new level of available information and experts from which to learn.
Within the first two days of the semester, students begin their language studies. Russian Language Program students are submerged into three language specific courses, tackling the complexities of Russian Grammar, Conversation, and Phonetics, and Russian Area Studies Program students tackle Russian Grammar and Conversation.
Jeffrey Chesser (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaigne '15)
"The language classes that I am taking are providing me with a very strong base in the Russian language, especially considering that I came here speaking absolutely no Russian. Language class is also the best part of my day, due to the combination of an excellent and fun teacher, an open atmosphere, and challenging work."
In addition to the required language courses, each semester, students have a broad range of electives to choose from (Russian only of course for our Russian Language Program students!), in topics such as Political Science, Culture, Sociology, Literature, and Advanced Russian topics (Word Formation in the fall, and Advanced Translation in the spring).
But this semester is unique! This semester, we are excited to unveil our Socialist Realism course, designed by Dr. Leonid Loshenkov. This course, entitled Agitation for Happiness: The Mass Culture of the Soviet Period in Tales, Poems, Songs, and Movies, presents Soviet Mass Culture as the unspoken assumptions underlying the Soviet System, and analyzes the ability of the Soviet Mass Culture to describe the whole of reality.
Lewis & Clark student, Sara Mills ('16) is one of the students in this course:
"Mass Culture is a fascinating course. I study history and literature of the soviet period, and this course is very much relevant, of course, but most of all it focuses on ordinary people, which is an important part of a historian’s studies that is often forgotten in my history courses in the USA. Our professor is clearly very interested in the topic, and I often find my own interest in the subject increases when listening to lectures. Most of all, it is interesting to learn about this topic in Russian, as I mostly study it in English."
In addition to electives, many students choose to participate in the CIEE choir, headed by the energetic and magnetic choir director, Dr. Irina Gulyakova (pictured above), who boasts a degree in music as well as a PhD in Slavic Studies.
Antonia De Lucia (Unviversity of Alaska Anchorage '15) is one of the choir's happy participants:
"Singing in choir is one of my favorite activities here at Smolny! I feel that during choir, not only my voice sings, but my heart sings too! To me, these folk songs are a vital connection with not only our host families, but with Russian society in general, as music is a wonderful way to bridge the language gap, and communicate from the heart."
Real World Praktika
Studying a language in a classroom, and discovering the fluidity and flexibility of a language in practical situations are two very different, yet equally important aspects of learning and mastering a language.
Our students’ arrival in September, for many, marked the start of their first journey outside of the US, and their first journey in a Russian-speaking country. Students’ Russian classes in the US, without a doubt, prepared students with the vocabulary and grammar for many of the situations they encounter. However, let’s face it. Calling a taxi in a foreign language is not an easy task, nor is ordering pizza via phone. But that did not stop our students! The first two weeks were full of special tutorials led by Student Services Assistant, Liz McBean ranging from navigating the city, to calling a taxi, going to the pharmacy, and to visiting a café or restaurant.
Student Services Assistant, Liz McBean at the start of the semester’s second Real World Praktika session.
Sobesedniki, Game Night, Pick-up Soccer, & Karaoke
Our students, eager to meet Russian peers, enthusiastically engaged in CIEE’s various extracurricular programs, designed to help students immerse themselves into the life of their Russian counterparts.
Our semesterly Sobesedniki conversation partner mixer became one of the highlights of the first few weeks of the semester. In a casual speed-networking atmosphere, our students got a chance to meet a new circle of Russian acquaintances. The friendships made at the mixer were strengthened further during the following CIEE extracurricular events: board game night and pick-up soccer!
Seth Ellingson (St. Olaf College '15):
"The Sobesedniki program was a great experience! My sobesednik and I have gone to different cafes and parks around town and my Russian has increased tremendously. It feels refreshing to finally use my Russian not only for class but to socialize and talk with people my own age."
There is no better way to break that language barrier than by playing board games and charades. In the beginning of October, CIEE students and their Russian friends played a night away at Gaga Playloft—the biggest anticafe in the city offering thousands of board games that go very well with cups of warm tea and delicious cookies.
Despite the chill in the brisk autumn air, our students are doing their best to embrace every opportunity to discover life in Petersburg, including the outdoors! A Sunday afternoon started off with a pick-up soccer game. Not only did our students get some exercise, but they also met new Russian friends, explored a new part of the city, where Russian student dormitories are located, but also played against Korean students studying in Russia!
[In back: L-R] Jeffrey Chesser (University of Illinois-Urbana Champaigne) , Colin Boyd (University of Illinois-Urbana Champaigne), Andrew Woodcock (Indiana University-Bloomington), Sam Walter (American University), Matthew Avischious (Seattle Pacific University). [In front: L-R] Steavi Swinson (University of New Haven), Julia Rayhill (Georgetown University)
In addition to all these exciting endeavors, this semester CIEE is excited to present the first Karaoke night in the history of the Saint Petersburg Study Center! On one rainy Petersburg night, our students and their Russian friends met at the CIEE’s office located in the very heart of the city, Moyka river embankment, to sing the night away and to enjoy the absolutely new kind of language practice. Going all the way from traditional Russian folk tunes to today’s top hits, students embraced the new aspect of discovering Russian culture.
Ben Stewart (Pennsylvania State University '15):
"When I was told that there was an upcoming karaoke night, I had a hunch it'd be right up my alley (as I sing in choirs back in the states). What I didn't see coming, however, was the blunt entertainment value in screaming along to everything from Russian Pop hit to folk standards such as "Katyusha" with your fellow Americans and the ever-engaging staff of CIEE. Certainly one of my favorite activities of the program and rest assured I will be going back."
Frances Diaz (Rider University) takes center stage during Karaoke Night
"The Information Age" Discussions with Russian Students
Not only do our students strive for perfection when training the nuances of the Russian case system in class, but they also appreciate every opportunity to work on their debating and public speaking skills. The first discussion club meeting of the semester focused on the topic, the Information Age. Third-year students of the political science department of Saint Petersburg State University brightly introduced the topic to the audience. The speakers briefly presented their research in the area of media and modern information, both in Russian and in English languages. After the informative introductions, students divided into two groups, one English speaking and one Russian speaking group, each facilitated by CIEE Student Services staff to discuss the matters of online privacy, mass media accuracy, and information flow with their Russian peers. The topic proved to be challenging and entertaining, but it was clear, students equally enjoyed the opportunity to show off their Russian language proficiency by clearly expressing and supporting their thoughts and opinions to native-Russian-speaking discussion partners.
Andrew Woodcock (Indiana University Bloomington '16):
"Despite the fact that sometimes it was difficult to say exactly what we wanted (because of language limitations), it seemed as if nationality didn't matter anymore. At our core, we're all humans. We have feelings, emotions, opinions, we understand each other. This discussion club reminded me about this. We talked, discussed the subject (media) that affects us all, and even joked around a bit. I'm really glad to have gone to this discussion club and I'm definitely doing to the next one, and sitting with the Russian speakers again!"
Allow the way to your great work to be guided by your service to others—seems to be the best fitting motto for our CIEE students, who never cease to use an opportunity to volunteer. This semester started off with a very wide range of volunteer endeavors, including work with the International Red Cross, volunteering at the State Hermitage Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Erarta, and English teaching opportunities to Russian speakers.
After the volunteer meeting, students toured the Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art. [L-R] Madeleine Steup (Indiana University-Bloomington), Natalie Melkonoff (Arizona State University), Michaela Marincic (St. Olaf College).
This semester’s CIEE students in Saint Petersburg prove to be eager to give back to the community, and a popular way to do this is to volunteer as an English language teacher for groups and individuals of different age and language proficiencies. Our students have taken up positions teaching at the well-known Saint Petersburg State University Language School and at experimental English teaching studios such as Soft English and Hop&Scotch. So far, most of the students have finished teacher training sessions and have begun the exciting task of leading conversation groups, and helping their newly acquired Russian students digest the mystery of our students’ native language.
From participating in a documentary on the life of a Hermitage volunteer to learning new facts about art restoration—our students seek to learn all about St. Petersburg museums and galleries from more than a touristic perspective, but from a local’s and an art expert's as well.
Another exciting opportunity is the volunteer position at Saint Petersburg SKA hockey Club. For the past few weeks, our CIEE students have been making the best of their Mondays by helping to organize, rearrange and decorate the bleachers area at the SKA stadium, which is later being rewarded with free tickets to SKA hockey games!
Matthew Orr (George Washington University '16):
"The SKA games are simply a blast. The opportunity to go for free fell into my lap actually, through CIEE. Of course it wasn't completely free — we along with Russian volunteers had to put signs into every seat in the 12000+ person arena! It was a ton of fun though because we got to observe the arena and its many workers in pre-game mode, testing microphones, moving food, checking ice conditions, etc. I also saw some SKA players juggling a soccer ball to get focused. The game was engrossing and the fans were great. I will definitely be going back!"
Student Services Assistant, Anton Stepanov with student volunteers at a SKA game. [Back: L-R] McKenzy Seifert (Barnard College), Julia Rayhill (Georgetown University), Matthew Orr (George Washington University), Jeffrey Chesser (University of Illinois-Urbana Champaigne) [Front] Katie Rees (University of Southern California)
"No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten"
Nikto ne zabyt, nichto ne zabyto.
After the Siege of Leningrad tour, students began to understand the depth of this famous line of Olga Berggolts poem, which is engraved on the granite stone wall of the Piskareyovksoe Memorial Cemetery. Here, the chilling music of Dmitry Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony plays as you walk down the rows and rows of mass graves of the victims and heroes of the Siege of Leningrad. The music feels your hearts with the brave resistance of the Soviet people against the Nazi invaders during the 900 days Leningrad was under siege.
Julia Semibratova, the excursions coordinator of CIEE accompanied students on this somber tour throughout the city, pointing out places of significance during those 872 days, and helping students to understand the weight of the tragedy World War II had on Leningrad, and the influence it has had on Russian culture even today.
Group picture at the Piskareyovksoe Memorial Cemetery
University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, Annie Himes ('16):
"So often in history classes I have learned about World War II, but until last week, I had never discussed in depth the Blockade of Leningrad. Driving around St. Petersburg and hearing stories about the devastation of war and the perseverance of the Leningrad people shed light on the culture I am now experiencing. The most memorable part for me was seeing pages from a young girl's diary. She had lost her entire family during the blockade. Her words humanized history and left me in a solemn awe."
The day after the Siege of Leningrad tour, students had the unique opportunity to view a short film project entitled, Interval of War (Pereryv na Voinu). The short film investigated the idea of war in the contemporary world, and how World War II would have been different, had it occurred during the 21st century. It was a thought-provoking session followed by a discussion with the films creators.
Aaron Babcock discussing the film "Interval of War" with one of the project directors.
Film is a fascinating medium through which one can gain new understanding of a culture and the periods of history that have shaped it to be what it is. While simultaneously uniting viewers of all countries, through the commonality of human experience which it shows.
The Cinema Club's first meetings in our cozy office on the Moika embankment focused on films produced in the 21st century. Our Center Director, Irina Makoveeva, an expert in Slavic and film studies, led the screenings of such films as Shik (Chik, 2003) by B. Khoinazarov and Krai (The Edge, 2010) by A.Uchitel that are not included in traditional courses on Russian/Soviet cinema. Her introductions to these films provided the CIEE cinema lovers with the helpful background information that allowed to better comprehend the films’ complex narratives.
Dylan Ogden (Kenyon College '16):
"For me, the film club is a welcome chance in the middle of the week to sit down, relax with other students and watch a good movie. It’s a no-stress enjoyable experience that I look forward to each time. But more than that, it’s also a chance to learn more about the movies we watch, and about Russian cinema in general, which is a topic I find very interesting."
Exploring the City
A lifetime is not enough to discover all the wonders of beautiful Saint Petersburg, but one month is the time just enough to meet the city and fall in love with it! CIEE students spent one of their first weekends in Saint Petersburg getting acquainted with the main architectural ensemble of the Hermitage. Located in the center of Saint Petersburg, it includes the Winter Palace, the former state residence of Russian emperors, the buildings of the Small, Old (Great) and New Hermitages and the Hermitage Theater. A three-hour tour around the Hermitage gave the students just a general overview of the main collections of art, sparking their interest and encouraging them to come back later multiple times and keep on exploring.
The other part of the Russian Imperial history was revealed to the students during their visit to Peter and Paul fortress, the oldest part of the city built on Zayachy Island and considered to be the official birthplace of the city. The original citadel of Saint Petersburg founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and designed by Dominico Trezzini by 1740, it cradles the imperial tombs and the former prison for high-ranking political prisoners. Place enchanted with history and culture is an absolute must-see in Saint Petersburg!
Sara Mills (Lewis & Clark College '16):
"Our tour of the Hermitage museum gave us a chance to experience some of the gems of the museum’s grandeur, including some of the most spectacular rooms of the Winter Palace and the work of great masters such as da Vinci and Michelangelo. In just a few hours we were given a preview of the enormous museum and I couldn’t help but stay for three more. The excursion in the Peter and Paul Fortress was especially enjoyable for me, as we were given an option to take the tour in Russian, and therefore I was able to associate important parts of this gorgeous historical marker with their Russian names and meanings, instead of being given new information to translate in my head."
With fall well underway, and winter fast approaching, learning the secrets to making the most delectable Georgian and Russian soups, Kharcho and Borscht is an opportunity not to be missed. Students jumped on the opportunity to attend these master classes. Eating all the delicious food we cooked was definitely good motivation as well.
Our students are slowly becoming sophisticated experts on ballet and opera after a number of successful theater visits. The whole group together with their Russian friends and host families enjoyed the night watching the classical Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet at the cradle of Russian culture, music and art, Mikhailovsky Theater.
Elise Loughran (Lewis & Clark College):
"Watching the Bolshoi dancers' performance of Swan Lake at the Mikhailovsky Theater was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. All aspects of the show: the music, the costumes, and the incredible technique of the ballerinas, came together to be a beautiful interpretation of a classic. Using an alternative ending to the traditionally tragic finale, the performers kept their audience's attention till the final bows. I will treasure having gone to this performance as a highlight of my time in St. Petersburg."
(Iskrenne Vashi) Sincerely yours,
The CIEE Fall Newsletter editors, Liz & Ira
Liz McBean, Student Services Assistant
Anton Stepanov, Student Services Assistant
Nika Afanasyeva, Administrative Assistant
Ira Vasilyeva, Student Services Coordinator
Katya Rubtsova, Program Coordinator
Svetlana Mantsvetova, Housing Coordinator
Julia Semibratova, Excursions Coordinator
Irina Navrotskaya, Administrative Coordinator
Irina Makoveeva, Center Director