The days inevitably have begun to darken as we trod onwards into the winter season, but due to such a full and vibrant life in St. Petersburg, our students continue to flourish. The halfway point of the semester has come and gone, marking one of the highlights of our semester, Travel Week! CIEE spent one week exploring the capital of Tatarstan (Kazan) and the capital of Russia (Moscow), before students continued onwards to travel independently in and outside of Russia.
CIEE's Premier Trip to Kazan
Late one evening near the end of October, 70 CIEE students and staff boarded a midnight flight to visit the Republic of Tatarstan. Located 980 miles from St. Petersburg, Tatarstan’s capital city, Kazan helped students’ to formulate a more complete picture of the vastly diverse country that Russia is.
Students near the Märcani Mosque.
The Sports Capital of Russia
Every city has a different personality, with its own rhythm, characteristics, and peculiarities. As students spent the first day touring Kazan on a walking-bus tour, the atmosphere of innovation and development in Kazan could not go unnoticed. Designated the “Sports Capital of Russia,” the extent to which Kazan has invested in its sports facilities, making it an international hub for athletic competition was clearly felt. We visited the Universiade Village, which housed over 10,000 student athletes from 162 countries in Summer 2013, when Kazan hosted the 2013 Summer Universiade. Continuing the athletic theme, we managed to visit the Academy of Tennis during an international competition, allowing us to view the courts.
Left to right: [Picture 1] Students in front of the Temple of All Religions. [Picture 2] Khale Fellner (Gustavus Adolphus College '16), Colin Boyd (University of Georgia '16), Sam Walters (American University '16) in front of the Temple of All Religions.
Guinivere Vanden Noort (Indiana University ’14)
“It was really interesting to visit a city that contrasts St. Petersburg in so many ways. Seeing the impressive sports facilities was a great experience and showed how developed Kazan has become!”
Bez Buldırabız! We can!
This optimistic and idealistic unofficial motto of Tatarstan, demonstrates the enthusiasm and forward-thinking attitude of Kazan. Kazan, also referred to as the Islamic capital of Russia, boasts religious diversity, and a melting pot of cultures and religion, as Russian and Tatar culture successful symbiotically coexist.
Helen Ma (University of Southern California '16) and Marie Putnam (Ursinus College '16) in the Qolşärif Mosque within the Kremlin walls.
Linda Kleinfield (University of the South ’16):
“Kazan is unquestionably one of Russia’s developing epicenters of culture and sport, and its beauty at once surprises and astounds. As a thriving center of religious diversity, a beautiful architectural hub on the banks of the Volga, and a home to some of the most open and welcoming people I have ever met, Kazan has easily earned a place among my favorite memories from my Russia experience.”
Discussion Club with Local Kazan Students “Think Local. Act Global”
One of the highlights of our time spent in Kazan was the evening students spent discussing the topic of “Students as Representatives of People’s Diplomacy” with local students. Prior to the start of the discussion, students toured Kazan State Power Engineering University (KSPEU), one of the three state specialized power engineering institutions of higher learning in the Russian Federation. After having spent 2 months studying in the Department of Political Science of one of Russia’s leading universities, St. Petersburg State University, students enjoyed the exceptionally unique opportunity to compare two prestigious Russian universities from the inside out.
The following discussion with KPSEU students proved to be not only good linguistic practice, as the students split into an English-speaking discussion group and a Russian-speaking discussion group, but encouraged valuable dialogues at an important stage in Russian-U.S. history. Over 80 students participated.
Julia Rayhill (Georgetown University ’16):
“Being able to speak with students from Kazan (regarding students and their role in diplomatic relations) was an exciting opportunity. Hearing the opinions and perspectives of Russian students is always interesting, but getting to speak with such a large group from a place so different from St. Petersburg was particularly informative.”
All Roads Lead to Moscow
The adventure continued as students took an overnight train from Kazan to the capital of Russia, Moscow, and began discovering an absolutely new and astounding part of our versatile country.
Guinevere Vanden Noort (Indiana University-Bloomington ’15), Meagan Kelleher (University of Connecticut ‘16), Grace Kellett (Northeastern University ’17), and Levi Crandall (University of Tulsa ’16) waiting to board the train to Moscow.
The city unraveled its nature of contrasts as students walked the grounds of Kremlin, visited Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills), and discovered the dynamic life of the city, which more than 12 million people call home. Having just arrived to the city, our students boarded the city tour bus, beginning a day full of new impressions and discoveries.
Savanna Moen (University of Minnesota–Twin Cities ’16):
The bus tour of Moscow, ending at the iconic Red Square, was a great way to see some of the sights of Russia's capital. We learned about the history of the city, and the importance of certain landmarks. One of my favorite stops was the park near the Novodevichy convent where we saw the "Make Way for Ducklings" statue and the lake that inspired "Swan Lake."
Students in front of Moscow State University.
The adventures of the second day began with Lenin’s Mausoleum, giving students a unique chance to visit Lenin’s Tomb and to experience the solemn ambience of the resting place of the man whose political theories inspired a nation, and whose impression on Russia’s history is still visible to this day. This visit was followed by a tour of the Moscow Kremlin, which included an excursion to the Armory Chamber, one of Moscow’s oldest museums, founded in 1808.
CIEE Excursions Coordinator, Julia Semibratova with students waiting in line to visit Lenin’s Mausoleum.
Andrew Woodcock (University of Indiana, Bloomington ’16) reflects on this experience:
“The Kremlin visit was amazing. It's more than just the place where the federal government operates. It's also a collection of museums, history, and beautiful cathedrals. Walking through the Kremlin is literally walking through Russian history, as you think about which famous historical figures have lived and ruled in the same place you're standing. Lenin's tomb is definitely something you need to see when you go to Moscow. It's one thing to see a perfectly preserved, century-old body. It's another thing to realize that this body, Lenin, helped orchestrate the communist revolution, found the USSR, and change history forever. These thoughts, combined with ambient lighting and silent overwatching guards makes this place honestly really creepy, but definitely a must-see.”
On the final day in Moscow, our CIEE students chose to visit either the Tretyakov State Gallery, which houses a unique collection of Russian masterpieces spanning a thousand years, or the Museum of Contemporary History of Russia.
McKenzy Seifert (Barnard College ‘16) visited the Museum of Contemporary History of Russia:
“The Museum of Contemporary Russian History covers Russia’s history over the past 150 years—from the reign of Alexander II up until Putin. Though our guide spoke in rapid-fire Russian, I still managed to understand most of what he was saying, and it was all extremely fascinating to listen to. Walking through each of the rooms, you can feel Russia progress from the peasant state it had been, through industrialization, to pioneers in space, and through the turmoil of democratization. Russia is a vast country with a long history and a difficult language, which makes it hard to understand, but this 150 year chunk did an amazing job of bolstering my understanding of Russian political and social history and progress.”
Moscow left a tremendous impression on our intrepid CIEE students, which supplied them with inspiration as they continued their travels in and beyond Russia during CIEE’s Travel Week.
Alternative Break: Traveling and Making a Difference
Every semester, CIEE Study Center in Petersburg offers its students the opportunity to take a plunge into the “real Russia,” by volunteering in a smaller city or town, whose authentic and inimitable culture and atmosphere, dig dipper into the Russian Soul. This fall, ten of our students stepped even further out of their comfort zones as they set off for Nizhny Novgorod to volunteer for Sfera, an international youth leadership and volunteer organization.
During the Alternative Break program, students taught English to various audiences with different language proficiency levels, assisted in cleaning the newly renovated school for children with hearing impairments, Piano, and led different discussion club panels with Russian peers.
Students during a tea break on one of the first days of teaching. Left to right: Dylan Ogden (Kenyon College ‘16), Sydney Young (Georgetown University ’16), Michaela Marincic (St. Olaf College ’16), Antonia De Lucia (University of Alaska Anchorage ’16), CIEE Student Services Coordinator, Ira Vasilyeva, Elise Loughran (Lewis & Clark College ’16), Brittany Belkiewitz (Indiana University-Bloomington ’16), Erin Johnson (St. Olaf College ’16), Allison Brady (Georgetown University ’16), Katie Rees (University of California-EAP ’15), Scout Mills (Lewis & Clark ‘16).
Residing in the dorms of the Piano School, CIEE students truly saw how students live and learn in this unique environment, giving students a fresh perspective on special needs education in Russia. Students unanimously agreed meeting the children of Piano was the highlight of their experience in Nizhny.
Students explore the Piano School!
The cultural activities incorporated in the Alternative Break program also made an unforgettable impression on the students, as their visit coincided with National Unity Day celebrations and folk festivals. This is a newly introduced holiday to Russia, that celebrates events that date back to the 17th century, when Russians held the popular uprising to expel Polish occupation forces from Moscow, ending the ‘Time of Troubles.’ When the holiday was reinstituted in 2005, Nizhny Novgorod became the countrywide center for these celebrations, as it is the native city of the uprising’s key figure, merchant Kuzma Minin. Today this holiday stands as a celebration of the unity of the whole country and of Russian culture and traditions.
Michaela Marincic (St. Olaf College ’16) during National Unity Day festivities in Nizhny Novgorod.
Sydney Young (Georgetown University ‘16) shares her impressions on the Alternative Break experience:
"The Alternative Break in Nizhny Novgorod was definitely one of the highlights of my semester in Russia. Our hosts from Sfera and Piano prepared an amazing week for us, in which we were able to learn Russian folk dance, watch the talented students of Piano perform, and make friends with Russian students and international volunteers. I hope that in helping at Piano and assisting in English classes at the University. We were able to give back to the city. Going on the Alternative Break was better than I could have imagined!"
Students posing with characters from the historical reenactment during National Unity Day.
The Many Faces of Russia
In addition to the student who traveled to volunteer in Nizhny Novgorod, many other students took advantage of the CIEE fall break to travel in Russia, exploring Russia beyond St. Petersburg and Moscow and embracing the unique opportunity to experience different aspects of Russia’s vast country and culture.
Traveling about 200 miles southwest of St. Petersburg, Steavi Swinson (University of New Haven ’16) spent her travel week exploring one of Russia’s oldest cities, Pskov:
“After seeing St. Petersburg, Kazan, and Moscow, I realized I technically still haven't been to a true Russian city. Kazan is its own identity and St. Petersburg and Moscow were very European. Thankfully, I have a Russian friend I was able to visit in Pskov, and he was able to show me what a true Russian city looked like. Living it St. Petersburg, it didn't really occur to me that other Russian cities aren't actually cities, but villages and towns. I was surprised to learn how much of a quiet place Pskov is and for such a small place it had a lot of historical meaning to it. I was able to visit the Kremlin, which had a breathtaking view being right on the coast, and the Pechory Monastery of the Dormition. I really enjoyed the monastery because of its vibrant colors and found their "God-created" caves to be fascinating. It was also interesting to see that more people owned cars rather than used public transportation, due to the fact that Pskov doesn't have a metro, but at the same time Pskov is so small that you could just walk everywhere. I really enjoyed my stay in Pskov, experiencing a Russian town and I look forward to visiting other Russian cities.”
Steavi Swinson (University of New Haven ’16) along the Kremlin wall in Pskov.
Nearly as old as Pskov, the city of Yaroslavl, located just over 500 miles southeast of St. Petersburg has roots dating back to the early 1000s, and is one of 12 Golden Ring cities in Russia.
Marie Putnam (Ursinus College ‘16)
“During the recent travel week I decided to go to the city of Yaroslavl’ with my friend Christina because we both have an interest in learning more about Russia and its history, and to us, part of doing that is through traveling to various parts of Russia and exploring the individual history of that area. During the few days we spent in Yaroslavl’, one of the pieces of the city that struck me the most was a square we happened upon (pictured to the left). The square only had four buildings, one on each side, but it displayed a variety of architecture and building styles including Soviet and imperial-style architecture as well as a cathedral. Different buildings and architectural styles are something I can see every day in St. Petersburg, but the way it was presented in this particular square was like looking at multiple periods in history all at once. Standing in the middle of that square, looking at many historical periods exhibited on the faces of those buildings, is a memory I will keep with me.”
Situated on the western bank of the Volga over 1045 miles from St. Petersburg, Volgograd welcomed two of our students during Travel Week. Volgograd, one of the 12 “Hero Cities” of the Russian Federation, for its bravery in its resistance during the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II is entrenched in history.
(Left) Jeff Chesser (University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaigne ’15) pictured in the monument park of Volgograd. (Right) Nick Kristensen (University of California-EAP '16).
Jeff Chesser (University of Illinois, Ubrana-Champaigne ’15):
“My experience during travel week was unforgettable. I traveled with my friend, Nick to Volgograd, the city formally known by its Soviet name, Stalingrad. This was the site of the most violent battle in World War II and the city has not forgotten. Scattered throughout Volgograd are monuments to the soldiers who fought, culminating in a monument park. This park was where I saw the most impressive, awe-inspiring statue known simply as “The Motherland Calls.” While the city itself still seems to be recovering to this day, experiencing the history surrounding it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Home Is Where the Heart Is
This semester, CIEE St. Petersburg has the special joy of hosting a few students whose ties to Russia are extremely close to heart. We are sharing a few of students’ heartwarming stories about their return to their home or beloved towns and cities.
Olga Lefebvre (Howard University ‘16):
"Going to Moscow was like coming home. As a child, my dreams were held in Russia and staged in Moscow. To have been able to spend travel week meeting my family was more than a dream come true, it was accomplishing the impossible. To me, Russia is a country where its natural beauty is only rivaled by its metro stations. I have never been more thankful to be a part of such a beautiful nation."
Alexandra Martin (University of California–EAP ’16):
"As a teenager, I lived in Moscow, where I trained at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Having moved back to America 3 years ago, it was wonderful to return to Moscow for vacation and visit with friends and family there. I have so many memories in that city and it will forever be a place close to my heart."
Alexandra Martin on the Red Square.
Nadya Bucklin (University of Minnesota–Twin Cities ’15):
"Since the first time I heard about CIEE’s travel week as part of the study abroad program, I knew I would be going to Pereslavl-Zalessky. Reason being, this is the town in which I was born and lived for the first nine years of my life, and this is where much of what I used to know -- people and places -- still resides. My top reason for wanting to travel there is the fact that my older sister still lives there with her family. Being able to stay with her and her family for a whole week and to interact with all of them was something I had been looking forward to since the last time I visited over five years ago. I was also excited to be able to use some of re-learned Russian this time around, and not rely on a translator. The fact that I also got to meet with some friends from my childhood and others who knew me, added even more value to my time in Pereslavl. I look forward to my next visit, and feel extremely lucky to have supportive family on both sides of the world."
Nadya Bucklin (pictured left) with her sister and nephew.
(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