Studying in a foreign country is a leap far beyond one’s comfort zone, inciting a journey of awareness of self, and awareness and understanding of a world beyond oneself and the small corner of the world our lives are built in. This journey, as all our students will agree, is joyous and is rewarding, but it is a challenge that does not always come easy.
By December, the allure of living in a completely new environment has lessened to more normal levels, and the darker, shorter days, of living in a city nearly 60 degrees north of the equator have begun to be felt by all. This pervading monochrome is brightened by the New Year’s lights decorating the city, and the end of the semester projects and celebrations, keeping students involved in all this city has to offer!
CIEE does Thanksgiving!
Students standing before the Thanksgiving day table, moments before the feast began!
Thanksgiving, a holiday spent with those near and dear to one’s heart, is an especially hard time to be away from home. This semester marked the fifth year, Thanksgiving was celebrated by the CIEE St. Petersburg Study Center. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, together with CIEE staff, students scoured the city searching for all the necessary ingredients to prepare their favorite dishes. The morning of Thanksgiving, students decorated the halls, the Macy’s Day Parade from 2013 played in the background, and students began arriving with enough food to feed a village!
Maddie Steup (Indiana University-Bloomington ’16) & Beka Adair (Colorado College ’16):
"Thanksgiving away from home felt a little weird, so it was nice to be able to cook together and listen to Christmas music and get excited for the holidays. We ended up cooking more than we realized, but we were really happy that we learned to make our own pie crust and make stuffing even without the turkey! It was a lot of work but it was really satisfying, and the dinner was a lot of fun."
Elise Loughran (Lewis & Clark College ’16):
"Walking into Smolny on Thanksgiving to see the hallways decorated with hand-turkeys and twinkle lights made me feel as if I wasn't so far from home. That feeling continued as everyone began gorging themselves on traditional Thanksgiving foods and the Christmas music began to play. We were all so grateful for the hard work of both students and staff who made our first Thanksgiving in Russia a day to remember, and for some, a tradition to continue!
Students enjoying Thanksgiving dinner in the Student Lounge, while the Macy’s Day Parade played in the background
Fall Signature Event: Estrada of the 1970s
Mastering Russian language skills, discovering Petersburg, and traveling around Russia evidently isn’t enough for our group of curious, driven, and energetic students. In addition to all the other exciting adventures, this semester was highlighted by a very special CIEE St. Petersburg study center initiative—a culturally oriented Signature Project. This initiative was launched in 2010, and was aimed at familiarizing students with specific decades of Soviet and Russian history. This semester, the decade of choice was the 70s!
Throughout the semester, students have been actively involved in learning about the culture, political environment, music, and everyday life of the Soviet Union in the 70s through staff-led cultural seminars on daily life, politics, economics, music and fashion of the 70s. These CIEE designed sessions definitely helped students keep up with the theme of the semester and get ready for the keystone event of this experience—the Final Signature Project Concert!
The CIEE Cinema Club was another great medium through which students explored this decade. During these gatherings, students watched iconic Soviet films depicting everyday life of the era. One of the movies screened was “Legenda 17”, a film telling the story of the life and career of famous Soviet hockey player, Valery Kharlamov, illustrated the relevance of sports in the 70s.
Seth Ellingson (St Olaf College ’15):
“Every cinema club brought everyone together to experience Russian culture of the 70s. Each movie portrayed a different facet of Russian life. After each film I gained new insights as well as words and phrases. Before the 1970s cultural seminars I knew little about Soviet life during that decade. But after each seminar I learned more and grew more excited for our final Project! All of the seminars instilled curiosity in us and increased our interest in Soviet culture.”
Annie Weidhass (University of Virginia ‘16), Annie Himes (University of Nebraska ‘16), Natalie Smyth (Georgetown University ‘16), Elise Loughran (Lewis & Clark ‘16), Kyle Smith (University of Oregon ‘14), Maddie Steup (Indiana University-Bloomington ‘16), Amanda Quinn (University of Maryland ‘16), Olga Lefebvre (Howard University ’16), and Student Services Assistant, Anton Stepanov.
Our musically-gifted students, their Russian friends, and CIEE staff dedicated the past few weeks to rehearsing and practicing for the Signature Project Concert. These final preparation weeks were filled with excitement, studio rehearsals, and a hunt for authentic clothes, accessories, and jewelry in local second-hand shops.
[Left] Kyle Smith (University of Oregon ‘14) on electric, Alisha Zespy (Georgetown University ‘16) singing, Anton Stepanov (CIEE, Student Services Assistant) on electric, and Andrew Woodcock (Indiana University-Bloomington ’16). [Right] Staff dance performance (L to R): Student Services Assistant, Liz McBean; Administrative Assistant, Nika Afanasieva; Housing Coordinator, Svetlana Valentinovna; Program Coordinator, Katya Rubtsova.
Madeleine Steup (Indiana University–Bloomington ‘16):
“The 70's concert was one of my favorite events of the semester because it was a fun way to learn more about Russian history. The seminars were more casual than actual classes so they felt really personal and I liked figuring out what to wear! The concert itself was great and you could tell everyone was really enjoying themselves; it was a good way for people to have fun at the end of the semester”
The students did their best to put together a classic Estrada show, performing famous songs and ballads of the 70s in both Russian and English. The event turned out to be an outstanding end-of-the-semester party that united CIEE students, their Russian friends, CIEE staff, professors, and CIEE alumni, who were in town for the Alumni Weekend!
[Left] Dylan Ogden (Kenyon College ’16) performing Bolshaya Medveditsa, as famous 70s Soviet singer, Mikhail Boyarsky. [Right] Ben Stewart (Pennsylvania State University ‘16), Jarlath McGuckin (CIEE Alumnus ’00), and Student Services Assistant, Anton Stepanov.
Symeon Tzvetkov (University of California–EAP ’14):
“Without a doubt, the 70s Estrada was the most fun and exciting night of the semester. Everyone in the program jumped at the chance to indulge in the spirit of the times, expressing themselves in bright music and loud colors. The performances, which channeled classic artists like Boyarsky, Igor Ivanov, and ABBA, took on a new life and seemed to bring the whole venue back in time. All in all, the atmosphere was one of warm revelry, and at the end of the night when the show ended and all the brilliantly dressed attendees left the venue, it filled our hearts and followed us right out the door. It will be difficult for any future year with CIEE to top this night in terms of pure extravagance, but any attempt that even comes close is sure to be a night to remember.”
CIEE St. Petersburg Alumni & Student Weekend
The ties and relationships formed as a student continue long after the semester’s final days. Students’ experience studying in St. Petersburg is a life-altering experience that many times, has a very influential role in shaping future educational and professional decisions of its alumni. December 5th through 7th, alumni working or studying in both Russia and the US, returned to St. Petersburg for the first official CIEE St. Petersburg Student & Alumni Weekend. Alumni ranging five decades and spanning all professional spheres were welcomed with open arms by staff and students, demonstrating firsthand what a diverse and global community the CIEE alumni are part of. The weekend consisted of a round table discussion with current students as pictured above, participation in this fall’s signature project exploring the 70s, and a visit to St. Petersburg’s fascinating Faberge Museum.
Mordechai Rabinowitz (CIEE '76):
“I'm so grateful to CIEE for arranging the first Alumni Weekend in St. Petersburg. As someone who has worked in Russia for many years, it was so gratifying to 'come home' to CIEE and connect with other alumni and with the students of today. It made me realize what got me started on this journey so many years ago. I felt a kindred spirit I haven't experienced in years and realized why it is still so poignant for me to be in Russia. I hope this event will evolve into an annual tradition!”
[Left] Alumni during the Reception . [Right] Alumni and students during the Round Table Discussions.
The Round Table Discussion proved to be a highlight of the weekend. Students valued the opportunity to meet with alumni, and learn through open discussion how alumni have incorporated or built a career drawing on their knowledge and love for Russia and the Russian language. This inspiring discussion with like-minded individuals motivated and enthused both students and alumni alike.
Nick Miyares (CIEE ’11):
“I thoroughly enjoyed the round table discussion with CIEE students and was a tad jealous we didn't have something similar in 2011. The students I spoke to had high hopes of returning to Russia as young professionals and contributing to cross-cultural/political dialogue in whatever way they could, whether it be through the arts, government, or private business. This commitment I saw to seeing our two countries reconcile and collaborate will hopefully have a big, positive impact in the near future”
The Final Days of the Semester
With the semester coming to a close, finals are fast approaching and the excited hum of students nervously reviewing all the new grammar and vocabulary they have learned this past semester can be heard throughout the halls of Smolny. With the excitement of the holidays nearing, and students’ departure date in the imminent future, it is a bitter sweet period for students. Excited to return home and share with loved ones pictures and memories from their semester living in Russia, students are in the midst of saying goodbye to the city they have called home these past four months, and saying goodbye to all the people who have played an important role in their lives these past four months; friends, teachers, CIEE staff, and of course, their host families.
Olga Lefebvre (Howard University ’16), one of sixteen year-long students studying with us in the fall and spring, reflects on her host family and her decision to extend to the spring semester:
“My family is just amazing. They have hearts of gold and I will be forever grateful to them for welcoming me into their home and lives like they did. They are definitely part of the reason I decided to stay an extra semester. I couldn't imagine my Russian experience without them.”
From all of us at CIEE, we wish you a happy holiday season, and hope the New Year brings you a year full of happiness and health, new experiences, and adventure!
(Samogo Nailuchshego) All the Best,
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