Russia is a rich country, undergoing unprecedented and thought-provoking times. There is no time better than the present, to be located in Russia, experiencing Russia’s vast culture, immense history, current events, and endeavoring to master its unique and intricate language.
Within the first few weeks of arriving, students toured the founding place of St. Petersburg, Peter and Paul’s Fortress. (L to R) Student Services Coordinator, Ira Vasilyeva, Max Stanley (Washington and Lee University), Luke Munday (University of Alaska Anchorage), Vianey Mora (Colby College), Michelle Pea (Purdue University), and Excursions Coordinator, Julia Semibratova.
Our curious and dedicated students are a testament to that. As University of Rochester ’17 student, Robert Parent explained, “I chose Russian to experience Russia in its fullest, and personally learn about the experiences of its citizens. St. Petersburg is just as amazing as when I was here over the summer, just a bit colder. I loved the CIEE orientation and even though I was here before, I have been learning a lot of new things about St. Petersburg.”
Students’ first week in St. Petersburg was highlighted by CIEE’s traditional scavenger hunt, which helped students to both familiarize themselves with the city and to bond with their fellow CIEE students! Creative and tricky tasks included break-dancing on Palace Square, taking pictures in front of the city’s well-known bridges, tasting traditional St. Petersburg delicacies (Russian donuts, better known as pyshki) and the famous Russian fermented soft drink kvas, using Russian language skills to get around town.
The afternoon spent racing around the city, competing against fellow students in the other teams, was an effort not done in vain! The winning team was rewarded “Iolanta” opera tickets to the renowned Mikhailovsky Theater. That is the way to embark on the full cultural immersion study abroad experience!
Vita Khachaturyan (University of California–EAP ‘16) reflects on the experience:
“The CIEE scavenger hunt was like a fast-forwarded tour of St. Petersburg. We ran around the city, stopping briefly at sights for quick photographs, or even sneaking a quick picture while hustling to keep up with the group. Everything was still so new. We were like explorers scrounging to uncover new territory. I had never covered so much ground in so little time. After the exhausting excursion, our hard work was rewarded with tickets to the opera.”
Team of students (L to R) Vianey Mora (Colby College), Kelsey Douville (University of New Hampshire), Luke Munday (University of Alaska Anchorage), and Theresa Clark (Kenyon College) posing on Banks Bridge, one of the tasks of the Scavenger Hunt.
A quintessential element of the CIEE study abroad experience is the academic component of the semester. Students’ Russian language skills are challenged, developed, and honed through CIEE’s core language courses of grammar, conversation, and phonetics. A rich selection of electives taught in Russian and in English, take students’ comprehension of Russian language and Russia to a much deeper level. Read about some of the interesting elective courses our students are engaged in this semester:Contemporary Business Russian
Contemporary Business Russian, taught by professor, Marina Grigorievna Miroshnikova is a course offered to the most advanced Russian Language program students. These students, already possessing the highest level of Russian, find the course useful, challenging, and engaging, providing them with the linguistic tools for performing typical business transactions in real-life business contexts. Each of the lessons contain practical, business-oriented dialogues with related exercises to develop speaking and listening proficiency and authentic commercial documents (visa questionnaires, customs declaration forms, tax declaration forms) and operations (how to open a bank account, conducting commercial correspondence, etc.).
Professor Miroshnikova, one of CIEE’s most-experienced professors, boasting years of teaching experience internationally and nationally is pictured here leading the Advanced Grammar III course this semester.
Greg Opengeym (University of Michigan ’15) a student enrolled in Contemporary Business Russian reflects:
“I would recommend the Russian Business course to anyone that is seriously considering working in Russia. It includes real life applications such as properly introducing oneself in a meeting or interview, building a cohesive and organized resume from scratch, and improves on the basics of grammar while building vocabulary instrumental in communicating with other Russian business professionals.”
Dr. Ekaterina Sokolova, one of CIEE’s upper-level language professors with multiple years of experience teaching both in Russia and internationally, teaches Advanced Translation to year-long Russian Language Program students, possessing the highest command of the Russian language. This course enables students to rise to the level of synthesis of their knowledge of Russian language, and serves as an auxiliary object of study. Students learn a generalization and systematization of morphology and syntax, explore grammatical and lexical phenomena that do not have accurate equivalents in English and Russian languages, and delve into Russian language-specific word order functions. This class is by far not an easy undertaking, but students consistently rate it to be one of the most challenging courses in their academic careers, contributing greatly to their Russian language advancement.
Comparative Cultural Studies: the United States and Russia
"Comparative Cultural Studies: the United States and Russia" and "Presidential Electives: the United States and Russia" are political science courses taught in Russian and in English (respectively) by Dr. Aleksandr Sergeevich Sherstobitov. In light of the present day political and economic situation within Russia, and Russia in a global context, this course is very prevalent in aiding students’ to not only observe and understand the current events they are experiencing first-hand, but also to analyze these events and their greater significance critically. This course provides students with an in-depth foundation on the evolution of the political life in contemporary Russia. Together with Professor Sherstobitov, Russian politics are investigated through both the viewpoint of Russian political scholars and through the lens of an average Russian citizen, all scaled to comparatively analyze the U.S. and Russia.
What can be better on a cold February afternoon than sitting back, relaxing and watching a movie together with your fellow CIEE students?
During the first Cinema Club meeting, our students, with the help of CIEE Study Center Director Dr. Irina Makoveeva, plunged into the romantic ambience of the Soviet space exploration era by watching Aleksei Uchitel’s “Dreaming of Space” (2005). As students learned in the prelude to the film, the film, in its original Russian entitled “Kosmos kak Predchuvstvie” (literally: Space as Presentiment), helps shed light on the true significance of characters and events depicted in the picture. The film’s showing was followed by a thoughtful discussion, marking a great start to the semester-long journey of exploring the Russian enigma.
Center Director, Dr. Irina Makoveeva introducing “Dreaming of Space” to students attending the first Cinema Club meeting.
Max Stanley, Washington Lee University:
“Getting to go to the Cinema Club for the first time was a fantastic experience! It started with us all chowing down on some delicious pirogi, then the Central Director Irina Makoveeva introduced the film to us. We watched an engrossing film whose title roughly comes across as "Space as Pre-sentiment" though it was released in the States as "Dreaming of Space." After the film finished we took some time to digest what we had just seen and discuss the meanings behind various elements of the film. It was a great time, and I can't wait to go to the next one!”
The second Cinema Club meeting showcased Valery Todorovsky’s “The Country of the Deaf” (1998). This film is loosely based on famous contemporary Russian author, Renata Litvinova’s novel To Have and To Belong. Students were led into Todorovsky’s fictional underworld of deaf people and Russian crime in Moscow as they watched this film.
A February Weekend Full of Festivities: Maslenitsa and the 23rd of February
The second to last weekend of February was a long weekend full of Russian holidays, and therefore, many interesting and engaging festivals!
On February 22nd, students enjoyed celebrating Maslenitsa, a holiday rooted in Christian and pagan rituals marking the last week before the start of Orthodox Lent. This Eastern Slavic religious and folk holiday, is therefore is traditionally celebrated with lavish amounts of delicious Russian-crepes (bliny). Students feasted on bliny with all sorts of fillings, delicious shashliki (kebabs), and tasted warm Russian honey-mead, medovukha. The day was full of traditional Russian folk songs, dances, and games, and culminated in the traditional burning of the straw effigy of Maslenitsa. In ancient Slavic mythology, Maslenitsa is a sun-festival, and a celebration of the imminent end of the winter.
Students posing with the Maslenitsa straw effigy before it was burned, as pictured to the right.
Ben Lourie (CU Boulder ’16)
“One of the coolest things to happen at the Maslenitsa festival was the burning of the chuchello. As soon as it was over the sun started to come out and the clouds began to clear. It was a very surreal moment. And seemed to signal the beginning of spring.”
We all took it to be a good sign that immediately after the straw effigy was burned, the sun began to shine!
Maddie Steup (Indiana University-Bloomington), Theresa Clark (Kenyon College), Olga Lefebvre (Howard University), and Andrew Woodcock (Indiana University-Bloomington) enjoying the sun’s appearance immediately after the straw effigy was burned.
Maslenitsa was followed by the 23rd of February, the date of Russian national holiday, Defender of the Fatherland. This day honors all those who have served in the Russian armed forces, and has developed into a day primarily dedicated to appreciating the men in one’s life.
On this day, a group of students and staff commemorated this holiday in a rather unusual way. Together, with hundreds of others, they traveled back in time to September 7th, 1812, the single most-deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars. A park near the Narva Triumphal Arch which venerates the Russian victory over Napoleon, was the setting of the reenactment of the Battle of Borodino. Soon after the Battle of Borodino ended, the year was launched forward to 1944, and one very fateful day in January, that all citizens of the former Leningrad will forever remember, the Liberation of the Siege of Leningrad. This reenactment did justice to this tragic period in St. Petersburg’s history, successfully capturing the heroism of those Soviet citizens who defended their city, and provoking the whole spectrum of emotions such an experience entails.
Vianey Mora (Colby College ‘16)
“I was really impressed that the actors actually made us feel what was going on, they weren't just people in costumes. When it was over there was like a sigh of relief from the crowd, like a sense of pride unifying everyone.”
[Left] A scene from the Reenactment of the Liberation of the Siege of Leningrage. [Right] Washington and Lee University student, Max Stanley posing with the some of the reenactors.
Becoming a part of the local community is vital to any study abroad experience. Our active students prove this by taking every opportunity to volunteer and both give back and immerse in the Russian culture! A few of the highlight volunteer opportunities offered by CIEE in St. Petersburg include volunteering for St. Petersburg professional hockey team, SKA and St. Petersburg professional basketball team, Zenit, translating reviews and subtitling movies for Russia’s oldest film studio Lenfilm, teaching English at one of the country’s top higher education institutions, St. Petersburg State University, and many others. Seems like the semester has just started, but our students already helped the Lenfilm crew to prepare for the 65th International Film Festival in Berlin, and were featured in a promotional Zenit video!
McKenzy Seifert (Barnard College)
“Volunteering has quickly become one of the most exciting aspects of my study abroad experience. Just in the past few weeks, I've been able to tutor Russian students learning English, translate materials for a local film studio in St. Petersburg, and volunteer at sporting events with Zenit and SKA, St. Petersburg's professional basketball and hockey teams. Participating in these volunteer opportunities is always rewarding, whether that means meeting new friends, free tickets to games, or just interacting more closely with this incredible city and its wonderful citizens.”
Students during an informational session on volunteer opportunities at the Hermitage.
As part of their volunteering endeavors with St. Petersburg professional basketball team, Zenit, students attended one of their games, after which they prepared wrote a short synopsis indicating what they enjoyed, as well areas for improvement.
Adjusting to life in a new country is not the easiest task. Having local friends willing to show you around, help learn the language, and to be there when you need them, lightens this load, and deepens students’ immersion into the Russian world. CIEE’s Sobesedniki conversation partner mixer is a great way to form these connections! In the beginning of every semester, CIEE students and their potential language partners gather to get to know each other with the help of a skillfully designed “speed networking” activity. Later on, students meet up with their language partners to explore the city together, spend time at other CIEE follow-up events such as Board Game Night, or Trivia Pub Quiz Night, or spend time between classes, as many of our conversation partners study in the same building as the CIEE students!
Ryan McCahon (University of Colorado):
“My conversation partner, Aiza, and I are having a great time teaching each other and helping each other with our respective native languages. Wу have done many fun and intriguing things around the city, like going to the maslenitsa festival and going to board game night. She knows the city and English very well. I would highly recommend people to try out the conversation partner program because I have learned much more Russian and have even been able to teach her a few English idioms!”
Another one of CIEE’s great traditions is our regular Discussion Club meetings with Russian students. In honor of the International Mother Language Day, established 15 years ago by UNESCO, CIEE students and their Russian peers met for the first discussion club this semester. During the discussion, students shared their insights on learning different foreign languages and appreciating their native language, discussed bilingualism and the way languages affect formation of the national identity in different countries. The topic itself and the ignited discussion that followed marked a great start to this semester’s series of discussion club meetings!
Adam Marjai (Kenyon College ’16)
“My biggest fear about the discussion group was that I won’t be able to follow it because it’s all in Russian. To my surprise, I understood a lot more than I expected. I really enjoyed hearing about what Russian students think about English as a foreign language and it also felt good to complain a little bit about the difficulties of learning Russian. At the end of the day we agreed that each language is hard to learn for different reasons, and that we are all awesome for trying.”
Russian and American students enjoying the engaging conversation during the first of many to come Discussion Club meetings
(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 Makoveeva, Center Director