An essential and innate component of the study abroad experience is the spectrum of emotions and reflections the process of immersing oneself into a culture different from your own brings. November marks the third month of our students’ lives in Russia’s Northern Capital, St. Petersburg and the unusually bright and warm fall days have been growing shorter and colder as the dark, cold winter the northern areas of Russia are known for begin to rear its head. At this point, the halls of Smolny, the home to the CIEE St. Petersburg Study Center, is full of the confident faces of students who have acclimated to their ‘Russian lives’, and who have made great strides in their goals of learning firsthand about Russia, and grasping the nuances and complexities of Russian culture and the Russian language.
This introspective quote from Margaret Mead’s book, Coming of Age in Samoa, was posted anonymously by a CIEE student to the CIEE bulletin boards, which are generally used to post pertinent information such as weekly calendars, important announcements, and sign-ups for excursions and extracurricular activities: “As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own.” Time and time again, our alumni recall the transformative and self-reflective journey studying in St. Petersburg guided them through, and this semester, proves no exception.
CIEE Explores Russia!
St. Petersburg and Moscow illustrate two unique perspectives of Russia, similar to the way New York City paints a very unique, relevant, yet distinct portrait of the U.S. Russia is a vast country of over 20 republics, multiple languages, ethnicities, and cultural history, and differs as much regionally, as it does geographically and climatically throughout its vast 6.6 million square miles. This semester, we’ve traveled from the Gulf of Finland to just west of the Ural Mountains, with a pit stop in Russia’s capital city, Moscow. After CIEE’s trip to Moscow and Kazan, a number of inquisitive students continued their travels in Russia during CIEE’s Alternative Break, and traveled to Arkhangelsk and Kirov.
Student travels during the month of November: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kazan, Kirov, and Arkhangelsk!
First stop: The Republic of Tatarstan, Kazan!
Every city has a different personality, with its own rhythm, characteristics, and peculiarities. Kazan, coined the “third capital” of Russia, is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan. This multi-ethnic city is a unique blend of Russian and Tatar culture, which helps to unfold a fuller picture of the diversity and vastness of Russia to students.
It’s undeniable, Kazan buzzes with the excitement of innovation and development, from its new housing projects to its highly-developed sports facilities, which have helped to make Kazan an international hub for athletic competition. In the past two years alone, it has hosted the 2013 Summer Universiade, the 2014 World Fencing Championships, the 2015 World Aquatic Championships, and is looking forward to hosting the 2017 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships, and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Students enjoyed the one-of-a-kind opportunity to contrast the luxurious baroque style architecture and the lasting remnants of imperial Russian St. Petersburg with the modern innovation and development of Kazan.
During the city tour, students visited the Fuch’s Garden, named after Karl Friedrich Fuchs, the first researcher of the life and culture of the Kazan Tatars. The Garden is more than 100 years old, and features a statue to Karl Fuchs. In the palm of his left hand the face of the sculptor is engraved!
CIEE’s arrival in Kazan coincided with the Glorification of Our Lady of Kazan, an Orthodox feast day particularly special to Kazan. Kazan, the Muslim capital of Russia is known for the peaceful coexistence and harmony of varying faiths. For this reason, it is unsurprising that during CIEE’s visit to Kazan, students witnessed the religious procession for Our Lady of Kazan, as well as visited two mosques.
Jean-Paul (Oberlin College ’17), Phillip-Gray Clark (Kenyon College ’17), Erica Ditmore (Macalester College ’17) in front of the Kul Sharif Mosque in Kazan.
Not only did students enjoy exploring Kazan and the Kremlin built at Ivan the Terrible’s behest, home to the only 16th century church to have six piers and fives apses and home to the largest mosque in Russia, but they were excited to discover the Liverpool Football Club soccer team was staying in the same hotel, which made Liverpool’s victory over the Kazan Rubin team that much more exciting of an experience. CIEE traveled beyond Kazan’s city walls to the island of Sviyazhsk, and visited the motley of churches, bell towers, teetering homesteads, and monastery, which once was at the center of one of the most dramatic, violent episodes in Russian history: the capture of Kazan by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century.
While exploring Sviyazhsk, students had some time to “play.” Phillip Gray Clark (Kenyon College ’17) dressed as Ivan the Terrible.
Another highlight was the Temple of All Religions in the microdistrict, Staroye Arakchino. Idar Khanov, the artist of the Temple of All Religions explains the architectural structure, which incorporates an Orthodox church, a mosque, a synagogue, and other religious architecture was built with the intention to be an architectural symbol of all religions, a museum of religion of sorts, an international cultural center of spiritual unity.
Second Stop: Moscow!
The adventure continued as students took an overnight train from Kazan to the capital of Russia, Moscow! A semester studying abroad in Russia cannot be complete without a visit to Russia’s largest political, economic, cultural, and scientific epicenter. St. Petersburg, a distinctive city incomparable to all others, has a completely different feel from Moscow. Walking along the streets of St. Petersburg often impresses its guests with its sheer aesthetic beauty of ancient and colorful buildings and palaces; however, walking the streets of Moscow often impresses its guests by its sheer massiveness and powerfulness.
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.
Students preparing a ‘jumping’ picture in front of the New Maiden Convent in Moscow. [L to R] Ian Edgley (University of Dayton ’17), Sarah Krasner (Scripps College ’17), Aaron Kennett (University of Maryland, Baltimore County ’17), Yiorgos Bosnakis (Virginia Commonwealth University ’15), Boryana Borisova (Illinois Wesleyan University ’17), Jean-Paul Gilbert (Oberlin College ’17), Chloe Follis (Bates College ’17), Mary-Bailey Frank (Georgetown University ’17), Erica Ditmore (Macalester College ’17).
On the final day in Moscow, students had the choice to visit either the Tretyakov State Gallery, the foremost depository of Russian fine art in the world, housing more than 170,000 works by Russian artists from early religious paintings to modern art, spanning a period of a thousand years, or to visit Museum of Contemporary History of Russia, which boasts an extensive collection of over 2 million exhibits documenting the country’s political development over the last 150 years.
Students during a tour of the Kremlin grounds in Moscow, Russia.
Alternative Break: An Insider’s Look into Russia
Every semester, the CIEE Study Center in Petersburg offers its students the opportunity to travel to a small, provincial Russian town, and experience, through a week of volunteer activities, an unfiltered look into Russia. This semester, students were offered to travel to the far north and spend a week volunteering in Arkhangesk, or to travel just west of the Ural Mountains to the city of Kirov.
Alternative Break in Arkhangelsk
Immediately following the trip to Kazan and Moscow, a group of seven CIEE students boarded the 22-hour train that took them from Moscow to the Russian Arctic North (Pomorye), Arkhangelsk! Winter had already long ago begun to take its hold in Arkhangelsk, and students enjoyed a week of weather in the low teens.
During the following week, our students were constantly on-the-go with their days full of volunteering and integrating into the local community. Evenings were spent at discussion club meetings with their Russian peers, students of the Northern State Medical University.
Students making birdfeeders. [Left] Kendall Gildersleeve (University of Rochester ’17), Rut Hormann (Macalester College ’17), Jenna Hooper (Gustavus Adolphus College ’17), Maddie Hermann (Lewis & Clark College ’17). [Right] Jenna Hooper (Gustavus Adolphus College ’17)
One of the highlights of the next five days was a visit to a rural school, which enabled CIEE students to get a firsthand look at ‘village school’ life, and interact with the young students, who were very curious to meet foreign students studying in Russia. Other highlights included the construction of local birdfeeders, cleaning up a local school, and working in an animal shelter.
Throughout the week of volunteering, students got a feel of the Pomor culture, its people, traditions, and the town’s long history, dating back to the year of 1584, when the town was founded by Russian tsar, Ivan the Terrible. While volunteering in the rural school, students toured the local church, climbing to the top its bell tower, opening up a breath-taking view of the surrounding land, while the priest rang the evening bells.
Alternative Break in Kirov
Two of our adventurous, philanthropic students journeyed further east towards the Ural Mountains to the city of Kirov, where representatives from the international volunteer camp, SFERA awaited the CIEE students’ arrival.
Sightseeing on the first day in Kirov, near the Vyatka embankment with local European Volunteer Service Program volunteers and Sfera Coordinator, Svetlana Matantseva, and Maria Mikhaylova.
Throughout the week, the alternative break volunteers were engaged in a variety of activities. Students led a round table discussion discussing education in the U.S. with the linguistics department of the Vyatka State University of Humanities, visited the Physics and Math Lyceum, spending the day giving lectures, presentations, and interactive language classes with the middle school students, spending time at a local youth community center, and even taught English and shared about American and Mexican culture to a group of senior citizens participating in a community learning class.
[Left] Amy Peshkova (University of California) Teaching a class at the Physics and Mathematics Lyceum in Kirov [Right] Amy Peshkova and Vivian Garcia (University of California) facilitating a master class at the Physics and Mathematics Lyceum.
Students were thrilled to delve into the local culture with the help of local students who prepared a Russian culture extravaganza, as well as learn about Kirov’s famous Dymkovo toys, moulded painted clay figurines, usually depicting people and animals by participating in a master-class after touring the museum.
Volunteering at a Local St. Petersburg Animal Shelter
Maddie Herman (Lewis & Clark College), Hannah Freyer (Colorado College), Yiorgos Bosnakis (Virginia Commonwealth University), Gulya Tlegenova (University of California), Angela Ipock (Middle Tennessee State University ’17), Rut Horrmann (Macalester College).
Our students never cease to surprise us at their initiative to improve the world around them through even the smallest deeds. Despite their days being full of classes, homework, excursions, and exploration, many of our students have still found time to spend their weekends volunteering at a local animal shelter. The animal shelter houses three shelters in one place, giving students many dogs to give lots of love to!
CIEE Board of Directors Visit St. Petersburg
This October was a very special month for the St. Petersburg Study Center, as we had the opportunity to host the CIEE Board of Directors. This inspiring group of exemplary leaders with a special interest in higher education and international education ensure that every study abroad program meets the highest standards for academic quality, intercultural exchange, and student safety, and guarantees CIEE’s leading position in the field of international education through continual development and innovation.
The weekend was highlighted by a tour of the CIEE St. Petersburg Study Center; class visits to two of the Russian Area Studies Program course electives taught in English: Presidential Elections and Ethnic Studies; lunch with students; and visits to some of St. Petersburg’s most exciting places of interest such as the State Hermitage Museum, Yusupov’s Palace, and the Faberge Museum, as well as a magical evening watching the ballet, A Midsummer’s Night Dream at the Mariinsky Theater.
Members of CIEE’s Board of Directors during dinner with CIEE students and their host families. Pictured left: Andrew Westenkow (University of Utah); pictured right: Cora Neumann (University of Pennsylvania).
Iskrenne Vashi (Sincerely yours),
Liz & the CIEE team
Liz McBean, Student Services Assistant
Anton Stepanov, Program Officer
Nika Afanasyeva, Administrative Assistant
Ira Vasilyeva, Student Services Coordinator
Anton Antonov, Program Manager
Svetlana Mantsvetova, Housing Coordinator
Julia Semibratova, Excursions Coordinator
Irina Makoveeva, Center Director