By December, the allure of living in a completely new environment has lessened to more normal levels, and the darker, shorter days that come with 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!
Alexander Evanoff (University of California, Davis ’17), Gray Phillips (Kenyon College ’17), Dan Berenberg (University of Vermont ’17), Jean-Paul Gilbert (Oberlin College ’17), Chloe Follis (Bates College ’17), Erica Ditmore (Macalester College), Boryana Borisova (Illinois Wesleyan University ’17) during the Fall 2015 Signature Event.
During this bittersweet last week, the halls of Smolny are filled with the buzz of students preparing for their final exams, taking their Oral Proficiency Interview exams, and saying goodbye to the city and people they have called home these past four months. It is undeniable that the friendships and relationships formed here are unique bonds that will last a lifetime; especially those relationships which students have formed with their host families. In their host families, students have found a home away from home.
From the words of a mother, visiting her daughter after having met her daughter’s host mother:
“I am incredibly thankful for this amazing woman, Elena Petrovna, Bridget's host mom while studying in St. Petersburg. She is such a gracious, lovely person who has truly been Bridget's 'Mom' while away from Mom. Very grateful, indeed.”
Bridget Menkis (Oberlin College ’17) with her host mother, Elena Sukneva.
CIEE Celebrates Thanksgiving
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 sixth year that Thanksgiving was celebrated together at the CIEE St. PetersburgStudy Center. Students tackled the task of transforming Smolny into a festively decorated venue, and prepared their favorite Thanksgiving dishes at home, after spending an evening scouring the Russian grocery stores for all necessary ingredients.
Students captured the spirit of Thanksgiving, using the opportunity to appreciate those for whom they are thankful; filling a poster full of thanks to teachers and staff, and distributing turkey hands, decorated with personal notes of thanks to friends and teachers and staff.
Tanveer Karim (University of Rochester ’17)
“Thanksgiving holds a special position in the American culture because no matter where you are, you try your best to spend some time with family and be thankful for everything. So it was no surprise to see all the American students get excited for Thanksgiving. After all, we wanted to spend some time with our new friends in Russia and be thankful for the most awesome semester! I had a tremendous amount of fun with the decorations committee and the food committee cooked delicious food. Lastly, I would like to thank the CIEE staffs and our Russian sobesedniki once again for making this a truly memorable semester. You are all invited for next year’s Thanksgiving dinner!”
CIEE Visits the U.S. Consul General
At the end of November, students were invited to the U.S. Consulate General to meet with the newly-appointed U.S. Consul General Thomas Leary. Mr. Leary shared many insights into the current state of U.S. – Russian relations, and shared many of his personal and professional impressions of the St. Petersburg today, compared to the St. Petersburg he knew during his first appointment in St. Petersburg in the late 90s. Mr. Leary stressed the importance of educational exchange programs, the necessity for young Russian-Eurasian specialists, and explained what a career with the U.S. State Department consists of, including the way a career as a Foreign Service officer has affected his life and his family’s life. Students found the opportunity enlightening, and were happy to learn more about what takes place behind the doors of the U.S. Consulate’s office.
Sarah Krasner (Scripps College ’17)
“It was really interesting to hear about the different duties of the consulate workers, and learn about what is actually going on behind the scenes at the U.S. Consulate offices, especially because I think one day I might work for the State Department.”
Challenging and Interesting Academics
Professor Leonid Loshenkov during the civilization course “Russian Social and Political Life” taught to RLP students.
Host Institution Courses
The CIEE St. Petersburg Study Center is located strategically within the Political Science Department of the St. Petersburg State University. This provides an opportunity to audit regular university courses taught to Russian university students in Russian, in addition to their CIEE courses. This semester, a few students tackled the challenge of auditing St. Petersburg State University political science courses. Navigating a different educational system and learning subjects together with students of a different cultural background proved to not be an easy task, yet became an incredibly rewarding experience revealing to its students a deeper understanding of both Russia and the U.S.
Russian Fairy Tales
This semester, Center Director, Dr. Irina Makoveeva, professor of Russian, teaches a course on Russian Fairy Tales to RASP students in English. This course explores a broad variety of Russian fairy tales and introduces students to different approaches to the study of folklore, including structuralism, psychoanalysis, sociology, Marxism, and feminism. Fairy tales play a very telling part in every culture, revealing the morals and stories children are raised on, and the complex multi-faceted characters that decorate its stories who are admired, feared, loved, hated, etc. Russian fairy tales have numerous recurring characters that are incorporated across a wide spectrum of tales, revealing to CIEE’s students of Russian fairy tales, a unique look into Russian culture.
From an anonymous note written by one of Professor Makoveeva's students on Thanksgiving:
“I am very thankful for such a wonderful class. I enjoy fairy tales so much and I love hearing all the wonderful little extra details about the tales, the history attached to them, etc. Irina Efimovna clearly loves the subject, and I am thankful for her bringing that love of the tales to the classroom. I hope this class gets offered in all the coming programs!”
This semester, Professor Makoveeva’s students, in addition to the normal course load have endeavored to create their own adaptation of “The Magic Swan Geese.” CIEE Housing Coordinator, Svetlana Mantsvetova, is the creative force behind the scenes, choreographing and directing the play’s adaptation to be performed at the Closing Ceremony.
The final dress rehearsal before the fairy tale’s grand reveal! [Left] Tanveer Karim (University of Rochester ‘17), Gray Phillips (Kenyon College ’17), and Dexter Blackwell (Occidental College ’15) are the 3 Magic Swan Geese who at Baba Yaga’s bidding, steal Alyonushka’s little brother, Ivanushko.
Independent Research Projects
In addition to the plethora of excursions, museums, volunteering, and extracurricular activities which our students have enjoyed, many students have sought additional extracurricular activities and research projects independently.
One such student is Hannah Freyer (Colorado College ’17), a student of Russian Language and Literature who is pursuing a research project in environmental studies.
“One of my most rewarding experiences this semester has been an independent research project I sought outside of the official CIEE program, investigating Russian perspectives on environmental issues. As part of my project I have created a survey, given a presentation at a university seminar, and begun to learn a new, specialized vocabulary. This project has allowed me to reach outside of everyday interactions and better understand Russia’s culture and language.
Although I have a formal goal for this independent project, what I have learned simply from the journey of starting it has taught me so much more than I would have by just taking classes here. While the formal goal of my project is an increased understanding of Russian environmental perspectives—in order to think about how to create more effective and achievable environmental goals in the international sphere—I have learned even more about Russian just by attempting to craft the survey that is a key aspect of the project. This survey, which is the first part of my project and now completed, required hours of time spent sitting down (with copious amounts of help) to translate it in a way that both mimics the English equivalents of my questions and perhaps more importantly, were culturally understandable. Since completing the survey, I have asked many professors and students to take it and pass it around; so far I have over sixty responses from all over Russia!”
Ben Pearce, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities has also been pursing independent study during his semester with CIEE. At his home university, Ben is working on a master’s project that involves synthesizing aluminum nanoparticles using a nonthermal plasma, and throughout this fall semester, has visited with Russian scientists conducting research in related fields.
"CIEE St. Petersburg’s office helped me create my own independent study translating scientific articles related to my research back home. I had no experience at the start of the semester. My instructor, Neda Vladimirovna, guided me sentence-by-sentence to help me perfect my drafts. I enjoyed I enjoyed having a practical outlet for applying grammar recently picked up from class, while also learning new technical vocab. During independent travel week I met with scientists at the Joint Institute for High Temperatures in Moscow who work in the fields of nanoscience and plasma physics. It was a great experience meeting researchers in Russia for the first time and hearing about their work.”
CIEE’s Got Talent
Each semester brings with it new students and more alumni, who continually remind us of the passionate and curious individuals we are lucky enough to welcome to Russia. Our students constantly astound us with their dedication to learn the Russian language, and to delve into Russia, unraveling the mystery of its culture. Each semester, the CIEE St. Petersburg Study Center tackles a culturally-oriented Signature Project, an initiative developed in 2010, designed to culminate the semester, and deepen student experience in St. Petersburg.
[Left] Cora Neumann (university of Pennsylvania ’17), Angelika Kropiowski, Daga Franczak, and Sarah Krasner (Scripps College ’17) during Dan Berenberg’s rap [pictured right].
Every spring, CIEE St. Petersburg rekindles the spirit of imperial Russia by holding the enchanting Spring Ball, the grandeur of which is in many ways similar to that of the Lev Tolstoy’s depiction of the 19th century Russian ballroom enigma. During the fall semesters, CIEE St. Petersburg embraces contemporary Russia through signature concerts that embody a decade or theme. This year, students were able to their hidden talents and gifts through a talent show!
Ian Edgley (University of Dayton ’17) impressed the crowd with his touching rendition of “Landslide” originally by Fleetwood Mac which was dedicated to his mother.
All the musical performances were accompanied by CIEE’s very own band, led by Program Officer, Anton Stepanov. In the weeks prior to the concert, this talented group of students; Matt Stewart (Colorado College ’15), Andrew Westenskow (University of Utah ’17), and Dexter Blackwell (Occidental College ’17) rehearsed in the evenings and on weekends, preparing to accompany the diverse set of songs, originally performed by groups such as the Cranberries, Fleetwood Mac, Amy Whinehouse, the Kooks, Pixies, Blink 182, Arcade Fire, Dead Weather, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and songs in Russian by groups such as Kombinatsiya, Okean Elzi, and Zemfira.
[Left] Victoria Long (University of Evansville ’17) livened up the crowd with her renditions of “Sugar We’re Going Down” by Fall out Boy and Dead Weather’s “Hang you from the Heaven.” [Right] And Angela Ipock (Middle Tennessee State University ’17) wowed the crowd with her Disney song medley.
Hannah Freyer (Colorado College ’17), Sarah Krasner (Scripps College ’17), Andrew Crawford (Tulane University of Louisiana ’17), Madeleine Lebovic (Tufts University ’17), and Maddie Herman (Lewis & Clark College ’17) pictured below, were 5 of the 8 students that performed a dance choreographed by Madeleine Lebovic.
Dan Berenberg (University of Vermont ’17)
“The CIEE's Got Talent Spectacle was located at a local venue, and we literally metaphorically blew the roof off that bar. The air was filled with an extremely positive, strong energy of support, bonding, and fun. Students, both of our program and Russians performed with each other, or alone. I blasted on stage with a heavy set of rhymes and rapped the socks off the audience. It was truly a night to remember, by far one of the most rewarding events CIEE held during the semester.”
XXV CIEE Pub Quiz
A favorite pastime of students is CIEE Program Officer, Anton Stepanov’s brainchild, the CIEE trivia “Pub Quiz” nights with Russian students. Students have the opportunity to test their knowledge on American and Russian culture and history together with their Russian friends during this informal gathering at a local St. Petersburg venue. And this month we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Pub Quiz. To commemorate this anniversary, CIEE staff formed a team, competing neck to neck with Russian and CIEE students. The competition was tough, yet CIEE staff pulled through victoriously after a tie breaker with one other team.
The St. Petersburg team would like to wish you a happy holiday season. We hope the New Year brings all of us a year full of happiness, health, mutual understanding across the nations, new experiences, and adventure!
CIEE Staff during the Fall 2015 Signature Event “CIEE’s Got Talent.”
S Novym Godom (Happy New Year) from 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