Time flies like an arrow, but in St. Petersburg it moves with supersonic speed! As we are already two months in the program, it is time to look back and reflect on our adventures.
The city looks captivating and very different in the snow, and all the museums, theaters and concert halls are in full swing so winter is an excellent relaxed time to see everything and stay busy. Traditionally, the semester began with our students’ favorite activity, ballet. St Petersburg has proudly been at the forefront of the classical ballet scene for rather a long time. This semester students have had the opportunity to choose between Giselle and Don Quixote. Additionally, winners of the CIEE beginning of semester scavenger hunt together with our professors viewed the “Love Potion” opera, sung in Italian and subtitled in Russian.
WINTER IN ST. PETERSBURG
Winters in St. Petersburg can be summed up in three words: cold, dark, and icy. Despite these insignificant nuisances, winter can really be a wonderland filled with so many things to do and places to see. Russians’ love for the ice is a well-known fact, in recent years ice-skating has become so popular that there is no shortage of modern state-of-the-art rinks in St. Petersburg and our students are using this opportunity to do what Russians do best — ice-skating.
Ice-skating, however, is not the only winter pastime; since the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 snowboarding is slowly, but surely gaining more recognition among Russians. Our students took advantage of one of St, Petersburg’s ski-resorts and spent a day skiing, snowboarding and exploring Russian suburbia.
LIVING WITH A HOST FAMILY
Living with a host family encourages language proficiency improvement across many spectrums, and provides students with a new look into everyday Russian life. No doubt, the opportunity to live with a homestay family is a life-changing experience for both the students and their homestay families. Students admit to their language skills to improve drastically due to full immersion with their families.
CIEE boasts an impressive database of over 100 active homestay families, many of whom have been welcoming American students into their homes for decades now. We are also very proud of our newly-found gems, the families with only a few semesters of experience but very positive reviews and, indeed, warm hearts. All of our host families are truly unique in their professional and life experience; many possess outstanding talents and are always happy to introduce their CIEE students to the culture of Russian music, art and theater. All CIEE homestay families have been screened and evaluated by CIEE's own Housing Coordinator, Svetlana Valentinovna Mantcvetova, who used to host CIEE American students for many years, too.
Two weeks ago, CIEE hosted a grand event where our students and their host families enjoyed a dinner at Nikolaevsky palace (Grand Duke Nikolay Palace, a son of the Emperor Nikolay I) - a historic building in the heart of Saint Petersburg. Not accidentally, this celebration took place on March 5th, right before the country’s celebration of one of the most revered holidays, Women’s day. This holiday is widely celebrated in Russia; it can be roughly compared to Mother’s Day in the rest of the world, except that in Russia it celebrates all women, not just mothers – sisters, teachers, grandmothers and wives.
Our students and their host families also experienced a full exposure to Russian dance and music. A part of the event was devoted to the traditional Russian folk dancing—a very dynamic and colorful show, where you don’t get to sit still and enjoy the show quietly, but you will get to learn how to dance. Traditional costumes, national songs and dances, gifted musicians truly were an unforgettable experience
With this dinner we intended to celebrate the unique bond between our students and their host families; it is truly inspiring and touching to see how close they grow together in such a short period of time as just one semester.
Aside from the usual CIEE sightseeing staples like Mikhailovsky ballet or the Hermitage tours, our students have enjoyed various under-the-radar alternatives. Our Sobesedniki (Russian conversation partners) are helping students get the most of their experience in Saint Petersburg. What can be better than a girls' night out enjoying live jazz sessions in a retro bar? Or, alternatively, if you feel like you have watched enough crime TV shows to participate in a mock FBI investigation, there is just an escape quest for you.
Lisa Miller (Indiana University-Bloomington): “I didn't know what to expect at first, but the escape quest was really fun. Also, putting myself into a situation where I had to think critically and out of the box was exciting. I was up for the challenge, although, I was disappointed that we didn't get to finish the quest because we ran out of time. If only Sky Plaza worked the first time then maybe we could have finished! I would definitely go back!”
Our students’ took exploring of the city to the next level: more and more of them can be found in anti-cafes, dearly loved by the locals. The concept behind anti-cafes is that customers pay for their time rather than their tea. In exchange everything else, from unlimited coffee and biscuits to Wi-fi, is included in the price.
Kendall Gildersleeve (University of Rochester): “Anticafes are places where instead of paying for the food you eat, you pay for the time you spend there. So every minute, you pay the equivalent of a few cents, and there’s coffee and tea and cookies and you can have as much as you like. There are also usually books you can read or board games you can borrow, and you don’t have to pay anything extra for those either. Most of the anticafes I’ve been to have been tucked away on side streets, or on the very top floor of buildings, and the staff is friendly and the chairs are warm and comfortable, so it can be really easy to forget how much time you’re spending there, especially if you’re chatting with a friend or two, time can pass pretty quickly… But at least the tea is free.”
One of the biggest assets of the CIEE Study Center is its selection of Russian language classes and elective courses taught by highly experienced professors of St. Petersburg State University, who all possess many years of experience teaching Russian and American students both in Russia and abroad. Specially-designed advanced courses enable students to study various topics such as Russian literature of the 19th century, Russian Civilization, Business Russian, or Russian mentality and social behavior.
Dr. Anna Volkova, a Senior Lecturer at School of Political Science, Saint Petersburg State University, is a new member of the CIEE faculty. She received her first Ph.D. degree in Political Governance from Saint Petersburg State University in 2000, which was followed by a second Ph.D. degree in Political Science, too, received from Saint Petersburg State University in 2014. Her research interests lie in the fields of political culture and administrative reforms in Russia and the system of public administration in Russia. She was recruited to Department of the Socio-Political reforms in Russia, Saint Petersburg State University as an Assistant Lecturer in 1997 and subsequently she was offered a position of Senior Lecturer. Her course on Comparative Cultural Studies: the United States and Russia is a part of our students’ curriculum.
Dr. Natalia Khan, who joined our faculty this semester, has been teaching Russian as a foreign language since 2009. She received her Ph.D. degree from Saint Petersburg State University in 2013. Her outstanding achievements have been recognized not only by her home university, but also by numerous organizations in Russia and abroad. Her research interests are in the field of Russian Linguistics, particularly in spontaneous speech, communicative and discursive constructions, and the correlation between speaker’s speech and his/her personality traits. She has taught Russian as a foreign language since 2009: Colorado College students in St. Petersburg and on Colorado College campus, and 2015 Middlebury College Summer School. Her students come from the USA, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Finland, and Turkey. She skillfully combines all aspects of Russian language in her classes: students are exposed to real-life conversations and unprepared speech, the class is focused on making students comfortable in Russian-language environment and breaking the language barrier.
Shu Ting (Jonathan) Chen (University of California-EAP) who is also one of Natalia’s students reflects on his experience in St. Petersburg: “CIEE provides us with lots of opportunities to immerse into the culture. For example, in my first week at St. Petersburg, I stopped by more than 10 local stores, talked to vendors, took picture on bridges and ran over 5 miles with the city. The city exploration begins as soon as I landed. I had the opportunity to try out Russian donuts and Russian versions of red bull and energy bar.
The languages class here is rather vibrant than I expected. Not only did I learn Russian fast through hilarious role play and local interviews, I learn a lot about Russian culture by watching and discussing Russian songs and movies. Class size is very small, which enables the professor to provide extra attention for individuals.
In parallel with vibrant languages learning and diverse culture delving, I was even surprised by how fast my Russian is improving.”
Emily Dollermore (Mercyhurst University) reflects on how she’s adapting to the Russian language: “The first four weeks here passed slowly and awkwardly: as I simultaneously tried to throw myself into speaking and understanding a language I had previously spoken, at best, haltingly, I also withdrew from the strangeness permeating my environment. Speaking English at home over Skype or even to type it on my phone became a temporary haven for me in that time. Now, however, I'm beginning to find that the reverse is true! I'm not fluent, of course, but more and more often I find that the Russian words for what I want to express come ahead of the English ones.”
Sometimes our motivated students have a need to go outside of the courses we offer. Those who wish to design their own interdisciplinary course of study at the St. Petersburg State University have every opportunity to do so. One of our students, Emily Dollemore, shares her experience with the program:
“While studying with CIEE, I am also taking an independent course to fulfill a missing requirement to graduate from my home school. Although students are not required to attend any services or to subscribe to any religion, they do ask that we participate in community volunteering and take at least two courses in religious studies.
I'm grateful to have the opportunity to study Orthodoxy, this beautiful, intriguing belief system, this time with real curiosity and acceptance of what I learn. The professor, Anna Olegovna Fedotova, and I meet for coursework every Thursday afternoon to review the previous lesson and the questions she gives me for weekly homework, before moving forward with a new topic. The course is taught in Russian, so in addition to fascinating new knowledge of church traditions, I'm also learning the specialized vocabulary of the church itself. In the past four weeks, I have learned the language of church architecture and interiors, iconography, and ritual. In each of these aspects of the Orthodox Church exists an extraordinary wealth of detail that I never before realized. The prospect of learning more about it invites me back to every lecture.”
The benefits of an overseas experience are difficult to quantify, but there is no doubt that studying abroad can be beneficial for all students, regardless of their background, or the school they attend. International education, especially if enhanced by language training, can open doors and confer lifelong contacts and interests that a student might not have developed otherwise.
Rachel (Katya) Essel (University of Southern California: CLAS), who is considering a career in interpreting, shares her struggles and triumphs of learning Russian:
“The biggest challenge really is the language. I try hard to learn it but people speak it fast and it's hard to understand. Plus a lot of Russian you learn in school is scholarly and formal Russian and when coming here you have to learn colloquial words and very situation specific words which can be challenging, like trying to buy makeup in a new language! But overall I love the challenge, I love learning Russian, and I love being here in Russia and Saint Petersburg.”
Alice Giliarini (University of California-EAP), an American CIEE student who is a native Russian language speaker, gives her insight into explaining some of the classroom environment: “Something I did expect to find different, and nonetheless am shocked by every day, is the beautiful architecture of St. Petersburg. To complete the beauty of the architecture, the classrooms are furnished with nice wooden tables and benches (I will miss them). If you don't consider the physical placement of classrooms, classes are taught the same way. There are differences of course, for example, homework is viewed differently in Russia. Here, the focus of what a student should be doing at home is more about learning and less about grades. The teacher may not check your homework, but if you come unprepared, you simply won't learn. This applies to reading material, as well. A student is encouraged to read more on material about which they know less. One other small difference is that in Russian classrooms, to give a professor respect, students stand up when the professor comes into the classroom.”
Our students’ insights once again prove that sending college students abroad promotes better understanding of global affairs and has other positive impacts at home. CIEE sincerely hopes that our academic programs will help our students achieve the greatness they are destined for.
As the winter snow melts and temperatures finally rise above freezing, St Petersburg emerges with newfound energy and optimism each spring. Residents surface from their seasonal hibernations and outdoor venues take down their shutters, casting a celebratory air over the city. Spring semester has the best holidays, the days are getting longer, and you get to practice being a true Russian in the winter so when all the tourists show up, you can blend in as a local.
The traditional Slavic festival of Maslenitsa is a favorite time of year for Russians all over the world, and the festival is widely celebrated in many countries. Maslenitsa is a time-honored Russian festival, and its origins, of course, are pagan. Troika rides, sledding, theater, puppets, singing, and fireworks are all a part of the Maslenitsa celebration.
“When in Rome do as the Romans do” goes an old saying. We cannot stress enough how beneficial immersing in the local community can be. This semester our students yet again showed how becoming a part of the local community enhances their experience abroad. Students are offered plenty of volunteering opportunities, including, but not limited to, teaching English at one of the country’s top higher education institutions, St. Petersburg State University, and our signature volunteering project with volunteering for St. Petersburg professional hockey team, SKA; volunteering for the Hermitage gives our students a unique opportunity to gain an amazing insight into the life of one of the world's leading museums as well as get professional experience.
Alice Giliarini (University of California-EAP): “Besides going to school, I have been taking part in extracurricular activities. These include CIEE choir, folk-dancing classes, and volunteering at the Hermitage. It hasn’t been long, and I already feel like I have a lot of bright stories to tell, thanks to these activities.”
HOSTING SHORT-TERM PROGRAMS
CIEE Study Centers in Russia are continuing to host an increasing amount of short-term faculty-led customized programs. Just a few weeks ago, we were lucky to welcome a group of students and faculty from Texas Christian University.
The group of intrepid Communication Studies students traveled to Russia only for the duration of their spring break and spent unforgettable nine days exploring Saint Petersburg and Moscow with CIEE’s mindful guidance. Despite the incredibly full schedule of lectures in Russian History and Politics, community engagement activities and museum excursions, the TCU students never missed an opportunity to mingle with the CIEE Study Center’s semester- and year-long students and learn some Russian. Although all TCU students learned to read Cyrillic alphabet only upon arriving in Russia, they eagerly dived into practicing and singing the famous Russian folk-song Kalinka with the help of the CIEE staff and CIEE students!
Immersion with Russian students is a cornerstone of our students’ study abroad language experience. There’s nothing that helps you adjust and learn more about Russian culture and peculiarities of life in St. Petersburg than becoming deeply engaged with the local community.
CIEE takes pride in its devotion to helping students get the most of their time here with the help of our Russian students. “Sobesedniki”, the CIEE Russian Language Partner Program, has become a crucial part of our students’ experience abroad.
Alice Giliarini (University of California-EAP): “Outside of CIEE, I have been taking walks around St. Petersburg, exploring, spending time with newfound friends, and simply living here. Through CIEE I have made good native friends and they have helped me feel less like a tourist, and more like St. Petersburg is my temporary home. Shout out to my Собеседница (Sobesednik) for making my stay here pleasant, fun, and memorable.”
Rachel (Katya) Essel (University of Southern California: CLAS): “I've been absolutely LOVING Saint Petersburg. It's honestly such a cool place filled with so much culture. Some of my favorite things are driving over Dvortsoviy Bridge on my commute to and from school because it's so beautiful seeing the Hermitage and the Neva river in the sunrise and sunset. And I love that I made Russian friends because they're so much fun and really interesting and cool and they help my Russian so much.”
Katya Kletkina (a first-year student at St. Petersburg State University, and yet already actively involved with St. Petersburg CIEE Study Center) reflects on her experience as a Sobesednik: “CIEE will never let you get bored, and this applies not only to American students, but to their Russian counterparts, too. Last semester my Sobesednik Dagmara and I used to practice Russian and English languages, we spent time learning about our countries’ cultures while sipping tea in a cafe on Ligovskiy prospect. Together with the rest of the group we visited Catherine Palace in Pushkin, played board-games in the Gaga Play Loft. Shout out to the CIEE Study Center for organizing everything!
This semester my Sobesednik is Rachel (Katya): everyone calls her “the American Katya” because this name, Katya, is probably the most common name in Russia, and a lot of people in the CIEE are called Katya (including me!).
Katya and I are very like-minded. We’ve already been to the Mikhailovsky theatre’s Don Quixote, we’ve taken countless strolls around the beautiful St. Petersburg and even studied Russian-American economics enjoying a good cup of coffee in one of St. Petersburg’s countless cafes. And there’s so much to look forward to!”
We cannot but absolutely agree with Katya: there is so much to look forward to! As we are embarking on the second half of the amazing spring 2016 CIEE adventure in Russia, we are sending our warmest regards from already warmer Saint Petersburg to all professors, study abroad advisors, families and friends of our Saint Petersburg CIEE students!
S nailuchshimi pozhelaniyami (Best regards),
The CIEE Spring 2016 Newsletter editors, Katya & Ira
Katya Kavchenko, CIEE Study Center Intern
Ira Vasilyeva, Student Services Coordinator
Anton Stepanov, Program Officer
Nika Afanasyeva, Administrative Assistant
Svetlana Mantsvetova, Housing Coordinator
Julia Semibratova, Excursions Coordinator
Dr. Irina Makoveeva, Center Director