As the summer season in Petersburg unravels, and the warm sunny weather is conquering, although slowly and unsteadily, the majestic city of St. Petersburg, we are starting to reflect on the past four weeks that our Summer Russian Area Studies students have spent in the cultural cradle of Russia. The students stepped off the plane during the grand peak of the White Nights season, and right in time to attend the annual Scarlet Sails festival that charms the city and its guests, as the massive yet elegant ship with bright red sails is maneuvering along the Neva River. This annual tradition is a part of the unique show celebrating high school graduates, and it inherits its name from the famous story by Alexander Grin published in 1922 and cherished by many generations after. The story instills hope for the bright future and perseverance in one’s pursuit for a dream.
Allison Olmer (University of Nebraska–Lincoln), Kirby Shramuk (University of Pittsburgh), Natasha Anisimova (Oregon State University), Maureen Marsh (Dickinson College), and Sierra Holling (University of Oklakhoma–Norman) on the evening of the Scarlet Sails festival
Alexander Grin’s story strongly resonates with our inspiring study abroad students, who chose the challenges of getting acquainted with life in a new country while advancing academically over a mellow summer back in their hometowns or around college campuses. One of the most rewarding challenges this summer has definitely been the rigorous academic program that students enroll in as a part of their four-week summer session with CIEE.
INTENSIVE SUMMER COURSES
As a part of the worldwide CIEE initiative to encourage student mobility and intercultural awareness, CIEE St. Petersburg Summer Russian Area Studies Program has adopted the three consecutive four-week sessions of studies format. During each session, a student participant may choose an intensive core course and additionally complement this experience with the one-credit hands-on Communicative Russian Language discipline.
THE POLITICS OF THE IMAGE AND THE IMAGE OF THE POLITICS
During one rainy morning in Smolny, a newly arrived summer RAS student dropped by the CIEE Student Services office, and humbly asked what the staff thought about the nature of speed in this world. Among millions of daily questions relating to the city metro system, Russian food, Russian rubles, and simply getting around town, this question definitely stood out as something extraordinary and curious. The staff spent a few minutes contemplating this sole essence of speed, before they finally found courage to ask what ignited such interest in the meaning of things. “It’s for Dr. Strukov’s class”, explained the student, as they were hastily getting ready to leave the office and catch up with some of their fellow classmates on the way out.
This summer, Dr. Vlad Strukov joined the CIEE faculty for the first time, and his rich academic and research background proves that we could not dream of a better fit for the CIEE summer short-term academic endeavors. Dr. Strukov is an Associate Professor in Film and Digital Cultures at the University of Leeds in the UK. In the past, Dr. Strukov spent four years working as a visiting researcher and as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Professor Strukov has also held teaching and research positions at universities of Helsinki, London, Edinburgh, Leuven, Voronezh, and Moscow.
Not only is Dr. Strukov an experienced and knowledgeable professor, but he is also very passionate about his subject, and he is constantly working on engaging projects that focus on visual aspects of contemporary culture.
Dr. Strukov’s interest in film, animation, social media, art, and celebrity culture focusing on Russia in the 21st century became the key component of an intensive Russian Area Studies course on concepts of visual Russian art of 20th and 21st centuries.
Sierra Holling (The University of Oklahoma), a student in the Politics of The Image class, reflects on her experience this session:
“Dr. Strukov's class was very analytical and focuses on critical thinking. He challenged us to draw connections between complex ideas, a very useful and transferrable skill. This class definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone.”
Just like all CIEE Summer RASP courses, this particular course complemented the rigorous in-class learning with assigned readings, individual and group project presentations, and interactive field trips to various museums and galleries of Saint Petersburg, including Erarta, the biggest contemporary art museum in Russia, the State Russian Museum, Sergey Kuryokhin contemporary art center, and many others. While studying abroad in Saint Petersburg with CIEE this summer, the students certainly learned different concepts and constructs of the contemporary art theory, and in addition further developed their critical thinking and analytical skills, and indeed got to see the Venice of the North in a whole new light.
Dr. Strukov, Andrew Kroninger (Middle Tennessee State University), Erin Tupman (The College of Wooster), Sierra Holling (University of Oklakhoma), Christopher Majesky (Pennsylvania State University), and Geoffrey Putman (University of California) during the final class field trip
CIEE Intercultural Comparative Experience: Valaam, the Land of Light
“The land of light”, or “the land of vow” are a few probable translations of the name of Valaam archipelago, which derives from the Finnish language. During one of the RAS program weekends, CIEE Summer Russian Area Studies students headed to Valaam, a remote archipelago in Lake Ladoga, the largest lake in Europe. Valaam is located to the North of Saint Petersburg, and it has been historically known for the site of the 14th century Valaam Monastery of Transfiguration of the Savior and for its incredibly beautiful nature.
The two days of this journey inspired the exploration of spiritual heritage that Orthodoxy holds in the Russian culture. The prolific lecture by CIEE’s professor Dr. Loshenkov on the nature of dual faith and spiritualism in the Russian culture prepared the students to the comprehensive CIEE Intercultural Comparative Experience filed trip. The program route went through the remarkable places such as the Valaam Monastery and the authentic secluded monk skids, all with the stunning background of breathtaking nature.
Erin Tupman, Russian language student from the College of Wooster, shared her insights on the trip and the impact it had on her understanding of the Russian culture:
“The trip to Valaam greatly enhanced my understanding of Russian cultural history. The monastery is not like anything I had seen before, and walking through it and the outlying skids showed me that I hadn't—and couldn't have—understood Orthodoxy without experiencing it in person. I'm definitely a better person because of it, and am glad it challenged what I thought I knew.”
During the Valaam trip, CIEE students tasted local farm food and attended the church choir performance. It goes without saying that the group was pleasantly surprised to meet many cats on the way, and these little island inhabitants indeed became the main target of students’ cameras!
CULTURAL IMMERSION: GAME NIGHTS WITH RUSSIAN PEERS, NIGHT AT THE BALLET, AND GEORGIAN COOKING CLASS
Between challenging academic courses, thought provoking field trips, and learning to live in a big Russian city, our students succeeded in participating in various extracurricular aspects of the CIEE Summer Russian Area Studies program as well.
What can be a greater asset in understanding how Russians live, if not a chance to meet Russian peers and spend a gorgeous afternoon in one of Saint Petersburg parks playing board games and charades? Playing on a team with Russian friends and learning to explain concepts with the help of both languages indeed inspired students learning and striving to discover different layers of the hosting culture.
Going beyond the scope of tasting traditional Russian cuisine at the homestay families’ kitchens, the CIEE students have also mastered their skills in cooking Georgian dishes, such as kharcho soup and khachapuri cheese-filled bread. Georgian cuisine has always been very popular among Russians, and learning about Georgian traditions while learning how to cook alongside with the Russian friends is a great way to spend a weekend afternoon!
A night at one of Saint Petersburg majestic theaters is a must for every study abroad student, and CIEE Summer Russian Area Studies students are no exception! The students spent one magnificent evening at Saint Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Theater, first opened in 1833, enjoying the classical “Sleeping Beauty” ballet.
L. to R.: Sierra Holling (The University of Oklahoma), Kirby Shramuk (University of Pittsburgh), Erin Tupman (Wooster College), CIEE Student Services Assistant Nastya Kostina, Kareli Moreno (University of California), and Maureen Marsh (Dickinson College) at the Mikhailovsky Theater
The summer is still in its full swing, and CIEE Study Center in Saint Petersburg is looking forward to welcoming the final, third, session of Summer Russian Area Studies program here already next week!
We would like to wish all the best of luck to our Session Two Summer RASP students, hoping to see all of them returning to Russia in the future, for business, academic, or traveling purposes.
S nailuchshimi pozhelaniyami (Best regards),
Nastya Kostina, Student Services Assistant
Nika Afanasyeva, Administrative Assistant
Anton Stepanov, Program Officer
Ira Vasilyeva, Student Services Coordinator
Svetlana Mantsvetova, Housing Coordinator
Julia Semibratova, Excursions Coordinator
Dr. Irina Makoveeva, Center Director