CIEE St. Petersburg Fall 2016, Issue I
Унылая пора! очей очарованье! (A melancholy time! So charming to the eye!)—the words used by Russia’s most loved poet, Alexander Pushkin to describe fall time in Russia. Indeed, fall in Russia is a magnificent time: everywhere you go it feels like you are walking in an impressionist painting as leaves are slowly losing their colors and fall on the ground. Time does fly, and we have already reached the halfway mark of the semester. The memories we have made, however, will last forever. In this issue of our CIEE program newsletter, we are reflecting on the adventures of this semester!
CIEE Russian Area Studies students during a weekend trip to the Peterhof imperial residence
Studying Russian and Russia on the spot!
“One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things”, it was once said by American writer Henry Miller. The CIEE study abroad students challenge their views of the world and perceptions of Russia daily, be that in a classroom or while independently exploring the world around them. CIEE’s rigorous and structured academic experience helps the students to get a good grasp of language and area studies concepts that one can further implement in their daily interactions.
The best part of a study abroad experience is that a student can get full immersion into the hosting environment, and one of CIEE’s main focuses in academics is making sure that the classroom time is sufficiently complemented with in-field learning.
During this semester, the CIEE students have already visited a number of museums, galleries, exhibitions and workshops as a part of their academic curriculum.
The Russian national museum of ethnography opened its doors to the students of ethnic studies content-based course, who are actively studying the history and development of various peoples of Russia, all the way from Baltic and northwestern tribes to the southern Caucuses. As a part of the comparative cultural studies of the US and Russia, the CIEE students and their professor, Dr. Volkova visited the State Museum of Political History of Russia, which provided the students with amazing details and insights on the imperial, soviet and post-soviet Russia.
The Russian Fairytales class students definitely lucked out this semester: unlike the plentiful permanent museums and exhibits, the “Once Upon a Time” exhibit in local “Borei” art gallery was open for visitors only during short ten days in October.
The exhibit featured drawings and sketches illustrating different Russian folk tales. Dr. Makoveeva included the gallery visit into the class schedule, which allowed the students to not only read, analyze and study the intricacies of Russian fairytales but to actually experience the unique ambience of Russian folk and compare the views on Russian fairytales of artists from different countries around the globe.
The exhibit’s curators, Isabella Mazzanti (Italy) and Natalia Howard (the UK) agreed to give a tour of the exhibition for the CIEE students. The tour was followed by a paper doll master-class, during which our students and staff could finally put their talent and knowledge in action!
There are many ways to diversify the learning process and ignite students’ interest in learning, and CIEE is looking to apply them all! We expand our students’ horizons and expose them to different topics and discussions outside of our regular curriculum.
This October, CIEE Fall 2016 students were fortunate to attend a guest lecture by Dr. Ivan Kurilla, a specialist in the history of the US–Russia relations and a professor of the European University in Saint Petersburg. These days even more than ever, the CIEE students find it useful to turn to history when analyzing and critically evaluating the current events.
The speaker provided a broad overview of the dynamics of the US-Russia relations over the course of the past two centuries and focused on the superseding nature of the countries’ interaction.
St. Petersburg Style Volunteering!
Given that many community service positions in Russian large cities are not easily available to foreigners or virtually anyone looking to serve for short periods of time, we at CIEE are constantly finding ourselves getting creative when looking for opportunities for students to do volunteer work and give back!
The State Hermitage, the gem of the gems of Petersburg, Russian, and world art, has been a time-honored partner of CIEE for years. The Hermitage Volunteer Service was first established in 2003 to help with the preparations for the city’s 300 anniversary. Ever since, the organization has been steadily growing and enhancing its pool of volunteers. Every semester, CIEE students are joining the team of the Hermitage volunteers to perform all sorts of different tasks, from greeting the museum guests at the door to contributing to research at the archaeological department of the museum.
This semester, we were excited to learn that Benjamin Lillian (Georgetown University), one of CIEE’s Hermitage volunteers, got a special assignment from the historical research department of the Hermitage:
For the students, who are looking to put their teaching skills to use, CIEE provides two opportunities to volunteer. One is at the Saint Petersburg State University’s department of philology, a home to the center of foreign languages, which is always open to invite native speaking volunteer teachers, and the second one is with the “Ekran” production group, facilitating culture and language lessons for young children. Both institutions are always happy to have CIEE students on board. For CIEE volunteers, every semester starts with uniquely designed tours: of the SPSU philology department’s patio gardens in the first case, and of famous Petersburg and Russian film directors and screenwriters in the second!
CIEE students during the first visit to SPSU philology department
CIEE students are also often seen at SKA hockey club stadium, where they come to volunteer by helping to organize, rearrange and decorate the bleachers area, which is later being rewarded with free tickets to SKA hockey games!
For many CIEE students volunteering has already become an essential part of their time in Russia. Stay tuned for the updates on Saint Petersburg CIEE’s own Alternative Break initiative, that takes the students on a weeklong adventure in smaller Russian cities and towns, where the students get to volunteer and contribute to the local communities! This time the intrepid CIEE students will explore Kirov, a Central Russia city, a 23-hour train ride away from St. Petersburg, which in turn has already become home to our students over the past two months.
When in Russia, do as Russians do—it is a widely known fact that Russians love spending time at their dachas (summer houses). CIEE, however, takes classic Russian dacha getaways to a whole new level.
“The tour of the palace was completely in Russian, everyone was listening very carefully, grasping for familiar words. After the tour, one of the students, Isaac Sanchez (University of California, Irvine), said that that was a great language practice. Students became even more motivated in their studies; they did not just walk around the palace aimlessly. It was a truly rewarding experience.”
Different Dimensions of CIEE Cultural Immersion
When we say that CIEE Russian Buddies are a crucial part of our students’ lives here, we truly mean it. Be it a matryoshka painting master class, or a walking tour around the city, our Russian student helpers are always there to guide CIEE students and help them adjust to the new environment. This semester was traditionally packed with events with Russian students: we started with a game night where students could meet over board games and coffee, talk about classes and their everyday lives. Trivia night “Pub quizzes”, karaoke nights and sport events provide an informal setting for more relaxed conversations, where students can practice their language skills, get a better understanding of modern life in Russia and make lifelong friendships.
They say the best way to get to know a culture is through sampling its food, but it is even better done through learning how to cook it. Our students already discovered the wonders of Russian cooking (thanks to our host mothers and their cooking talents) and were excited to try their hand at cooking borscht, probably the best-known Russian dish. Under careful supervision of a master chef, our students learned to cook a four-course Russian meal and are now ready to impress their friends and family back home with the newly gained skills.
CIEE karaoke nights have been getting a lot of attention too: what can be a better way for practicing phonetics than by singing a good old “Калинка-малинка”? We carefully select songs that will allow students to work on their pronunciation. Songs also provide examples of authentic, memorable and rhythmic language. Add some Russian friends to sing along with and you got yourself a perfect Friday night!
Cinema clubs add another dimension to CIEE students’ perception of Russian culture. While providing students with examples of Russian language used in real situations outside the classroom, they also give an insight into Russian life as it was portrayed five, ten and fifty years ago.
Dr. Irina Makoveeva, our Center Director who holds a doctorate degree in Slavic and film studies from the University of Pittsburgh, deems cinema club to be of crucial importance, and personally selects films for the club’s meetings as well as prepares an introductory lecture before the screening to give students a better understanding of the film’s context and significance. Anton Stepanov, CIEE Program Officer, who is also an expert on Soviet cinema, co-hosts the cinema club with Dr. Makoveeva and facilitates the discussion of the movies after the screening.
It's Halloween Time!
When you think about Halloween and Russia, the first thing that comes to mind is that Russians don’t really celebrate Halloween over there. However, our students strive to not only expand their own horizons during the study abroad adventure, but also bring their own culture into Russia! This year, the CIEE study center organized a grand Halloween celebration, encompassing all aspects of the holiday: from pumpkin carving master classes and decorating the local music club where we held the celebration to dressing up in various creative costumes.
At the peak of the Halloween activities, CIEE held a big celebratory concert for the CIEE students, host families, alumni, staff and Russian students. The gorgeous music band comprised of CIEE students, CIEE staff and Russian friends rocked the evening away, while the gracefully choreographed “Thriller” dance took everybody’s breath away and certainly added charm to the evening. Dancing, playing games, socializing, voting for the best-carved pumpkin and the best-designed costume, CIEE students definitely managed to brighten up a dark and gloomy Saint Petersburg October evening with laughter, fun memories and energizing music.
Here is a brief quote by Patrick Bond, University of Virginia student and an incredible musician, to capture the atmosphere of the evening and the CIEE Signature Project’s preparations:
“Working with the band was a great way to get to know other students in the program, Russian students, and Anton [CIEE Program Officer, and a talented musician]. Just as with most musical experiences, it brings the group close together, but also allowed for an amazing cross-cultural experience being able to play Russian and American music.”
Time surely flies, when you spend it enjoying every minute of your time abroad with newly found friends, host families, professors and mentors. Stay tuned for more updates on the CIEE trip to Moscow, CIEE independent travel week and Alternative Break Program, Thanksgiving celebrations, and much more!