Nothing gets you out and beyond your comfort zone like studying abroad in a foreign country. Our CIEE St. Petersburg students certainly agree that the past three and a half months have been a genuine exploration and building awareness of self, of the new enchanting country and of the different places and backgrounds we all come from. December in St. Petersburg marks the shortest daylight time and, as the holiday lights already brighten up the usually grayish city under the dim skies, we set to reflect on the experiences we have had and on the lessons we have learned on this journey together.
What Are You Thankful For?
This season marks six years of the CIEE St. Petersburg Study Center tradition of gathering on Thanksgiving Day for a highlight feast and spending this time together with all the CIEE students, alumni, staff, instructors, and Russian friends. The successful celebration is a result of shared efforts of the CIEE cooking and decorating committees, who put their best efforts in making this day so memorable and indeed special.
For the first time this year, CIEE donated all of delicious leftover Thanksgiving food to the local homeless shelter “Nochlezhka”, the oldest support organization for the homeless in St.Petersburg, founded in 1990. Coming together in gratitude and giving back made this season’s holiday even more special for the big CIEE St. Petersburg family.
CIEE Academic Environment
In the age of massive amounts of information ubiquitously available on the internet, authentic in-person lectures and discussions become extremely relevant, productive, and, most importantly, vital for the learning process. CIEE St. Petersburg goes extra mile in providing students with wide variety of academically focused activities beyond curricular classroom time.
Few weeks ago, the CIEE students attended the talk by Anthony Marra, renowned American writer and a CIEE St. Petersburg alumnus, the author of “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” novel and “The Tsar of Love and Techno” collection of short stories. In his writing, Anthony Marra develops the topics of family, sacrifice, the legacy of war, and the redemptive power of art in his novels and stories that take place in Siberia of the 1930s, Chechnya of the 1990s and present day Moscow.
It is crucial to nurture a safe and positive environment for expressing students’ thoughts and opinions; this is why CIEE, with the support of the St. Petersburg State University faculty, organize regular discussion club meetings that allow CIEE students meet with their Russian peers in an academic setting to reflect on various pressing issues and topics. This time, the discussion club session was focused on global migration trends and various issues and attitudes that are forming around migration in the post-truth world. As difficult as it was to incorporate the up-and-coming term “post-truth” (the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016) into the conversation, the students’ active engagement, controversial and at times emotional arguments clearly proved that such discussions are useful for encouraging mutual understanding between different countries and people of versatile backgrounds in general.
Skillfully incorporated by the discussion club’s moderator Maria Edinova (SPSU School of Political Science PhD candidate), Dr. Alexander Sherstobitov’s expert remarks and presentation at the very start of the session definitely gave a lot of food for thought to all the participants and helped drive the discussion further, to finding common grounds and compromises.
Continuing the long-standing tradition of CIEE guest lectures, CIEE St. Petersburg invited Dr. Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov (Higher School of Economics) to give the final, for this semester, talk for the CIEE students.
In his talk, 'Gifts to Soviet leaders and anthropology of post-socialism,' Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov discussed his experience of curating the exhibition 'Gifts to Soviet Leaders' (Kremlin Museum, Moscow, 2006) and of studying the audience’s reactions to the exibit. The exhibition contained what one visitor referred to as 'crazy objects': for instance, a cigarette holder in the shape of Soviet nuclear missile heads (a present to Leonid Brezhnev), Brezhnev’s bust made of cane sugar, a portrait of Joseph Stalin made of aviation screws, of Vladimir Lenin made of human hair, and similar artifacts, totaling approximately 500 exhibit items.
After a few events-packed days in Moscow students all went separate ways to explore neighboring countries and more distant parts of Russia.
Pictured above, L. to R.: Rachel Neale (University of Florida), Sayako Quinlan (Georgetown University), Amanda Feldman (George Washington University), Catalina Andazola (Trinity University), Alexandra Bustamante (University of California–Riverside), Ingrid Glitz de Assis (Georgetown University) on the Red Square in front of St. Basil's Cathedral.
CIEE students pictured on Sparrow Hills in Moscow. L. to R.: Kirill Tighe (Muhlenberg College), Christopher Downey (Tulane University of Louisiana), Joe Walsh (Lewis & Clark College), Anya Anderson (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), and Susan Statler (Macalester College)
Photo credits: Aaron Schimmel (Lewis & Clark College)
CIEE Travel Journals!
We couldn't let the two furthest tags on the CIEE travel map of Russia go unnoticed: during the CIEE travel week this semester our students managed to see a lot of new exciting places. Here we would like to feature the stories of Iain Cunningham, who traveled to Far Northern Murmansk with his CIEE study abroad buddies, and of Benjamin Lillian, who traveled to the Russian Far East and saw Lake Baikal, one of the world’s largest natural freshwater sources and an incredibly picturesque Siberian landmark.
Discovering The Unknown Russia And Helping Others With CIEE’s Alternative Break
Every semester our center offers students a unique opportunity to see the Russian interior and travel to lesser known cities of Russia. Alternative Break allows for a number of volunteer opportunities that encourage students to engage with more locals and at the same time give back and help others. We participated in a number of volunteering projects including, but not limited to teaching English, facilitating discussion clubs and interactive language classes.
Among other community service and cultural endeavors, our students also volunteered at "Detskoe selo", a small private kindergarten with a child-centered method of education based on self-directed activity and collaborative play.
By the end of the program in Kirov, the city really grew on us; the local community and the culture of a small provincial Russian town made such a big impression on one of our students, Patrick Bond (University of Virginia), that he decided to come back for a weekend and explore the winter adventures of a true Russian and go skiing in the forest with friends.
After the first snow came to St. Petersburg, our students jumped in on an opportunity and headed to one of many ski resorts in the St. Petersburg suburbs to take advantage of snow-covered slopes and ample tourist facilities.
Pictured right: Ingrid Glitz de Assis (Georgetown University), Amanda Feldman (George Washington University), Rachel Neale (University of Florida), and Catalina Andazola (Trinity University) during the trip to a ski resort outside of St. Petersburg