From the Dark Days to the White Nights: Spring semester in St. Petersburg!
Hello from St. Petersburg where the long (really long) winter has finally come to an end and now it's the daylight that seems everlasting. There is only one week left in the spring semester and a lot has happened since the last issue of our newsletter, so let's get to it!
Moscow Never SleepsAs we do every fall and spring semester, we took our students to Moscow for the weekend preceding travel week. Moscow is a metropolis the true size of which can only be appreciated looking down from the Sparrow Hills or the upper floors of our hotel at Sokolniki, observing a city of impossible breadth extending to the horizon in every direction.
Our students, like any visitors to Moscow, were only able to scratch the surface of this titanic city during their short visit. They took a tour of the city center, a walking tour of the Kremlin, an excursion to the Tretyakov Gallery, and chose from an array of optional excursions to sites of interest in the city. Jennifer Ginsburg (Brandeis University) described her final hours in Moscow for us:
We returned to Red Square on an evening tour shortly before we left the city and there was something very special about walking on Red Square at night with the buildings lit up. As I stood in the middle of the square, I hoped that one day I would return to Russia in a professional capacity.
Cosmonaut Memorial Museum
One of our Sunday optional excursions was led by CIEE Student Assistant, Ashley Morse:
At the Cosmonaut Memorial Museum there is a monument to the Soviet space program built over the museum. It is a monument that captures the imagination. I stood with the group of students looking up at a massive steel arc extending hundreds of feet up into the air. At its point, a rocket, silhouetted against the grey Moscow sky, appeared to be suspended not only in space, but time as well.
Inside the museum we were able to explore almost every imaginable aspect of the Soviet space program. Its history from inception to the modern era was told in full. Fascinating exhibits featuring a wide array of articles ranging from fallen meteorites to space vehicles bore witness to this incredible story. We left the museum with a better understanding of and appreciation for the Russian space program.
Belka and Strelka - the first two animals to survive in orbit.
April Fool's Day Blizzard
This year St. Petersburg and the rest of Russia endured an extraordinarily long winter. As many of our students returned to St. Petersburg from Moscow on the first of April, they were greeted by a winter whiteout! Even the locals aren't used to this kind of weather: according to Russian scientists, this has been the coldest spring in St. Petersburg for more than 60 years!
During the cold winter days of the "spring" semester in St. Petersburg, our students have found warmth and camaraderie in the ancient Russian tradition of the bathhouse, or banya. For the first semester, CIEE women under the guidance of our Student Services Coordinator, Katya Rubstova, took the lead in organizing a Banya Club and have been visiting their favorite spots in the city weekly. One of the enthusiasts, Agne Srubiate, tells us why she's a "banya babe":
It’s no secret that winter in Russia is long, cold, and unbearable – and for that the Russians have баня! Nothing relaxes you more and takes the stress and frostbite off better than a couple hours spent chatting with great friends (shout-out to my Баня Бейбс!) alternating between a toasty sauna bathed in the scent of birch branches and a freezing pool, than a banya. After all, “в который день паришься, тот день не старишься!” ("A banya day is a day you don't age!")
The CIEE Choir Experience in St. Petersburg
The CIEE Choir is a staple of our program. It is led by Irina Gennad'evna Guliakova who has inspired generations of our students with her infectious good nature, cheerful mood and ability to remember the lyrics to countless songs! An instructor for CIEE for the past twenty-six years, Irina Guliakova has taught many different subjects but is known for her instruction in Russian culture, literature, and arts. Every semester she volunteers her time on Wednesday afternoons to teach our students Russian songs: folk songs, military marches, romantic ballads, and even rock & roll. Our Student Services team caught up with her for last week's choir practice and asked her some questions:
Host Family Excursion: Gatchina
Hosting a foreign university student isn't an easy job. It takes understanding, patience, willingness to compromise, and an iron will. Therefore it comes as no surprise that chilly air and icy drizzle didn't prevent our stalwart host families from attending a Saturday excursion to the Palace at Gatchina. Our Administrative Coordinator, Irina Navrotskaya, did a wonderful job organizing this excursion. These families are a mainstay of the student experience in St. Petersburg and sit at the very center of the CIEE community. Not only do they provide our students with a stable and friendly home, they also offer our students the opportunity to improve their Russian away from the classroom.
We are very proud of the homestay component of our program and we strive to bring together our individual host families into one larger CIEE family through theater performances and exclusive excursions. Our host families are hospitable, experienced, and many of them are even trained to encourage our students to speak in paragraphs about many different topics. Our student, Anna Patten (Tufts University), has this to say about her host mother, Natalia Maksimovna Bartnovskaya:
I really love my host family--they are the absolute best! Every morning Natalia Maksimovna has me tell her what day of the week it is and what the date is. Then we practice tongue-twisters ( клара у карла украла кларнет - Klara u karla ukrala klarinet - "Clara stole Carl's clarinet") and talk about the morning's news. I'm very happy to have a host family that is not too involved, but just involved enough so that I know they care.
Independent Student Travel
With a packed extra-curricular and cultural program, it takes a certain amount of determination and stamina for our students to travel on their own. Despite the challenges of travelling independently, every semester individuals and groups take the initiative and leave St. Petersburg to explore areas around the city. This spring, Adam Casey (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities) and a group of friends have been very active travelling in the area. This is what he had to say about visiting the towns of Pushkin and Vyborg:
Travelling to Pushkin in the spring was totally worth it. It was about a twenty minute train ride from Piter; the park was beautiful and the weather was great. It was nice to just walk around. Vyborg was also nice, but it was a little more confusing than Pushkin. The architecture there is Scandinavian, but the residents are definitely Russian. In fact, they were filming a Russian World War II movie near the center of town during our visit. It was strange seeing locals walking around dressed up in old German and Finnish uniforms. They were friendly and seemed happy that we came to check out the town.
Another aspect of Russian culture which our students explore is Russian film. Our Cinema Club meets every Wednesday afternoon to watch Russian films. This semester our students watched a modern take on WWII, Alexander Rogoshkin's Coockoo, Eldar Ryzanov's comedy Sluzhebniy Roman ("Office Romance"), the modern dramas of an orphan searching for his mother Italianets ("The Italian"), and the cult film of the Thaw era Beloe Solntse Pustiny ("White Sun of the Desert"). The film series is curated by our Resident Director, Dr. Irina Makoveeva, an expert on Russian film who places the films in their historical and artistic context for our students. Student Services Assistant, Anton Stepanov, provides all technical support and makes sure there's enough pizza to go around! Here is a short interview with our student, Hannah Gibson (University of Vermont) about how she has enjoyed Russian film this semester:
The 5th Annual Smolny Spring Ball
A colorful array of masks glinted and flashed in the chandelier light. Laughter and excited chatter echoed through the colonnaded halls of our baroque Smolny study center. Hussars, jesters, lords and ladies floated across the ballroom to the one-two-three of classic waltzes. The annual Smolny spring ball was in full swing!
A murder, a duel, and a few fantastic student performances ensured that this ball would be an unforgettable event.
Our students had a magnificent time dancing, performing, playing, and enjoying each other’s company. But as all good things must come to an end, so did our masquerade. An entire year will pass before the halls of Smolny will again be graced by the whimsically dressed figures and smiling faces of our students at the spring ball.
Discussion Club with Russian Students
On April 30th, CIEE students met with Russian students from the SPbGU School of Political Science to discuss the topic: "Mass Culture in the USA and Russia." The conversation centered around popular myths, pop culture and sub-cultures that have become popularized in both Russia and the U.S.
CIEE student David Low (UC-Santa Barbara) presented on the gopnik sub-culture which can be characterized as urban Russian youth who display aggressive behavior, enjoy drinking alcoholic beverages and dress in track suits with pointy leather shoes. This sub-culture was compared and contrasted with frat and hipster sub-cultures in the United States -- it was a very interesting conversation.
Field Trip: Pskov
Behind the severe lines of the white Kremlin wall, the golden onion domes of the Trinity Cathedral flashed and gleamed in the spring sunlight. Far below the soaring peaks of this opulent architectural monument, our students toured the grounds of the medieval Pskov Kremlin.
Anna Patten (Tufts University) and Jennifer Ginsburg (Brandeis University) enjoy the view at the Pskov Kremlin. This was the first stop on our excursion in and around Pskov. What better way to introduce our students to this once mighty and important region? After the Kremlin tour our journey continued to the Pushkin Hills, where we would spend the following two nights in a peaceful lodge near Mikhailovskoye, the family estate of Russia's national poet Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin. Maria Ovsyankina (Oregon State University), Jessica Redinger (University of Washington) and Alyssa Lindley (Indiana University) (on bicycles above) were ecstatic in Mikhailovskoe, exploring the all the places Pushkin wandered as he constructed his masterpiece Eugene Onegin. Leslie Kucharski (University of Michigan) left Pushkinskie Gory believing that "Pushkin is our everything." We invited St. Petersburg State University students to spend this unforgettable weekend with their CIEE friends.
The excursion to Pskov never ceases to inspire our students; whether it be exploring the medieval curiosities in the area, the cave monastery of Pechory, the Pushkin estate, or simply the fresh air, our students always return to Petersburg refreshed and ready to make the most of their final weeks in Russia.
CIEE St. Petersburg Alumni News
Russian Essay Contest Winners
We congratulate our CIEE Alumni who were medalists in the 14th Annual ACTR National Post-Secondary Russian Essay Contest:
Ana Frigo (CIEE RLP Fall 2012, Lewis & Clark College)
Ashley Moe (CIEE RLP Fall 2012, Portland State University)
Marta Burova (CIEE RLP Fall 2010, Mount Holyoke College)
Sarah Lass (CIEE RLP AYP 2011 - 2012, Kenyon College)
Ashley Moe has plans to return to Russia to study next year:
I could not have done so well on this exam without the tremendous amount of experience I gained studying in St. Petersburg with CIEE. My language skills increased tremendously across the board, in speaking, writing, reading and listening. Also, I have recently entered the Russian Flagship program at Portland State University in Oregon, and will be returning to St. Petersburg for an entire year of study in September, 2014.
Russian Lacrosse National Championship
May 11th saw the return of the Battle on the Neva National Lacrosse Championship in St. Petersburg. The local team, The White Knights, hosted the Moscow Rebels for the chance to reclaim the national lacrosse title lost in Moscow in the fall. In a hard-fought game, the St. Petersburg White Knights prevailed with a 14-9 victory over the Rebels. The team has been assisted over the years by CIEE students: coaching, donating equipment, and playing. This game brought together a dream team of CIEE Alumni who have worked for years to advance the American sport of lacrosse in Russia:
- RLP Fall '00: Jarlath McGuckin (midfield)
- RAS-RLP Fall-Spring '08-'09: Matthew Tucker (defense)
- RLP Fall-Spring '09-'10: Brent Burak (defense)
- RAS-RLP Fall-Spring '10 - '11: Charlie Cousar (attack)
- RLP Fall-Spring '10 - '11: Tim Boll (midfield)
- RLP Fall-Spring '10 - '11: Ashley Morse (referee)
- RAS Fall '11: Robert "Gus" Peters (attack)
- RAS Fall-Spring '12 - '13: Nicholas Davidson (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities) (midfield)
We have had a great semester with the largest spring group on record! Thank you for sharing these excellent students with us!
Всего хорошего (All the best),
Student Services Manager
Student Services Assistant
Student Services Assistant
Student Services Coordinator