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1 posts from July 2013


Summer 2013, Issue I


Greetings from St. Petersburg!

It's hard to believe, but the summer semester has almost come to a close. Indeed, it seems like only yesterday that our intrepid Area Studies students emerged wide-eyed from customs control at Pulkovo Airport. The warm days and white nights of St. Petersburg in the summertime have simply flown by as we've lived and learned together at Smolny. In the following passages we've endeavored to give you an idea of what our students have been up to! 



A Business Proposition

Based on our area studies students' enthusiasm and positive feedback about this brand-new course, we get the feeling that this was the best course they have taken all summer.  From government-connected construction companies to Google-like startups, our students have visited six completely different companies in their six weeks of class and not a single student was ever late to any of these meetings. Their interest was roused through the hard work of the two educators spearheading the project, Alina Sergeyevna Skrygan and Dmitry Sergeevich Korchagin. They arranged all these visits for ours students, including one to the construction site of a new Airport Terminal in St. Petersburg. Ruta Heinman (UCSB), sums up the visit below:

On Thursday July 18th, my business class visited the construction site of the new Pulkovo Airport Terminal. Construction was in full swing: approximately 4,000 employees were bustling around the site working on the main terminal, the roads leading up to the buildings, and other buildings that will serve as businesses once the airport is developed. The terminal itself will be beautiful. However, much work remains to be done. It feels almost unreal that the test runs are supposed to start on September 1st, and the new terminal is to open on December 3rd. Of course, President Putin will be present at this grand opening. I guess it is just "The Russian Way". Maybe one day I will fly into this Pulkovo terminal and see it in its fully glory, but I will always remember it in it's developing state.


Ruta Heinman (UCSB) and Diana de Paula (Pace) inspect Pulkovo III


The class visits the St. Petersburg headquarters of software company JetBrains 

A New Perspective on St. Petersburg

An interdisciplinary course that has remained popular with our students is "The Cultural Myths and Realities of St. Petersburg." Under the guidance of Professor Leonid Vladimirovich Loshenkov, our students have been given the chance to study St. Petersburg's unique role in Russian culture, literature, and art not only in the classroom, but on the street as well. Fascinating lectures and frequent field trips bring our students closer to a better understanding of the city that they have come to love. Here's what Liz Kelman (UC Berkeley) had to say about the class:

What I loved most about The Cultural Myths and Realities of St. Petersburg is how Leonid Vladimirovich utilized the city to show us everything it has to offer. Through historical sites, literature, art and so much more, Leonid Vladimirovich helped us as a class to immerse ourselves in the myths and realities of St. Petersburg.


The full moon over St. Isaac's Cathedral




Rising from the frigid, clear waters of Lake Ladoga, the granite shores of a mysterious island appear in the silver-gray space of the Northern horizon. This is an island has been the destination of countless pilgrims over the last five centuries. For the third year in a row the monastery-island of Valaam was also the destination of our Area Studies Program. The trip to Valaam offers our Area Studies students a truly unique experience to explore an isolated Skete monastic community located in the breathtakingly beautiful and forbidding forests of Karelia. Student services manager Jarlath McGuckin, administrative coordinator Irina Navrotskaya, and political science student and student services assistant Pasha Sergeev, accompanied our students on their journey. This is what Pasha had to say about the trip:

It was an amazing trip. Traveling to Valaam wasn’t easy though. Our ship encountered a storm overnight and when we got to Valaam the fog was so thick that we couldn’t dock near the monastery. The fog-covered shoreline and the dark forest just barely visible behind it were beautiful to see. But we eventually made it and our students got to tour one of the oldest monasteries in Russia. Afterwards we all went swimming despite the freezing water temperature. Even student services manager Jarlath joined us!



Thick fog met our students as they approached Valaam


Luckily the fog began to burn off, revealing the island's rocky shoreline

Photo (3)

Most of Valaam is forested, requiring our Area Studies students to hike on occasion

Photo (2)

Our knowledgeable guide was invaluable 


Moscow: from this geographic locus, the energy, ideas, and money that move contemporary Russian society flow out into the rest of the country. It is impossible to gain an understanding or appreciation of Russian history or society without having gained a perspective on Moscow. That is why  we take our students on a trip to Russia's imposing and bustling capital every semester. The following are some of the highlights from our most recent trip:


Inside the Kremlin


Russian area studies students gathered on the banks of the Moskva river during a nighttime bus tour of Moscow's beautiful city center


Lenin Mausoleum

We left the hotel lobby at around 8:30. On the street the air was warm and clear. Crossing the street from our hotel, we descended into the Sokolniki metro station, one of the first to be built in Moscow. Just like any other metropolis, Moscow should be explored layer by layer. One of these layers is to be found below the street. In the dark subterranean spaces, where the air is cold and pregnant with the smell of moisture, the city can be experienced in a new light. Our destination on this particular day was one of those dark, cold spaces: the Lenin Mausoleum on Red Square. This was an excursion that would leave an impression on all of us. Eva Derzic (UC Berkeley), an Area Studies student accompanying me that day, offers a special perspective on the visit to Lenin's final resting place:

Seeing Lenin lying in his tomb inspired nothing but respect and awe in me. As I filed past his body silently in the dark, I had one thought: "It's Papa Lenin!" So much of my family's life has been impacted by his ideology that it felt like I was completing a sort of pilgrimage by visiting him. While I don't agree with the flagrant disregard of his wishes to be buried, seeing him lying in there peacefully in the mausoleum was quite an experience. He looks asleep, not dead. It's like a portion of the tumultuous history of the early 20th century has been frozen in time. It's amazing that he can still retain an aura of austerity, dignity, and wisdom nearly 90 years after his death.


The Catherine Palace

As in past semesters, this summer some of our students took the initiative to continue exploring St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region in their free time. Only a few weeks ago, Russian Area Studies student Sabine Gueltzow (UC Berkeley) planned an excursion to the town of Pushkin and the famous Catherine Palace. With the help of our excursions coordinator Julia Semibratova, Sabine's outing was a great success!

  Catherine palace3

Students gathered at the Catherine Palace

Catherine palace2

The interior of the Catherine Palace 


Scarlet Sails

The cobblestone riverside streets and alleyways of the Admiralty district were inundated with crowds of revelers. It was three in the morning. The predawn twilight of another white night in St. Petersburg cast a mysterious glow over the masses gathered on the Admiralty and Palace embankments. A murmur floated on the cool breeze off the Neva. Suddenly, a single note sounded above the crowd. The streets fell silent. In a moment the dusk all around us was dispelled. Fantastic flashes of color followed by terrific booms erupted over the water, rattling window frames and echoing off of granite and plaster. Below this airborne cacophony, a scarlet-sailed schooner silently cut through the waves of the mighty Neva like the specter of a bygone era. The Scarlet Sails celebration had begun! This annual holiday celebrates the completion of secondary school studies for local students, but our students often take part in the festivities and enjoy the fantastic firework display.


A terrific firework display


John Arin Ransom (UC Berkeley, Ruta Heinman (UCSB), Thompson Garrett (Vanderbilt), and Rob Nees (University of Colorado Denver) attended the celebration

Independence Day Picnic

Due to the renowned white nights of St. Petersburg, an early-evening firework show was quickly deemed redundant. Though loud and colorful firework displays are often associated with the Fourth of July holiday, they certainly aren't a prerequisite for the festivities. What would be necessary for our celebration was clear: pleasant company, good food, and an appreciation for American culture and tradition. Indeed, it was the promise of good food, good company, and a healthy helping of patriotism that brought the majority of our students together at our study center's first celebratory Independence Day picnic. Everyone contributed to the festivities somehow; in fact the only question left to be answered at the end of the day was what to do with all the leftovers! It was a tranquil, filling Fourth of July for us in St. Petersburg!


Jackie Moran (American University) shows her true colors


Student services coordinator Katya Rubtsova keeps her students in line

4th of july

An expanded perspective on the celebration


Pub Quiz

“How many republics were there in the USSR?”
 “How long was Pavel I emperor of Russia?”
 “Name the founding members of the NATO alliance!”

Above are only a few of the questions that infallibly leave our students' heads spinning at Smolny's pub quizzes! Together with their Russian counterparts, our students flex their brains in teams of four to six in a collective effort to achieve pub quiz greatness. More often than not they become friends in the process. This semester saw the continuation of the relatively new pub quiz tradition at Smolny; there's no end in sight!

Was that 4 years 4 months and 4 days? Or 4 years 3 months and 4 days?


A Special Thank You

Most teachers might agree that teaching study abroad students is a tricky affair. These same educators might agree that teaching study abroad students during the summer months is next to impossible. Yet, summer after summer our talented and hard-working faculty achieve the next-to-impossible. Pulling our students' attention away from the distractions of a majestic and modern city filled with the frenetic energy and enthusiasm of the short Russian summer, these teachers are able to help our students accomplish their primary purposes in St. Petersburg: to learn and to grow. As a way to say thank you to our dedicated and determined summer faculty, we invited them to a performance of Swan Lake in the luxurious Mikhailovsky theater!


The interior of Mikhailovksy Theater


Russian area studies students gathered outside the Mikhailovsky Theater


Good Luck, Jarlath!


In closing it is important to note that our study center will be saying farewell to a dear friend and colleague this summer. Jarlath McGuckin has decided to say good-bye after working for seven memorable years in student services at Smolny. His contributions to our program are innumerable. His hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm will be sorely missed. As author and editor of the newsletter, he has passed the baton on to me. So, on behalf of the Smolny staff it is now my duty to wish Jarlath all the best in his new life!

For now I'll close as Jarlath would:
Всего хорошего (All the best), 


Ashley Morse
Student Services Assistant

Anton Stepanov
Student Services Assistant

Pasha Sergeev
Student Services Assistant

Katya Rubtsova
Student Services Coordinator

Jarlath McGuckin
Student Services Manager

Irina Navrotskaya
Administrative Coordinator

Irina Makoveeva
Resident Director