Warm Greetings from Cold Saint Petersburg!
The end of the semester came along with the first snow falls. It was saturated with social gatherings, academic and cultural events, as well as exciting excursions which brightened the dusky Saint Petersburg days.
A Tour of Capitals: Kiev and Moscow
While residents of the Northern Capital of Russia, students also immersed themselves in the beauty and explored the historic sites of two more capitals–Kiev (the first, tenth-century capital of Kievan Russia and now the capital of the Ukraine) and Moscow . This was five-day trip not just in space, but in time. Eleventh-century Medieval Russia materialized in the Sofiiskiy Cathedral and, later, in the Pecherskaya Lavra situated in the heart of Kiev. The Medieval effect of the architecture was further enhanced by the students’ visit to the Lavra’s burial sites with their imperishable relics of saints and legendary historic figures, as well as the kilometers-stretching catacombs. Moscow’s Red Square and the Kremlin tour expanded the medieval panorama. The students also attended the Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Kiev and the Museum of Contemporary History in Moscow. The latter was this year’s new site for all 97 students who familiarized themselves with the uneasy twentieth-century developments of Russia.
At the Museum of Great Patriotic War (Kiev)
New Volunteer Opportunity: International Camp in Cheboksary
Moving away from the historical hearts of Russia toward the rural breadths of Chuvashia, our students benefited from an inspiring new opportunity to discover themselves through changing the lives of others. For the first time this November during their fall break, our students served as volunteers in an international camp—a week-long camp for children of underprivileged families. The purpose of the camp was to develop children’s creative and language skills, and to inspire the cosmopolitan feeling in them of belonging to a friendly and welcoming international community. The camp was organized by the Youth Volunteer Center “Sodrujestvo” in Chuvashia’s capital of Cheboksary. Our student, Travis Richardson (Georgetown University), described his participation in the camp as a mutually enriching experience:
I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work as a camp counselor during our travel week. The camp, located along the pristine lakes of Russia's Chuvash Republic, aimed to prepare school-aged children for a globalizing world through language study. My main responsibilities include teaching English and German, leading morning exercises, and looking after the children's safety. The kids weren't the only ones who were learning; they taught me everything from Russian slang to the political structure of their government. I think the camp's strongest aspect is its ability to break down stereotypes. I have made 45 new Russian friends, and we have the chance to create an international friendship. I look forward to working with Sodrujestvo camp again in the future!
Jason Finkelstein (University of Southern California - CLAS) and Rebecca Steffens (Arizona State University) with another "Sodrujestvo" volunteer and children
Travis Richardson (Georgetown University) in front of his portrait painted by his new friend, Katya
Click on the hyperlink to find out more about Sodrujestvo .
The Mystery of the Past: on Art and Rasputin
The Yusupov’s Palace is one of the most opulent palaces in Saint Petersburg. The Yusupov family was well-known for collecting extraordinary masterpieces of art from all over the world. Our students’ excursion to this palace on November 23 turned into a (traditionally by now) favorite historic spot. Apart from its art collection, the Yusupov’s Palace is also famous for its mysteries and legends. Once again, CIEE students were thrilled to discover more about the obscure figure of Grigorii Rasputin, as well as his controversial role in the lives of the Romanov family. No less intriguing than Rasputin’s life is the mystery surrounding his death, the conspiracy of which unfolds with the tour of the palace.
Rasputin's wax sculpture illustrating his last dinner
New Excursion to Smolny: from History to Politics in Action
The historic memorial Smolny Museum was a new site that students explored this November. Situated in the building of a former educational establishment for maidens of noble origin, in October 1917, this complex became Lenin’s provisional government headquarters. In 1927, the rooms in which Lenin lived and worked, before moving to Moscow, were transformed into a museum. Smolny was also the first place from where the victory of the October Revolution was proclaimed to the masses. Currently, the Smolny complex is the venue of the city government and various municipal committees. During the Smolny tour, students attended the permanent exhibit of the (former) institute for the noble young ladies, visited Lenin’s rooms, and sat in the Presidium of the Assembly Hall (Aktovyi zal), where most important political figures usually preside during forums. Overall, this excursion was invaluable for students’ familiarization with the beginning of the Soviet era.
Gabriel Benjamin (Drexler University). Sebastian Ramos (Drexler University), Patrick Toelle (The Pennsylvania State University), Alex Wong (University of California EAP), Alexandria Solari (University of the Pacific), Emily Madcharo (University of Nebraska - Lincoln), Jeremy Reep (University of Nebraska - Omaha), Kayla Torrison (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities) and Dylan Choate (American University) in front of Smolny's City Hall
“Girl Rising”: Promoting Equality around the Globe
Studying abroad is an experience allowing students to feel the flavor of history, culture, and national identity. However, in our global world, community means considerably more: for the first time this year, on November 18, with the assistance of our Housing Coordinator and former school teacher, Svetlana Mantsvetova, the CIEE Center in Saint Petersburg organized a new global education event: screening the movie Girl Rising as part of the girl-rising movement inspired by CIEE across the globe. The event was held for 9th, 10th, and 11th graders of High School 266 in Saint Petersburg, where CIEE female students Caitlin Lyons (Colby College) and Lacey Carson (St. Olaf College) shared their educational experiences with the high-school students, thus serving as role models of opportunities in education for the young schoolgirls. The screening was followed by a film discussion and student essays capturing their impressions from the event. Caitlin Lyons shared her impressions with us:
At the film screening of Girl Rising organized by CIEE I along with a few other students had the chance to speak with Russian high school students about their opinions of the film, as well as their views about education in general. It was very interesting to hear about girls’ education from a different perspective, and through our discussion, I discovered that my views and the views of the students weren't all that different. I enjoyed both the film and the opportunity to interact with Russian students and engage in a discussion on education.
New Global Networking Initiative: CIEE Alumni Event in Moscow
The long history of CIEE is its pride. Throughout the decades of building international ties, CIEE has left memories in the lives of many individuals who have been part of its programs. The alumni event took place on November 6, with the participation of CIEE alumni, Work and Travel and FLEX alumni, as well as 25 current CIEE students in the Central House of Artists in Moscow. Interacting with the alumni helped our students place their study abroad experience in a life-long perspective; it provided a “gaze backward” for them into a yet-to-become past. Program Coordinator, Katya Rubtsova, and Center’s Director, Irina Makoveeva attended this event. Dr. Makoveeva gave a talk on the comics format adaptations of the 19th century Russian literature. Live music and a Russian avant-garde art exhibit adorned the alumni meeting. This is how Justin Bliss (The Ohio State University) summarized his participation in the alumni event:
The CIEE Alumni Event in Moscow was a great experience for me. Not only did I get to speak with alumni about their own experience, but also made some contacts among them for my next visit to Moscow! On another note, the food was exquisite, as well as the live music. It provided a very nice atmosphere for conversing with others.
More details about this event can be found in CIEE News & Updates.
Discussing the Differences: No “Taboo” Left Behind
Bringing American and Russian students together into a harmonized team that eliminates political and social differences is turning into a signature mark of CIEE Discussion Club gatherings. This time, the club was divided into two mixed (Russian and U.S. students) discussion sections. The topics featured political and national minorities and minorities with non-traditional sexual orientation, as well as differences in the legislative frames constituting tolerance to them. Prepared and moderated by the Center’s Student Services Assistants Anton Stepanov (in the Russian-speaking circle) and Pavel Sergeev (or simply “Pasha”) in the English speaking circle, these conversations were indicative of our students’ willingness to discuss such controversial topics as minorities openly, yet tactfully, while bringing competence to the atmosphere of pluralism. All participants served as proud future models of intellectual ambassadors of the democratization process in both countries.
Bringing Thanksgiving to Smolny Campus
It has become a tradition to celebrate Thanksgiving in Saint Petersburg, where CIEE staff, as a very responsive and warm “surrogate” family, made up, to some extent, for our students’ remoteness from their American homes. Thirteen turkeys, home-made sweet potatoe pies, cranberry sauce, and stuffing, courtesy of Daniel Didok (Wofford College) and Liz Prishchenko (University of Oregon) and Simon Hessler (Ohio University) respectively, along with a plethora of traditional Russian dishes spread the family holiday aroma in the hallway of the Smolny building in front of the CIEE premises. The food was lavish, and the atmosphere celebratory! Russian guests from the Political Science Department also sampled the combined American and Russian dishes to the sounds of Aerosmith, chosen to warm CIEE students’ hearts by the event’s improvised DJ, Anton Stepanov.
Talents without Borders
In addition to the opportunity for all CIEE students to sing in our choir, supervised by Professor Irina Guliakova, they can also join the international choir of Saint Petersburg Sate University. And recently, during our their second trip to Moscow, our singers took part in a joint concert with students from Moscow State University. Our choir is a venue for the pure joy of singing, in addition, of course, to learning language through culture and vice versa. The rehearsals in the choir serve as a perpetual reminder to our participants that music and language have a lot in common: it is the meticulous everyday practice in any art field that marks the steady advancement in it. Daniel Didok provided his own perspective on the event:
"Recently, I had a wonderful opportunity to travel to Moscow with the Saint Petersburg State University Choir. I joined the university choir along with my friend Emma Daniels a few months ago out of a desire to continue singing as we did back at our home universities, I at Wofford College and Emma at Tufts University. We'd spent the past two months in three hour practices twice a week preparing for a big concert at Moscow State University along with their choir. During these long practices, Emma and I both were able to build several friendships with local Russian university students and foreign exchange students like ourselves but from countries like Germany and the Netherlands.
All of this is to stay that our trip to Moscow was more incredible and enjoyable than I could ever have imagined. When we weren't in practice for eight hours--which seems like a long time, but sounds like heaven to a singer--we were exploring the city with our new friends. Sure, we both had to use two sick days each because of CIEE's attendance policy, but many times you learn more out of the classroom than in it.
To the avid protestations of our program directorship against unsanitary street food, I bought some street gyros in Moscow and they were wonderful. To the envy of art lovers all over, I went with my friends to the Tretyakov Gallery and caught a temporary exhibit by Pete Mondrian, whose work is way more interesting in its original, unadapted-for-consumer-products state. Likewise, I had the opportunity to walk and converse with choir friends in a wing of the MMOMA exhibiting work by the contemporary artist Andrei Roiter. At both exhibits, we spoke to each other about our differing interpretations of the works and how our personal backgrounds factored in with our appreciations. Similar conversations were had on the 10-12 hour bus ride to and from Moscow about life in general, female gender roles, and our individual love and fondness for our home communities. To say that I had a good time in Moscow last week would be a gross understatement: I was given a wonderful opportunity and had a fantastic time."
Emma Daniels (in the center) and Daniel Didok rightmost (Wofford College) with other singers of the Saint Petersburg State University Choir
New Signature Project: “CIEE’s Got Talent”
Inspired by the imagination of our Program Coordinator, Katya Rubtsova, this event brought U.S. and Russian students on stage to entertain the crowd for over two hours in the informal intimacy of “Mod Club” located on the picturesque Kanal Griboedova 7. What event could be more assuring of uniting international communities if not a performance of Russian rock pieces of “Kino” and “Grazhdanskaia oborona” by American students, and “Red Hot Chili Peppers” by Russian students? Such tunes, as Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” performed with a professional pitch by Emma Daniels (Tufts University), and Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” masterfully interpreted by Dominique Moore (University of Washington) added a feminine lyricism to the affirmative beats of the bilateral (U.S. – Russian students’) bands spontaneously formed to perform their hard-rock repertoire. CIEE staff members had their share in the show too: Anton Stepanov and Pavel Sergeev (Pasha) became “world-famous for 15 minutes” with their convincing vocal and instrumental solos in Muse’s “Super Massive Black Hole” and The Band’s “The Weight,” among other tunes. Solo guitar pieces, an Irish dance, poetry, and stand-up comedy were other talents that, along with the rest of the gigs, nailed the eye (and the ear) of the audience. The concert ended with Queen’s “We Will Rock You” sung along with by all listeners.
The event was described by Luka Kerecin (American University) as follows:
The CIEE talent show was an exceptional event. The hard work of the CIEE administration really paid off as about 100 audience members had a blast. People were singing, dancing, and laughing as the talented CIEE students kept everyone entertained for over 2 hours. I personally had tons of fun collaborating with everyone. It is incredible how many creative musicians participated in our program and in a really short period we managed to put on a fun show. Overall an epic success!
Another participant, Dominique Moore (University of Washington) expressed her enthusiasm about the event in the following way:
It has been several years since I last sang in front of people, so to end this semester on an exciting note, I decided to participate in CIEE's Got Talent show. I have never sung here before in Saint Petersburg, so I was very nervous as to how my voice and the music I chose would be received. However, once I got up on that stage and felt all the support from my fellow group members, I wasn't as afraid and I knew that I would have a fun time singing. Having the show at the MOD club was great because it gave everyone: students, faculty, and friends alike a place to hang out, relax, and have fun. I am very happy that CIEE decided to do the talent show because our group has some very talented people, and it was awesome being a part of this experience with them!
Students and the audience rocking the stage!
In Ballet We Trust!
Even people who are only remotely acquainted with classical ballet may have heard of the world-class traditions in Saint Petersburg ballet. In addition to the performances usually available to our students, CIEE host families, who make our students feel at home literally and figuratively, also attended a series of ballet performances (and an opera performance) sponsored by the CIEE study center. A total of 58 hosts enjoyed such masterpieces as "Don Quixote", "The Flames of Paris", "Swan Lake", "Laurencia", and "Pagliacci" in the historic Mikhailovsky Theatre. Such initiatives are not only a token of appreciation of our hosts’ important work, but yet another way to strengthen our bonds with them.
New CIEE Office Opening
And finally, this semester CIEE Study Center opened its new office in the very center of Saint Petersburg on Moika Embankment 24, within walking distance from the Hermitage. The opening was celebrated in an informal atmosphere by CIEE staff, colleagues, partners, and friends.
CIEE staff in its new office
The CIEE Study Center in Saint Petersburg wishes you very Happy Holidays!
С наилучшими пожеланиями (Best wishes),
Student Services Assistant
Student Services Assistant