Not sure what program is right for you? Click Here

© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Study Abroad in

Back to Program Back to Blog Home

« SPRING 2016, ISSUE I | Main | Summer 2016 RASP Session I »




            As the CIEE Spring 2016 semester draws to a close, we’re taking a stroll down the memory lane. During this bittersweet last week, the halls of Smolny are filled with excitement as students are preparing for their final exams and taking their Oral Proficiency Interviews. Each student has put their heart and soul into shaping this experience, and now it is time to say goodbye to the city they have grown to call home for the past four months.

IMG_7940A photo of CIEE Study Center Smolny hallway decorated with the students’ memorable photos



            Last month our students packed their bags for the CIEE's traditional trip to Moscow! The capital and historical, architectural and business center of Russia, Moscow displays the country's contrasts at their most extreme.


            They say Moscow is the head, and Saint Petersburg is the heart of Russia. After spending two months in the “heart of Russia”, our students took a trip to Moscow, the capital of Russia.  Saint Petersburg has always been called the “window on Europe”. This has developed in a sense of European-ness that both connects Russia to Western Europe and serves as a distinction from the rest of Russia. Moscow, on the other hand, has a very pronounced sense of that Russian-ness.

            Jeremy Hunt (Rutgers University) reflects on his experience of traveling to Moscow with the CIEE group:

            “Our class trip to Moscow was filled with a sense of excitement and adventure. Sharing this experience of such an amazing city with the other students was a once in a lifetime experience and is something I will never forget.

            Saint Petersburg and Moscow illustrate two unique perspectives of Russia; they give you a snapshot of what Russia is about and paint a very unique, relevant, yet distinct portrait of Russian culture. While in Moscow, students went exploring the Kremlin, visited the Armory, which has a stunning collection of all things imperial, and one of Moscow's most famous art museums, the Tretyakov Gallery, or the Museum of Contemporary History.

            After the end of an events-packed weekend, our students embarked on independent journeys exploring Russian cities and countries outside of Russia!



            Every semester, the CIEE Study Center in Petersburg offers its students the opportunity to travel to a small, provincial Russian town, and experience, through a week of volunteer activities, an unfiltered look into Russia. Alternative Break, our relatively new program, is aimed at showing students more of authentic Russian life. It allows students to see Russia from another perspective and learn more about the culture, the people, traditions and beliefs. Our students are also offered numerous volunteering options like helping at an animal shelter, working with the elderly, park clean-up and language and culture lessons. This semester, students were offered to travel to the far north and spend a week volunteering in Tula, located 193 kilometers south of Moscow.

            Rinyuda “Pa” Promphenrangsi (Lewis & Clark College) shares her opinion of the Alternative Break in Tula:

                “My experience in Tula was unforgettable. I got to make friends with so many Russian students, who also did the volunteering works with us. I also learned about another side of Russia, like lives in a small city. Tula might not have a lot going on as a city, but people there are so nice and kind. That's what made my Tula's experience one of my best study abroad experiences.”

Alternative Break in Tula

Left: Kendall Gildersleeve (University of Rochester), Taylor Wilson (Vanderbilt University) and Pa Promphenrangsi (Lewis & Clark College) with their Russian friends from Tula (organization “Volunteer 71”)

Right: Jessie Kim (University of Washington-Seattle Campus), Taylor Wilson (Vanderbilt University), Kendall Gildersleeve (University of Rochester) and Pa Promphenrangsi (Lewis & Clark College) in front of the Tula Armory Museum



            Every semester our students also have a week-long break where they can travel within or outside of Russia. This spring, we’ve traveled from Norway to Vladivostok, Russia’s San Francisco. While some of us daydream about globetrotting and seeing, our students use every opportunity to see the world.


The map of places in Russia and Europe where the CIEE Spring 2016 students traveled to during their Independent Travel Week


            This semester’s award for the most adventurous journey goes to a group of students who travelled across Russia to see the Lake Baikal and Vladivostok the biggest Russian port city at the east and the final stop of the Trans-Siberian. Lake Baikal is the crown jewel of Russia's natural inheritance and has incredible scenery on display.

Katherine Baum (University of Rochester)
takes us through her journey:

            “For our glorious, one-week long spring break, my newly found study abroad friends and I decided to spend four of those precious days on the Trans-Siberian Railroad in Platzcart class (last). In the first five minutes of getting on the train at one in the morning, we managed to not only wake up half of our train-car, but I had managed to climb into someone else’s bunk. After the man who had decided to take a step off the train returned, seeing his bed had been newly occupied, I was politely asked (in Russian) where I had moved all of his things to and, hysterically/embarrassedly laughing, I found the way to my actual bunk. To say the least, the train ride was an adventure and all adventures have their ups and downs.


            The people on the train were probably the most interesting thing about the trip. We met people from all over Russia who were travelling for work, to see family members, and to sing in a singing contest as a large group. I was surprised with how warm and willing to share everyone on the train had been.  We also got to see so much from out window. The train went through fields, forests, and small towns; it gave us the opportunity to really see more of Russia. The group also had managed to get along well: even after four days, no one killed anyone! We would play Gin Rummy every day, so that by the end of the trip, we all had some idea of strategy. Those were some of the best parts about being on a train for four days.



            Of course, with good things there are small things that may be surprising. Admittedly, I was surprised by how bad one smells (and how the train-car smelled) after not taking a shower for four days. Looking back, it was not as bad as I had expected. We had many more exciting moments trying to explain the game “The Settlers of Catan” to the man who shared the six-person open-compartment with us, as well as jumping at every stop at a station for a chance to walk around and stretch our legs. 

  12670662_10153703038217881_686605286274669426_nL. to R.: Dakota Potts (Miami University-Oxford), Olivia Leggieri (University of Virginia), Rebecca Powell (Rice University), Harris Melcher (Wake Forest University) and Jenna Friedberg (George Washington University) on the frozen Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world located in Siberia

            The experience was so unique and we got to see so much of the Russian country-side. The people we interacted with gave us access to conversations we wouldn’t have had with Russians otherwise.  Now we know that the train stops allow us to get some kind of fresh food, unrefrigerated meat is not something to test our stomach with, and that we have friends that we can say we’ve spent over 90 hours with and hadn’t gotten sick of them. If I did it again I would definitely do some things differently, but I would do it again.”



            Among many challenging and all-encompassing content-based courses that Saint Petersburg CIEE Study Center offers to its semester- and year-long students is Analytical Readings. The curriculum of this course focuses on the most fundamental works of literature of 19th and 20th century in the Russian literature. The course instructor, Dr. Irina (Gennadievna) Guliakova, has been teaching at CIEE for almost three decades by now. Her inspiration, passion and expertise have become the essential component of the CIEE program curriculum. Many of the CIEE students go above and beyond and explore curious aspects of their admired writers’ lives by participating in different extracurricular events, such as “Crime and Punishment” walking tour or The Classical Theater performance based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s short story “Dream of a Ridiculous Man”.

            Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of the world's greatest authors, is our students’ most favorite writer. He is known for his penetrating psychological insights, which he developed into such complex issues as poverty, exploitation, morality, free will, the essence of good and evil, and the existence of God.

            Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of Russia's most important writers and “Crime and Punishment” novel, in which a tormented young intellectual murders an elderly, loathsome pawnbroker, is one of his most gripping works. This book captures a distinct atmosphere of Saint Petersburg, but not one that features imperial palaces, classical architectural ensembles and promenades along aristocratic Nevsky Prospekt. Instead, Dostoevsky focuses on the poor of the city, on the crowded streets, dirty alleys, and tiny rooms that these outcasts inhabited.


            Iain Cunningham (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), known to be CIEE’s biggest admirer of Dostoevsky’s work, shares his impressions:

                “As anyone who has read Dostoevsky knows, he spend most of his life here in Saint Petersburg, and his most famous novel, crime and punishment, as well as others, took place here in the city. And the city, although different in appearance and in time, is still the same city in which Dostoevsky lived. Through the opportunities given to us by CIEE, we were able to recognize this and furthermore imagine ourselves in Dostoevsky's time. The first thing we had the opportunity to do is attend a play / reciting of one of Dostoevsky's short stories, Сон Смешного Человека (Dream of a Ridiculous Man). I had read this story a few months before coming here to Saint Petersburg, and so although it was in Russian, I was able to understand what was happening. Moreover, it was by far the best stage performance I have ever seen, and I am not exaggerating. The story was written in first person, and therefore, the recitation was at the same time a play. There were only maybe 15 people in the room decorated with the period style and lit with candles. I cannot over-exaggerate the skull with the actor performed, or the feelings I felt there. It was absolutely amazing.

               The CIEE students also had the opportunity to go on a walking tour of all the places in «Преступление и Наказание» (Crime and Punishment). This I thought would be interesting and nothing more, but I was wrong. Not only was it interesting, but it brought the story to life. We were able to see the apartment in which Dostoevsky described Rodion Raskolnikov as living, as well as the places where other various characters may have lived. Frequently in my translation of the book was mentioned, the 'hay market', and I only found out on the tour that this place was a place I had been multiple times before. Furthermore, we walked the distance on the same streets that Raskolnikov took to the apartment of the pawnbroker, and saw the apartment in which Dostoevsky wrote his novel. We had to be reminded that these people were not real, and that they were only characters in a book, because it was so easy to imagine them as real.”



            CIEE Russian Buddies go extra mile in immersing our students into Russian culture. While being surrounded by their Russian counterparts, our students learn aspects of language that cannot be replicated in a classroom. They also get to see a different side of Russia, one that is not shown by our tour guides, because our Russian Buddies seem to have unlimited pool of ideas. For instance, this semester Katya Kletkina and Sasha Keydiya, both first-year students at Saint Petersburg State University, singlehandedly organized a trip to Gatchina, the favorite residence of Emperors Paul I and Alexander III.

            Sasha Keydiya (Saint Petersburg State University) shares her experience of being a CIEE Russian Buddy:

                “How has CIEE become an integral part of my student life? For this I want to say big thank you to my first sobesednitsa (English/Russian language partner) Chloe Follis [Bates College, CIEE Fall 2015] for this new experience of intercultural communication, for strolling around the city, and rehearsing before our phenomenal performance at the "CIEE’s Got Talent” (Shout out to Anton Stepanov [CIEE Program Officer] for solos!).


            With CIEE you start to feel a lot of responsibility for your own input in the events organized by your colleagues. Every day we gain a lot of experience and learn to be a better Russian buddy.

            My second semester with CIEE started with the traditional CIEE activity— Sobesedniki mixer. It was amazing to see our year-long students again and get to know the new students, whom we just briefly met at the airport. I want to say big thank you to the CIEE for being given the opportunity to attend the most interesting Pub Quizzes, discussion clubs, and to visit places of Saint Petersburg and its suburbs.

            You can probably tell that CIEE is very important to me and it feels great to belong to something so significant.”

         Katya Kletkina (Saint Petersburg State University) reflects on the trip to Gatchina:

            “On Sunday we visited the beautiful city of Gatchina. Sasha and I were surprised that a lot of American students were not aware of the existence of the Priory palace and Gatchina palace. We just had to fix it. Our journey started with us taking the 10AM train from the Baltic Railway Station. Interestingly, many of the students have never used a Russian commuter train before. Women selling food and clothes right in the train car left a very strong impression :) Like Zach [Zachary Hession-Smith, University of Rochester], one of our students, said, the architecture of Gatchina Palace is very similar to that of Vienna, Austria. It was not a part of the tour, but we took the opportunity to go down to the dungeon ... and luckily we got out alive! When visiting the Priory Palace, our students were surprised to learn that Emperor Paul I was a Mason and built the palace to be used by the Russian Maltese Order for meetings.”


L. to R.: Kristofor Zhdanov (SPSU), Sasha Keydiya (SPSU), Jeremy Hunt (Rutgers University), Emily Dollemore (Mercyhurst University), Benjamin Pearce (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities), Henry Diggins (Tulane University of Louisiana), Zachary Hession-Smith (University of Rochester)



            Every spring semester CIEE hosts a spring ball for our students where they get to dress up in traditional ball gowns and waltz the night away! In preparations for the CIEE Spring Ball, students learned about the culture of the traditional Russian Ball at the all-encompassing lecture by CIEE’s own Excursions Coordinator and an incredible historian Julia Semibratova, and practiced ballroom and traditional Russian folk dancing under the impeccable guidance of the CIEE Housing Coordinator Svetlana Valentinovna Mantsvetova.


Henry Diggins (Tulane University of Louisiana), Zachary Hession-Smith (University of Rochester) during the sword duel

            The Spring Ball is a great opportunity for our students to learn about a very enjoyable Russian past time; something that, at one time, was a large part of Russian culture. It's also a grand and fun way to end our semester that truly incorporates all aspect of the Russian culture!

            Rachel “Katya” Essel (University of Southern California: CLAS), who was our hostess at the CIEE Spring Ball 2016:

            “I was one of the hosts of our Spring Ball and it was honestly so much fun! We got to dance a lot of ballroom dances that we had practiced and the only one that nobody forgot was the polka! I got to announce a lot of the dances and the performances that people gave and I really felt like a princess in my ballroom gown. I can definitely say that the ball was one of the most fun things I did here!”

Spring Ball 2016

Left: Travis Beohm (Temple University) in the role of the famous magician at the Spring Ball 2016

Right: Lisa Miller (Indiana University-Bloomington) and Harris Melcher (Wake Forest University), chosen Queen and King of the CIEE Spring Ball 2016




Kendall Gildersleeve (University of Rochester) at the Victory Day Parade on the Palace Square in Saint Petersburg

            During the second weekend of May, Russia celebrated one of the biggest national holidays, Victory Day. May 9th marks Germany’s surrender to the Soviet Union in 1945, ending one of the bloodiest wars in Russia’s history. On this day, many people attend a local military parade and watch the fireworks at night on Victory Day. Victory Day is a sacred holiday for Russians who often say that there is not a single family in the country who did not lose someone in that war. Our students also took part in that celebration:

          Emily Dollemore (Mercyhurst University) reflects on the Victory Day in Russia:

            “When I went outside that day, the whole atmosphere was celebratory. It reminded me of some American national holidays, such as the fourth of July, but on a much larger scale. Maybe that was because I witnessed it in a major city! The parade of the Immortal Regiment gave me a strong impression of how veterans are regarded here: it seems totally different from my experiences at home. Everywhere along the street I heard cheers and people chanting "Спасибо!" (Thank you!)”



            Spring is a wonderful time of the year to be in Saint Petersburg, especially when nice weather and commencement of the famous white nights season coincide with the CIEE Alumni Reunion. During the first weekend of May, Saint Petersburg CIEE Study Center alumni of different years gathered together in Saint Petersburg for a series of networking and cultural events. Not only did the alumni get to network and meet the current CIEE students and Russian Buddies in the frame of the Student & Alumni Roundtable, but they also had a change to reminiscent and create new long-lasting friendships. Many incredible stories were shared throughout the weekend, and multiple new memories have been made together. From the Spring Ball 2016 to a day-trip to Peterhof, the alumni truly enjoyed being back in Saint Petersburg and reconnecting with each other. 

            Now, as the weekend slowly winds down, we are thrilled to announce that the next CIEE Alumni Reunion (and the 50th CIEE Study Center’s anniversary celebration!) will be held in May 2017. Stay tuned!

CIEE Alumni Weekend St. Pete Welcome ReceptionL. to R.: Mordechai Rabinowitz (Spring 1976), Zachary Palomo (All-Year Program 2011-2012), Sabine Gueltzow (Summer 2013), CIEE Center Director Dr. Irina Makoveeva, Linda Kleinfeld (Fall 2014), CIEE Student Services Coordinator Ira Vasilyeva, Allison Alsaker (All-Year Program 2010-2011), Julia Custer (Spring and Fall 2011) and her boyfriend Mikhail, CIEE Program Officer Anton Stepanov; Bottom row: Nadya Bucklin (Fall 2014), CIEE Administrative Assistant Nika Afanasieva


S nailuchshimi pozhelaniyami (Best regards),

The CIEE Spring 2016 Newsletter editors, Katya & Ira


Katya Kavchenko, CIEE Study Center Intern

Ira Vasilyeva, Student Services Coordinator

Anton Stepanov, Program Officer

Nika Afanasyeva, Administrative Assistant

Svetlana Mantsvetova, Housing Coordinator

Julia Semibratova, Excursions Coordinator

Dr. Irina Makoveeva, Center Director


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

You really looked like a princess on that Spring Ball!! Beautiful!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment