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2 posts from December 2016


CIEE St. Petersburg Fall 2016, Issue II

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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.

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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.Thanksgiving pic from instagram8Thanksgiving 'collage'

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.

11Skillfully 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. 

Guest lectureIn 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. 

Exploring Russia!

After two productive and vibrant months of discovering St. Petersburg and its gorgeous suburbs and nearby towns, the CIEE students took a break from their newly established routine and traveled to see the world and, equally excitingly, explore Russia beyond its Northern capital during the CIEE Travel Week. 
Travels map
The extensive map of CIEE students' travels, fall 2016
In the beginning of November, all program students headed to Moscow for a four-day journey highlighted by the all-encompassing city tour, educational visits to the Museum of Contemporary History and Tretyakov Gallery, visit to the Moscow Kremlin, Armory Chamber, and Lenin's Mausoleum, among other activities. Guided visits to New Maiden Convent and Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance helped students expand their understanding of multifaceted Russian history and heritage, and the guided three-hour long Moscow metro tour showcased versatille layers of Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet history represented in architectural grandeur of the Moscow's metro system, functioning since 1935. The CIEE students were definitely impressed by everything that Moscow has to offer!
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.


Students on Sparrow Hills

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.

15Among 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.

15By 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.


Russian Winter Activities
The winter season is truly magical and offers diverse range of cold weather activities making our students’ time in St. Petersburg unforgettable.
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.
Russian winter activities2
Pictured left: Sayako Quinlan (Georgetown University), Jennifer Rodriguez (University of California), Yulya Karmatkova (SPSU, CIEE Russian Buddy), Sean Linehan (University of Colorado Boulder), and Alex Thien (Arizona State University) at the ice-skating rink
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
Together with the CIEE Russian Buddy Yulia Karmatkova (SPSU junior) our students also explored an ice-skating rink located on a triangular man-made islet known as Novaya Gollandiya, literally New Holland. Ice-skating might seem easy when you see others do it, but in fact it requires a lot of work and balance. Yulia is a skilled ice-skater and under her patient guidance our students learned the basics of Russians’ favorite winter pastime.

CIEE St. Petersburg Fall 2016, Issue I


Унылая пора! очей очарованье! (A melancholy time! So charming to the eye!)—the words used by Russia’s most loved poet, Alexander Pushkin to describe fall time in Russia. Indeed, fall in Russia is a magnificent time: everywhere you go it feels like you are walking in an impressionist painting as leaves are slowly losing their colors and fall on the ground. Time does fly, and we have already reached the halfway mark of the semester. The memories we have made, however, will last forever. In this issue of our CIEE program newsletter, we are reflecting on the adventures of this semester!

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CIEE Russian Area Studies students during a weekend trip to the Peterhof imperial residence

Studying Russian and Russia on the spot!

“One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things”, it was once said by American writer Henry Miller. The CIEE study abroad students challenge their views of the world and perceptions of Russia daily, be that in a classroom or while independently exploring the world around them. CIEE’s rigorous and structured academic experience helps the students to get a good grasp of language and area studies concepts that one can further implement in their daily interactions.

The best part of a study abroad experience is that a student can get full immersion into the hosting environment, and one of CIEE’s main focuses in academics is making sure that the classroom time is sufficiently complemented with in-field learning.

During this semester, the CIEE students have already visited a number of museums, galleries, exhibitions and workshops as a part of their academic curriculum.

The Russian national museum of ethnography opened its doors to the students of ethnic studies content-based course, who are actively studying the history and development of various peoples of Russia, all the way from Baltic and northwestern tribes to the southern Caucuses. As a part of the comparative cultural studies of the US and Russia, the CIEE students and their professor, Dr. Volkova visited the State Museum of Political History of Russia, which provided the students with amazing details and insights on the imperial, soviet and post-soviet Russia.

The Russian Fairytales class students definitely lucked out this semester: unlike the plentiful permanent museums and exhibits, the “Once Upon a Time” exhibit in local “Borei” art gallery was open for visitors only during short ten days in October.

3. Academics вырезают сказки
The exhibit featured drawings and sketches illustrating different Russian folk tales. Dr. Makoveeva included the gallery visit into the class schedule, which allowed the students to not only read, analyze and study the intricacies of Russian fairytales but to actually experience the unique ambience of Russian folk and compare the views on Russian fairytales of artists from different countries around the globe.

The exhibit’s curators, Isabella Mazzanti (Italy) and Natalia Howard (the UK) agreed to give a tour of the exhibition for the CIEE students. The tour was followed by a paper doll master-class, during which our students and staff could finally put their talent and knowledge in action!

4There are many ways to diversify the learning process and ignite students’ interest in learning, and CIEE is looking to apply them all! We expand our students’ horizons and expose them to different topics and discussions outside of our regular curriculum.

This October, CIEE Fall 2016 students were fortunate to attend a guest lecture by Dr. Ivan Kurilla, a specialist in the history of the US–Russia relations and a professor of the European University in Saint Petersburg. These days even more than ever, the CIEE students find it useful to turn to history when analyzing and critically evaluating the current events.

The speaker provided a broad overview of the dynamics of the US-Russia relations over the course of the past two centuries and focused on the superseding nature of the countries’ interaction.

4. Academics слушают лекцию


St. Petersburg Style Volunteering!

Given that many community service positions in Russian large cities are not easily available to foreigners or virtually anyone looking to serve for short periods of time, we at CIEE are constantly finding ourselves getting creative when looking for opportunities for students to do volunteer work and give back!

The State Hermitage, the gem of the gems of Petersburg, Russian, and world art, has been a time-honored partner of CIEE for years. The Hermitage Volunteer Service was first established in 2003 to help with the preparations for the city’s 300 anniversary. Ever since, the organization has been steadily growing and enhancing its pool of volunteers. Every semester, CIEE students are joining the team of the Hermitage volunteers to perform all sorts of different tasks, from greeting the museum guests at the door to contributing to research at the archaeological department of the museum.

This semester, we were excited to learn that Benjamin Lillian (Georgetown University), one of CIEE’s Hermitage volunteers, got a special assignment from the historical research department of the Hermitage:


For the students, who are looking to put their teaching skills to use, CIEE provides two opportunities to volunteer. One is at the Saint Petersburg State University’s department of philology, a home to the center of foreign languages, which is always open to invite native speaking volunteer teachers, and the second one is with the “Ekran” production group, facilitating culture and language lessons for young children. Both institutions are always happy to have CIEE students on board. For CIEE volunteers, every semester starts with uniquely designed tours: of the SPSU philology department’s patio gardens in the first case, and of famous Petersburg and Russian film directors and screenwriters in the second!

Филфак сидят 2

CIEE students during the first visit to SPSU philology department

CIEE students are also often seen at SKA hockey club stadium, where they come to volunteer by helping to organize, rearrange and decorate the bleachers area, which is later being rewarded with free tickets to SKA hockey games!


For many CIEE students volunteering has already become an essential part of their time in Russia. Stay tuned for the updates on Saint Petersburg CIEE’s own Alternative Break initiative, that takes the students on a weeklong adventure in smaller Russian cities and towns, where the students get to volunteer and contribute to the local communities! This time the intrepid CIEE students will explore Kirov, a Central Russia city, a 23-hour train ride away from St. Petersburg, which in turn has already become home to our students over the past two months.

Weekend Getaways!

          When in Russia, do as Russians do—it is a widely known fact that Russians love spending time at their dachas (summer houses). CIEE, however, takes classic Russian dacha getaways to a whole new level.

5CIEE Russian Buddy Katya Kletkina reflects on the trip to Tsarskoe Selo:

“The tour of the palace was completely in Russian, everyone was listening very carefully, grasping for familiar words. After the tour, one of the students, Isaac Sanchez (University of California, Irvine), said that that was a great language practice. Students became even more motivated in their studies; they did not just walk around the palace aimlessly. It was a truly rewarding experience.”

Different Dimensions of CIEE Cultural Immersion

When we say that CIEE Russian Buddies are a crucial part of our students’ lives here, we truly mean it. Be it a matryoshka painting master class, or a walking tour around the city, our Russian student helpers are always there to guide CIEE students and help them adjust to the new environment. This semester was traditionally packed with events with Russian students: we started with a game night where students could meet over board games and coffee, talk about classes and their everyday lives. Trivia night “Pub quizzes”, karaoke nights and sport events provide an informal setting for more relaxed conversations, where students can practice their language skills, get a better understanding of modern life in Russia and make lifelong friendships.

1They say the best way to get to know a culture is through sampling its food, but it is even better done through learning how to cook it. Our students already discovered the wonders of Russian cooking (thanks to our host mothers and their cooking talents) and were excited to try their hand at cooking borscht, probably the best-known Russian dish. Under careful supervision of a master chef, our students learned to cook a four-course Russian meal and are now ready to impress their friends and family back home with the newly gained skills.


CIEE karaoke nights have been getting a lot of attention too: what can be a better way for practicing phonetics than by singing a good old “Калинка-малинка”? We carefully select songs that will allow students to work on their pronunciation. Songs also provide examples of authentic, memorable and rhythmic language. Add some Russian friends to sing along with and you got yourself a perfect Friday night!

Cinema clubs add another dimension to CIEE students’ perception of Russian culture. While providing students with examples of Russian language used in real situations outside the classroom, they also give an insight into Russian life as it was portrayed five, ten and fifty years ago. 


Dr. Irina Makoveeva, our Center Director who holds a doctorate degree in Slavic and film studies from the University of Pittsburgh, deems cinema club to be of crucial importance, and personally selects films for the club’s meetings as well as prepares an introductory lecture before the screening to give students a better understanding of the film’s context and significance. Anton Stepanov, CIEE Program Officer, who is also an expert on Soviet cinema, co-hosts the cinema club with Dr. Makoveeva and facilitates the discussion of the movies after the screening.

It's Halloween Time!

When you think about Halloween and Russia, the first thing that comes to mind is that Russians don’t really celebrate Halloween over there. However, our students strive to not only expand their own horizons during the study abroad adventure, but also bring their own culture into Russia! This year, the CIEE study center organized a grand Halloween celebration, encompassing all aspects of the holiday: from pumpkin carving master classes and decorating the local music club where we held the celebration to dressing up in various creative costumes.F611ce97-9763-40ed-a212-1a5a6982521d 6

At the peak of the Halloween activities, CIEE held a big celebratory concert for the CIEE students, host families, alumni, staff and Russian students. The gorgeous music band comprised of CIEE students, CIEE staff and Russian friends rocked the evening away, while the gracefully choreographed “Thriller” dance took everybody’s breath away and certainly added charm to the evening. Dancing, playing games, socializing, voting for the best-carved pumpkin and the best-designed costume, CIEE students definitely managed to brighten up a dark and gloomy Saint Petersburg October evening with laughter, fun memories and energizing music.

5. Halloween танец

Here is a brief quote by Patrick Bond, University of Virginia student and an incredible musician, to capture the atmosphere of the evening and the CIEE Signature Project’s preparations:

“Working with the band was a great way to get to know other students in the program, Russian students, and Anton [CIEE Program Officer, and a talented musician]. Just as with most musical experiences, it brings the group close together, but also allowed for an amazing cross-cultural experience being able to play Russian and American music.”

DSC_2681Time surely flies, when you spend it enjoying every minute of your time abroad with newly found friends, host families, professors and mentors. Stay tuned for more updates on the CIEE trip to Moscow, CIEE independent travel week and Alternative Break Program, Thanksgiving celebrations, and much more!