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Russian Language Program Newsletter

Saint Petersburg, summer 2017

Any season of the year, the stunning city of Saint Petersburg manages to enchant CIEE students who come to Russia to master their language skills, develop the new-found appreciation of Russian art and culture, and dive into exploring the authenticity of the Russian everyday life.

Our summer RLP students unanimously agree that it is both a delight and a privilege to discover the city with the oldest and well-established CIEE Summer Russian Language program. The program dates all the way back to 1967, when CIEE launched the Cooperative Russian Language Program. The idea was to bring the students studying Russian in the U.S. to the country, which is the home to both the Russian language and the Russian people. The program was designed to introduce students to the living fiber of the Russian language and culture and to teach them intercultural understanding, and it has been serving this mission continuously for the past 50 years.

! Anton Stepanov CIEE Program Officer  Jeffrey Conner  Abbey Palmer  Angelese Revaleon  and Richard Taylor outside Smolny

CIEE Program Officer Anton Stepanov, Jeffrey Conner (Washington University in Saint Louis), Abbey Palmer (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Angelese Revaleon (University of Massachusetts Amherst), and Richard Taylor (Indiana University-Bloomington) on Smolny campus

For over 30 years, CIEE study center has been hosted by the philological department of the Saint Petersburg (former Leningrad) State University; currently, CIEE students study at SPSU’s school of political science, located on the beautiful Smolny campus.

“I think that most language students can agree that the classroom is not always the most effective place to obtain fluency. As a third year Russian Major struggling with both conversation and comprehension, I feared that without a more immersive experience, my progress might begin to plateau if not simply deteriorate over time. Fortunately, however, CIEE’s Summer Russian Language program has not only vastly improved my language skills but also deepened my understanding of Russia’s unique culture, history, and way of life. Whether through experiencing Russian family life with my homestay or visiting the wealth of museums, monuments, and tourist attractions throughout Saint Petersburg and beyond, my experiences with CIEE have been nothing less than unforgettable.”

Nick Vidal (University of Vermont)

Today, CIEE summer Russian Language Program is an 8-week long endeavor providing students with the rigorous academic curriculum, the network of immersive social and cultural activities, and the option of living in an authentic Russian homestay family.



No matter what their language level is, CIEE students study full-time four days a week, with one day reserved for cultural activities and excursions. One class, or para, is 90 minutes long and every day students have three classes. The Russian Language program is split into eight groups according to the language proficiency, ranging from beginner-level students to advanced. Besides working on various aspects of language learning such as grammar, conversation, and phonetics, CIEE students are taking Russian culture and Discovering Russia courses, the latter being comprised of cinema, music, and mass media modules.

Jasmine English (University of California) reflects on learning Russian from the beginner level:

Upon arriving in Saint Petersburg with a Russian word count of zero, I thought it best to learn a simple ‘hello’ —big mistake (Здравствуйте, 12 letters yet somehow only 3 vowels). After this initial scare, the language has proven to follow mostly logical rules, and the efforts of some excellent teachers have made mastering basic Russian seem like a possibility. Being thrown into a new country with no prior language knowledge adds a whole new incentive (i.e. survival) to the normal motivations of trying to pass classes, and the CIEE experience really impressed upon me the importance of developing cultural awareness alongside linguistic skills. This first taste of Russian life and language has inspired me to continue Russian in my home university, and I would thoroughly recommend the program to anyone interested in kickstarting the Russian language in a learning environment that goes way beyond the classroom.”

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Being immersed in the Russian language on the everyday basis definitely helps CIEE students to advance their speaking skills, but their progress would not nearly be the same without the patience and guidance of CIEE’s expert Conversation class instructors.

Dr. Mikhail Krundyshev has been working with CIEE students for over two decades and his dedication to the program and to teaching is incredible. Mikhail always knows how to engage with each and every student who walks into his classroom, and how to encourage and inspire his students to speak on any topic both in class and outside of classroom. No matter how thick the walls of the Smolny campus are, you can always hear students laughing and actively debating during Mikhail’s Conversation class!

“Three times a week, nine of us would funnel into our conversation class, the next hour and a half becoming a blend of the familiar and unfamiliar. There would be texts to read on topics in Russian culture, but, mostly, we would fill the time by just talking with Mikhail, our happy, self-described deeply optimistic professor. But our conversation class became, eventually, much more than just an exercise in language acquisition. There was something oddly centering about it: the familiarity of knowing that, for 90 minutes, we could talk about the weekend, our interests, the things we’d noticed and been confused about in our encounters with Russian culture that we hadn’t thought to ask before. Now, about to leave Russia, as I think about the past several weeks, I’ll remember not only the moments I’ve had here that caught my attention and interest, but also the moments I had to reflect on them, together with others.”   Nihal Shetty (Columbia University)



The CIEE academic curriculum is complemented by a series of interest group meetings each designed to provide students with the background on a certain issue and open the floor for discussion. This summer, we organized two interest group meetings, one focused on the role of social networks in political mobilization and protest in Russia and the other one discussed the life of the LGBT community in Russia. Both sessions helped the students to apply and expand their knowledge of contemporary Russia and to voice their questions and opinions, which in a dialogue with Russian scholars and fellow students helped to gain a solid understanding of the discussed issues.

! Jasmine English  Celeste Belknap  Azniv Nalbandian  Mathias Schreiner  Nihal Shetty  Richard taylor  and Andrea Yarkony during discussion club meeting  Summer 2017

Jasmine English (University of California), Celeste Belknap (Pennsylvania State University), Azniv Nalbandian (Pennsylvania State University), Mathias Schreiner (Vanderbilt University), Nihal Shetty (Columbia University), Richard Taylor (Indiana University-Bloomington), and Andrea Yarkony (Kenyon College) during a CIEE discussion club meeting

Azniv Nalbandian (Pennsylvania State University) shares the reflections on participating in CIEE interest group meetings:

The CIEE experience permeates aspects of Russian life well beyond the classroom. Discussion forums held throughout the course of the summer offered insight into cultural, social, and political facets of Russia. Personally, I enjoyed the discussion group which shed light on the social and political climate for LGBT people in Russia. The CIEE staff fosters an environment where student can critically explore and push past cultural boundaries.”



Our students have started the semester with a lot of enriching cultural events and beneficial extra-curricular activities. Let’s take a look at what we have been up to! We kicked off the summer semester with an entertaining Game Night with Russian students.

! Ben Shefner  Ross Mather  Nick Vidal and Brian Cusack at CIEE's Game Night

Ben Shefner (University of Vermont), Ross Mather (Miami University-Oxford), Nick Vidal (University of Vermont), and Brian Cusack (University of Michigan) at the CIEE Game Night

Nana Tedeeva, CIEE Russian volunteer and conversation partner, explains what drives her to participate in CIEE social events:

“Friendship with CIEE students always becomes a very important part of not only my personal pleasure of unique culture exchange, but also as an opportunity to get as many different perspectives of Russia and its culture in particular as there are people who give me an incredible opportunity to see my homeland through the perspective of a foreigner. Not only does this unique culture exchange matter globally, but also it creates a strong friendship connection which lasts for ages: I am still in touch with CIEE ‘14 generation of students!”

Fun trivia: CIEE’s first Pub Quiz was held on October 19th, 2012 and this summer we held the festive 40th anniversary Pub Quiz. We invited every student in the program and all our Russian friends to a huge party that coincided with the 4th of July celebration. Our celebrations started with a friendly soccer game and a picnic in Tavricheskiy garden. The picnic was then followed by the 40th CIEE Pub Quiz where mixed teams of American and Russian students were challenged by a mix of general knowledge questions.

! IMG_1598

After the CIEE 4th of July soccer game!


Traditionally, CIEE summer Russian Language students take two overnight trips during the program: to the capital of Russia, Moscow, and to Velikiy Novgorod, the birthplace of Russia. Ryan Robinson (Ohio State University) shared his vivid impressions of the trip to Moscow, in Russian!

! Moscow quote Ryan Robinson

! IMG_6543

CIEE students at the observation deck on Sparrow Hills, with the backdrop of one of Moscow’s Seven Sisters skyscrapers—Moscow State University!

! IMG_6525

New Convent Cemetery, also known as the place where Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky got inspired and composed the renowned ‘Swan Lake’

Despite the rainy weather, CIEE students enjoyed the slower pace of the smaller city of Velikiy Novgorod, along with the historical atmosphere that surrounded them after the fast-moving Saint Petersburg.

“I immediately fell in love with Velikiy Novgorod; despite the rainy weather, visiting the Kremlin there and learning about the beginnings of modern Russian culture was fascinating… Although life in Peter has a particular allure to it because of the tall, beautiful buildings its city-life pace, Великий Новгород has its appeal of the opposite sort: the calm, peaceful nature of the city, its destinations and its people make for a wonderful addition to my Russian experience.”  Jack Verser (Carnegie Mellon University)

While for CIEE summer students, visa regulations limit the opportunities to travel outside of Russia, some of the CIEE Russian Language program students surely took advantage of the possibility to explore the country that they are so eager to study. This summer, CIEE students traveled independently to Barnaul and Ekaterinburg in Siberia, to Karelia Republic in the Northwest of Russia, to Kazan, the capital and the largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan, and to Sergiev Posad in Moscow region, and, of course, to various suburbs of Saint Petersburg!

Katarina Nesic (Dartmouth College), one of CIEE intrepid student travelers, shares her story:

This summer I traveled to Сергеев Посад. At first I did not want to go because it seemed to be just another monastery complex. However, after looking more into it, seeing the pictures, the history (it was the only working monastery during Soviet times), I realized that not going would be a grave mistake. When I got there, the nature was breathtaking, and the complex had this incredible positive energy, that I feel every time I think about the trip.

! Pascal-Louis Davey in Karelia  Summer 2017

Pascal-Louis Davey (Indiana University-Bloomington) exploring the nature of Ruskeala, Karelia Republic

! Masha Alletto returns to her 'second home'  Barnaul  Summer 2017

Masha Alletto (Pennsylvania State University) returns to her 'second home', Barnaul , where she spent a year as a high school student



! Nick Vidal and Eli Kelsey tuning guitars at a local second-hand musical instruments

Nick Vidal (University of Vermont) and Eli Kelsey (Pennsylvania State University) tuning guitars at a local second-hand musical instruments store

Eight weeks might seem like a very short period of time, nevertheless our students manage to get the most out of it and engage in all sorts of extracurricular activities. From joining the oldest rowing club in the city to taking Russian folk singing lessons, everything allows you to explore life in Russia outside your comfort zone. This summer, we were also fortunate to have the most musically talented cohort of students, maybe ever! We frequented an old thrift store that sells vintage musical instruments, coordinated private accordion classes, and sang Russian folk songs on all intercity bus rides.

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“I have an extensive background with tuba and would joke about wanting to learn accordion while still in America. Well, like all great things the joke ended up becoming reality and I rented one. I quickly regretted never actually learning a keyboard and was finally forced to. Although I haven’t been able to play with the basses because I don’t want my host family to kick me out, all in all I’d give the instrument a solid 5/7, will try to continue playing in America!”  Austin Kremer (Ohio State University)



One of the highlight components of CIEE programs is the opportunity to live with an authentic Russian homestay family and to learn about the culture, traditions, and habits that can be different from what our students are accustomed to back home.

Celeste Belknap (Pennsylvania State University)

! Celeste Belknap Summer RLP 2017 with her host mother at the dacha

Celeste riding bikes together with her host mom, Mariya Yaroslavovna

“When I decided to come to Russia for the summer, one of the things I was most excited for was staying with a host family. Before I got here and during orientation, I kept imagining what my family would be like—hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Luckily, I got the best family I could have asked for. On the Saturday of my first weekend in Saint Petersburg, my ‘mom and dad’ took me to their dacha, and on that Sunday we came back to the city to see ‘Le Corsaire’ at the Mariinsky theatre together. They loved to be involved, and made sure I got the most out of my experience in Saint Petersburg. Every day we talk about our days, our lives, our plans, and perhaps the most important subject: the weather. When we had about three weeks left of the program, my host mom looked at the calendar and said "you only have three more weeks!" Then we started getting sentimental and invited each other to our respected countries whenever we want to travel. I'm so happy I chose to stay with a host family, and had the opportunity to create relationships with wonderful Russian people.”

Angelese Revaleon (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

! Angelese Revaleon tying tree branches for the banya at her host family's dacha  Summer 2017

Angelese tying tree branches for the banya at her host family's dacha

“My experience in Russia has been amazing for a number of reasons, but especially because my host family. Marina and Anatoli have been wonderful, they always help me with my Russian when I don't know a certain word, or find ways to explain things to me. They also help me with my homework if I need to memorize something or get the pronunciation right. They've invited me to their Dacha, introduced me to their friends and showed me around Vasilevsky Island. Unless they're working, we usually always eat together as well! I never felt lonely in Russia, because I had a "Russian family" that always made me feel right at home.”



This year, Saint Petersburg hosted one of the biggest soccer championships in the world, the FIFA Confederation Cup! CIEE students and staff could not miss out on the opportunity to attend the main sporting event of the year, and headed to the brand-new Zenit Arena stadium to cheer on and have fun!

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The CIEE summer Russian Language Program might be ending, but we are certain that our students will carry this experience in their hearts and minds for many years ahead. The end of a study abroad program is just a beginning of a lifelong journey of discovering your passions, expanding your knowledge and embracing the values of understanding, cooperating, and building friendships that last. Wishing the best of luck in all endeavors to the CIEE Summer RLP students!

S nailuchshimi pozhelaniyami (Wishing all the best),

Your editors, Ira and Katya, and the CIEE Saint Petersburg Team

Katya Kavchenko, Student Services Assistant

Ira Vasilyeva, Student Services Coordinator

Anton Stepanov, Program Officer

Svetlana Mantsvetova, Housing Coordinator

Julia Semibratova, Excursions and Activities Coordinator

Dr. Natalia Chernyaeva, Academic Coordinator

Dr. Irina Makoveeva, Center Director


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