What led you to your decision to study abroad?
Participant 1: After exhausting three terms of Russian grammar, the prospect of ‘going out to the real world’ lured me incredibly. At Dartmouth, the Russian Department tries its best to introduce you to the realities of life in Russia from afar (especially since most of its faculty comes from that portion of the world), but nothing makes you understand Russian mentality until you go and see for yourself.
Participant 2: Russia has intrigued me as a concept and as a place for some time now. As someone with no personal ties to the country, I had little cause to be in Russia prior to my study of Russian. In its status as a country speaking an Indo-European language with a alternatively strong and weak connection to Europe, Russia presents a degree of familiarity intermingled with an alien past and present to my American eyes.
Name one thing that you recommend students see or do while on the program.
Participant 1: Take a random marshrutka out of town and spend the day exploring the Russian countryside! St. Petersburg is a very atypical place in the whole-Russian context, mainly because of its tourist nature and relative wealth. The picturesque villages with free-running dogs and playing children are where you’ll experience what Russia really looks like.
Participant 2: Remember that the student identification card you receive in Russia provides steep discounts to museums and palaces in and around St. Petersburg! One of my favorite places to visit in St. Petersburg was the Zoological Museum. It contains rows upon rows of preserved specimens that, in a very Russian scientific style, virtually exhaust the representatives of each taxon. Interspersed dioramas depict animals in active scenes. Included in the collection are well-preserved mammoths, including juveniles found in Siberian permafrost. The museum, which has remained largely unchanged since Soviet times (some of the exhibits are deteriorating), also reflects questions about the role of science and scientific research in modern Russia. A small donation box appeals to the generosity of visitors to keep the museum afloat.
How did you feel you adapted to Russian-speaking environments during the course of the program? How did your previous study of Russian prepare you for your time in Russia?
Participant 1: The Petersburg State University Language program offers a great selection of interesting and highly qualified professors, who energize the classes with stories, jokes and generally a very friendly, but rigorous attitude. Apart from language education, my professors provided lots of stimulating food for thought and were extremely open to any kind of questions we might have had. I remember discussing freedom of speech in the Russian media with two of my professors of contradicting opinions and moving with light-speed across grammar I could try using five minutes later in a nearby buffet. In general, learning a language in real life instead of sitting above textbooks and dictionaries felt very natural and exciting to me. Each day you learn new vocabulary without even noticing, and in a few weeks, you’ll be surprised how easily you are progressing!
Do you have any further recommendations or advice for prospective Russian LSA+ participants?
Participant 1: Please, don’t get fooled by the thick pile of do’s and don’ts you receive upon your arrival! St. Petersburg is a modern city, where your safety depends more on the strength of your decision-making than on any outside dangers (yes, vodka in abundant quantities will get you in trouble whether you’re in Hanover or in St. Petersburg). Street and homemade food is the best thing you can try. Bright summer nights spent walking under the white night skies can become your best memories. Gipsy cabs are fun way to talk to someone new. So don’t let yourself be limited by your fears. Explore Russia in full, be mature and clever about your decisions, try to overcome your prejudices and fears! If you’re not sure what the “safe” side of things is in this world different from yours, talk to your Russian family or make new friends to go with you!
Participant 2: At risk of sounding sanctimonious, I would urge students to be mindful of the fact that they are guests in Russia as much as they are to their hosts. Especially for foreigners with limited knowledge of the nuances of spoken Russian, it is important to use the language with great care and respect. Avoid making remarks that disparage Russians. Being in a country like Russia, with its unique history, culture and outlook, is exciting, and I encourage students to listen as often as they speak.
My host frequently kept a radio on while she was around the apartment – one radio program featured an American professor discussing Soviet involvement in World War II (Velikaya Otechestvennaya vojna, “Great Patriotic War” to Russians) in a mix of translated English and her own halting Russian. Yet her patience in seeking clarification from the radio host, sensitivity to the nearness of the history to Russians and caution not to overstep the bounds of her knowledge of the language easily won over both the Russian and the American listener in the kitchen that day.