Megan Carpenter is a second-year M.A. student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. She is currently studying 4th year Russian as a 2019-2020 FLAS fellow. Before coming to the University of Illinois, she received her bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Russian from the University of California, Davis. Her research interests include Soviet and post-Soviet politics, Soviet propaganda, and Russian women’s history. She is currently working on her MA project, in which she is writing about the connections between Soviet behaviors and policies towards the satellite states, and present-day Russia’s behaviors towards Eastern and Central European countries, such as election interference and aggressive actions. Megan says what she has liked the most about the REEES program at the University of Illinois is the diverse array of classes she has had the opportunity to take here. Megan is currently looking for a job as a political analyst and plans on using her Russian language skills in her future career.
Elizabeth Abosch is a third-year PhD student in History, and a REEEC FLAS fellow for 2019-2020. Before coming to the University of Illinois, she received her bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Maryland College Park, and her master’s degree in global, international, and comparative history at Georgetown University. Her doctoral research concerns the history of a genre of Soviet song known as blatnaia pesnia (criminal or underground song), from 1920 to 1970. The genre is still popular today in Russia, and has its origins in pre-revolutionary street song, urban lower-class Jewish culture, and folklore of the city of Odessa. As she prepares to embark on a research year in Russia and Ukraine, she will be investigating the genre’s staying power that reflects on such themes as the construction of the Soviet self; exchanges between high and low cultures; and the enshrinement of the criminal subculture through ethnography.
As part of her FLAS fellowship, Elizabeth is studying advanced Russian which is aiding her in understanding the jargon and comical turns of phrase in her sources that reference films, obscure historical figures, and Soviet modernist literature. In addition to Russian, she also studies Yiddish and Ukrainian, both of which play a role in her research. Elizabeth aims to find a career in academia after receiving her doctorate.
REEEC congratulates the Academic Year 2017-18 FLAS fellows, who will be studying the languages below in order to enhance the knowledge of their respective disciplines, which range from literature to advertising. Their language study will also help them engage in a vast array of area studies courses in disciplines ranging from history to international law.
Madeline Artibee (REEEC) – Croatian
Benjamin Bamberger (History) – Georgian
Tyler Dolan (Slavic) – Ukrainian
Kathleen Gergely (REEEC) – Russian
Jacob Goldsmith (Slavic) – Russian
Sydney Lazarus (REEEC) – Russian
Lucy Pakhnyuk (REEEC) – Ukrainian
Morgan Shafter (Slavic) – Polish
Victoria Sobolev (Advertising) – Ukrainian
Jamie Hendrickson (REEES) – Russian
Monika Pendurkova (Psychology) – Bulgarian
Justin Tomczyk (Political Science) – Russian
REEEC congratulates the following student award winners and the Summer 2017 FLAS fellows:
2017 Yaro Skalnik Prize for the Best Graduate Essay in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies:
- Felix Cowan (PhD Student in History) for his essay, “Beyond Urban Boundaries: The Penny Press and Lower-Class Integration in the Russian Empire”
- Daria Semenova (PhD Student in Slavic Languages and Literatures) for her essay, “A Robinson for an awakening nation: a case study on a translation which is not one”
Summer 2017 FLAS Fellows:
- Tyler Dolan (PhD Student in Slavic Languages and Literatures) for Russian
- Jacob Goldsmith (PhD Student in Slavic Languages and Literatures) for Russian
- LeiAnna Hamel (PhD Candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures) for Yiddish
- Douglas Heintz (MS Candidate in Library and Information Science) for Russian
- Marco Jaimes (PhD Candidate in History) for Czech
- Jennifer Jenson (PhD Student in German Studies) for Russian
- Benjamin Krupp (PhD Student in Anthropology) for Russian
- Thornton Miller (PhD Candidate in Musicology) for Russian
- Hannah Werner (PhD Student in History) for Yiddish
REEEC FLAS Fellow Benjamin Wheeler (PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology) has spent the 2016-2017 academic year in Tbilisi, Georgia, studying Georgian and Anthropology at Tbilisi State University. While attending classes at a local university, he has started an English-language radio show on the university’s radio channel (GIPA FM 94.3) called “Caucasus All Frequency,” which plays music from the Caucasus region and explores “the many meanings and unique stories behind the music.”
Check out Ben’s show at: https://soundcloud.com/radiogipa/caucasus-all-frequency
Thanks to a generous REEEC grant, I spent last June and July studying Russian in Odessa, Ukraine. I shared an apartment with my friends Nadia and Tyler, UIUC Slavic Ph.D. students. We all took intensive Russian classes at the Odessa Language Study Centre. Nadia and Tyler took individual courses, while I decided to take a group class, which I would describe as a mixed bag. On one hand, my language instructor Olga was incredible – like the other teachers at OLSC, she had many years of experience teaching Russian to international students in Odessa. She also had a great sense of humor (sample Olga-ism: “My conscience is clean, I never use it”) and a keen interest in delineating cultural differences and similarities, sharing her perception of the local worldview (e.g. “U nas net feminizma,” “We don’t have feminism [here]”) and opinions on pressing social issues like political corruption (including a memorable anecdote about the “musornaia [garbage] mafia” chasing one of her students out of town for proposing the establishment of a municipal recycling system). On the other hand, a group class entails accommodating students of varying levels – as a result, the first few weeks of class were a bit too rudimentary for me. Private instruction is more expensive, but in retrospect, I should have opted for one-on-one lessons. That being said, I still got a lot out of my classes with Olga, and I highly recommend OLSC to anyone who wants to study Russian in Odessa.
Odessa is a predominantly Russian-speaking city; culturally, it’s also quite “Russian,” a testament to its history as part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Around 2500 years ago, current-day Odessa was a Greek colony; later, it was part of the Crimean Khanate, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Ottoman Empire. Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-1792, the city of Odessa was founded in 1794 by Catherine the Great’s decree. Although originally valued for its strategic significance as a warm-water port on the Black Sea, Odessa quickly became one of the largest cities in the Russian Empire. Due in part to its port-city status, it also become an exceptionally diverse cultural center, fostering a vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere that persists to this day.
As places to spend the summer go, Odessa is hard to beat. Our apartment was a five-minute walk from Lanzheron Beach, apparently one of the nicer beaches in the area – “apparently” because once we found “our” beach, we went back to the same spot at least once or twice a week without much further exploration. Lanzheron Beach has a cute boardwalk with several restaurants and beachside cafes (we were regulars at Prichal No. 1). In general, downtown Odessa is filled with great bars and restaurants – some of my favorites were Dacha (a restaurant in a gorgeous 19th-century country estate), Kompot (traditional Ukrainian cuisine, kitschy Soviet décor), and Dzhondzholi (delicious Georgian food). Odessites are also very proud of their stunning opera house (where we saw a nice production of Carmen), and the lovely Palais-Royal Garden is right around the corner. For night owls and party animals, Odessa’s “Arkadia” region is also worth checking out – it has several huge clubs with pool complexes and regular concerts and DJs.
Among Slavists, Odessa is known for its role in literary and film history. In 1823, Pushkin wrote several chapters of his verse novel Eugene Onegin when he lived in the city during his “southern exile.” Gogol wrote the second volume of Dead Souls in Odessa from 1850-1851 (he famously burned the manuscript). Several notable Russian-language writers were native Odessites, including Ilf and Petrov, Yury Olesha, and Isaac Babel, whose “Odessa Tales” are set in the city. Odessa’s place in literary history is memorialized by statues all over town, as well as by the Odessa Pushkin Museum and the Soviet-era Literature Museum. Odessa was immortalized in a famous film sequence in Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” (1925). The city was an important filmmaking center before and during the Soviet era, and it hosts the wonderful Odessa International Film Festival every summer.
Although downtown Odessa is beautiful and quite safe, there is a lot of poverty in surrounding areas. In addition to the general economic decline in Ukraine, Odessa formerly benefitted from an influx of Russian tourists every summer, which (for obvious reasons) has dried up since the annexation of Crimea and War in Donbass. However, there are ongoing efforts to revitalize Odessa as a tourist center, including (usually free) cultural events that take place all summer long. It’s also an extremely affordable place to live, even on a graduate student budget (the silver lining of the region’s economic woes, from a foreigner’s perspective). Most locals aren’t fluent in English, making life in Odessa a truly immersive language-learning experience – if you want to order food at a restaurant, you’ll have to work on your Russian.
Overall, I found Odessa to be a fascinating and beautiful city. I’d particularly recommend it as a study abroad destination for language students, especially since there’s no need to get a student visa (by all accounts one of the more frustrating parts of studying in Russia). I’m certainly planning to go back as soon as possible.
Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2016-2017 academic year for the study of Russian.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to study Russian abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, thanks to the Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship. I had been to St. Pete before in late winter of 2013 on a short homestay. Prior to leaving, I was ecstatic to experience a familiar city transformed by summer. I expected to have a tough immersive experience with Russian while also being able to soak up the culture first hand.
My summer abroad strengthened my language capabilities in ways I couldn’t have imagined. If you have ever been on a crowded subway or even through an old McDonald’s drive-through, you know the struggle of understanding someone who talks too quickly through a grumbled speaker. This is the norm on Russian public transit. By the end of my term, the grumbled Russian ramblings became understandable. In August, I could carry on a conversation about Russian-American relations with the bartender who, in June, referred to me as the “silly American woman.”
Outside of classes, I spent my time in some of the most beautiful and interesting places I’ve ever been. The Summer Garden was my favorite place to sit and watch people. The first time I was in St. Pete, the garden was closed because it was winter. The Peter-Paul Fortress was where I spent most of my Saturday mornings. It was my favorite spot in the city in 2013, but it was even better with warmer weather. I experienced new places, such as Moscow, Peterhof, and some small villages and towns outside of the city. During my last week in St. Pete, I took a boat tour around the city, as it is made up of many canals. I watched the sunset over the fortress and, later that night, I watched the drawbridges rise over the Neva river. It was a necessary sight to see when you’re there over the summer.
I learned a lot about myself, the Russian language, and the culture during my time in St. Pete. To some degree, I expected much of what I learned and experienced. Perhaps the most valuable learning moments I had on my study abroad trip were through experiencing Russia as a foreigner on an extended stay. Going into my study abroad, I expected to be treated like I was on my first trip: people weren’t reluctant to use English to help me out when I was struggling to communicate my thoughts; when presented with my documents, they were kind and even struck up a conversation about me being American. This summer, the kindness towards my being American was drastically lacking. I experienced hate for my nationality. While in a McDonald’s, I was yelled at to “get out of our country.” Experiencing blatant distaste due to where I call home was new for me. What I felt in these instances has been branded into my brain more so than anything else I learned while abroad. Everyone says that the study abroad experience changes your perspective on the world and can even be life-changing. This is true in more ways than I can explain.
Sharadyn Ciota is an undergraduate double majoring in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and Political Science at the University of Illinois. She was a Summer 2016 REEEC FLAS Fellow.