A Summer in St. Petersburg

Peter-Paul Fortress

Peter-Paul Fortress

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.”

Peterhof Fountain

Peterhof Fountain

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.

Ryan Eavenson’s Summer 2014 Experiences in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic

My summer in Eastern Europe was a challenging, exciting, and rewarding experience.  I had the opportunity through a FLAS to study Czech language at the intermediate level in Prague.  As a student with a serious interest in Czech history in addition to Czech language, I couldn’t have been happier!  But my journey did not begin in Prague.  I decided to travel to some additional countries in Eastern Europe before the start of my intensive Czech language course.  I wanted to take the opportunity to further advance my knowledge of this part of the world by exploring the culture and seeing in person the places I had read and heard so much about.

Eavenson - Hungarian Parliament Building

Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest (Image Source)

A plate of chicken paprikash (Image Source)

A plate of chicken paprikash (Image Source)

First, I flew to Budapest, Hungary, arriving in the mid-morning after a long flight from the United States.  I was very tired, but excited to have finally arrived in Europe!  I spent my first day getting acquainted with the city by walking around.  I really enjoyed the experience of simply observing my surroundings and studying the amazing architecture of Budapest.  Some of my most enjoyable experiences were venturing across the famous Chain Bridge, and stopping to admire its unique design and lion statues that greet you upon entry.  This bridge provides a wonderful view of the Hungarian Parliament Building, which sits on the bank of the Danube.  I walked down Andrassy Street, the historic main street of the city, and before leaving, I also made sure to eat a traditional Hungarian meal of chicken paprikash at a small local restaurant.

After a few days in Budapest, I traveled by train to Bratislava, Slovakia, where I arrived in the late afternoon.  Eager to explore, I immediately walked down to the old historic district as the sun was beginning to set.  With my knowledge of Czech, I found that I was able to read many of the Slovak signs throughout the city.  This gave me a greater understanding of the close similarity between these two languages.  In Bratislava, I visited the well-known castle  which rests on a large hill over looking the city.  Nearby, I stopped to see St. Michael’s gate, which is a very old and important landmark.  My last night in Bratislava was exceptionally memorable.  I had the chance to observe a traditional  Slovak folk dance at the main town square.  This was an event that truly presented to me the essence of Slovakia’s rich culture and tradition.


Main square in Bratislava

Main square in Bratislava (Image Source)

The final part of my journey took me to Prague.  Traveling by train allowed me to see the extraordinary countryside of Moravia, a part of the Czech Republic defined by clear lakes and dense forests.  After a long trip from Bratislava, I finally arrived at my dorm.  I immediately knew the moment I checked in that this was going to be an enriching summer because the receptionist only spoke to me in Czech.  In Prague, I embarked on a demanding Czech language course while simultaneously experiencing Czech culture by visiting both museums and many historic locations.  I found the Czech food to be excellent, and there were so many different meals to try.  My favorite foods included beef goulash, potato dumplings, and the wide variety of freshly baked bread.  Having a particular interest in post World War II Eastern Europe, I visited the Museum of Communism, where I was exposed in detail to the nature of life in the Czech lands during this period.  My dorm was within walking distance of the Prague castle, a truly amazing structure.  Through a walking tour, I gained a greater appreciation for the importance of this castle and its place in Czech history.  The cathedral in the castle complex is exceptional both for its size and design.  In addition, I spent a great deal of time on the Charles Bridge, a place  with tremendous historical significance and one of the most notable symbols of Prague.  I was amazed by the exceptional detail of the numerous statues that line the bridge.  Close to the Charles Bridge, I visited the Franz Kafka Museum.  There, I had the unique chance to see some of the actual writings of this famous author while also learning new information about his life.  Overall, it was wonderful to be able to constantly use and improve my Czech everyday during my time in the Czech Republic, and I am certain that I have developed a deeper understanding of Czech culture.  I had a wonderful experience in Eastern Europe this summer, and I hope to return in the near future and continue to learn more about this unique part of the world.

The Franz Kafka Museum in Prague (Image Source)

The Franz Kafka Museum in Prague (Image Source)

Ryan Eavenson is a MA student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.  He is particularly interested in communist development in Eastern Europe.  His additional interests include Imperial and Soviet Russian history, Czech history, and Russian and Czech language.  He received a AB in History/Russian and East European Studies from Lafayette College in 2010.  After graduation, he hopes to find employment focusing on international affairs and then continue his education.

REEEC – Affiliated Students Receive Fellowships and Prizes

REEEC is glad to announce the fellowships and prizes that our affiliated students received. Congratulations to all!

Nellie Manis, an M.A. student at our center, has been offered a Fulbright Grant to Russia. Next academic year she will enroll as a visiting student in the Translation and Interpretation Department at the Linguistics University of Nizhny Novgorod and then compare the translation and interpretation pedagogy in Russia and the U.S.

Anya Hamrick-Nevinglovskaya, a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature, was offered an SLCL Dissertation Completion Fellowship. She proposed to use this grant to work on her dissertation, provisionally titled “Resisting Shock: A Genealogy of Trauma Discourse in Russian and Early Soviet Fiction, 1860-1939”. The project investigates representations of psychic wounding in the works of Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Bulgakov, and, in doing so, explores the pre-Freudian genealogy of trauma discourse specifically within the Russian and early Soviet context.

Jenelle Davis, a PhD student of modern and contemporary art history, was awarded the prestigious Gendell Family and Shiner Family Fellowship. Jenelle, whose work has primarily focused on Post-Katrina New Orleans, 9/11 and the Holocaust, will explore commemorative strategies in contemporary Czech art, with an emphasis on the subversive interaction between humor, irony and memory.

The American Research Center in Sofia awarded Milos Jovanovic, a Ph.D. Candidate in History, a short-term fellowship for fall 2013. Jovanovic is also this year’s recipient of the SSRC-Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF), which he will use during the 2014 calendar year to pursue research in Sofia and Belgrade.

Stefan Peychev’s proposal to pursue dissertation research in Istanbul and Ankara won him  a fellowship from the Turkish Cultural Foundation for next academic year. Veneta Ivanova, also a Ph.D. Candidate in History, will be a Mladena and Dianko Sotirov Visiting Fellowin London for this summer.

Rachel Koroloff, an ABD in history, has been awarded an AY 2013-2014 Junior Fellow position at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. An institute in Washington D.C. administered by the Trustees for Harvard University, Dumbarton Oaks supports research and learning internationally in Byzantine, Garden and Landscape, and Pre-Columbian studies through fellowships and internships, meetings, and exhibitions.  Rachel’s fellowship is in support of her dissertation, which is a study of the role of botanical and medical gardens in the creation of Russia’s place in the 18th century scientific world.

Deirdre Ruscitti is this year’s recipient of the Frederick S. Rodkey prize, given annually to the best new scholar in Russian or East European History in the History Department.

Andy Bruno, a recent Illinois PhD in history and currently assistant professor at Northern Illinois University will be a visiting scholar in residence this summer at the Institut für Osteuropäische Geschichte und Landeskunde at the University of Tübingen.

REEEC is pleased to announce this year’s Skalnik Prize Winners: Kyle Estes, PhD student in Political Science, with his paper “Emotional Reactions, Rational Actions: A Case Study of Ethnic Violence in Lviv, 1918”  and Andrew Dolinar, undergraduate student in Sociology and Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, with his submission “The Foreign Gay: Exploring the Othered Roots of LGBT Rights in Post-Soviet Russia.” According to REEEC traditions, the recepients were treated to lunch by Professor Carol Leff and REEEC Director Professor David Cooper and will receive cash prizes at our center’s reception on May 10.

Last but not least come our FLAS Recipients for AY 2013-2014. Administered by the University of Illinois National Resource Centers and awarded competitively on an annual basis, REEEC FLAS fellowships are used for the study of a language of Russia, Eastern Europe, or the post-Soviet successor states.

This year’s graduate awardees are:

Hristo Alexiev (REEEC, Serbo-Croatian)
Benjamin Bamberger (History, Russian)
Ryan Eavenson (REEEC, Russian)
Kyle Estes (Political Science, Ukrainian)
Kourtney Gillett (Slavic, Russian)
Anna A. Harbaugh (History, Russian)
Alana Holland (REEEC, Polish)
Rosa Kleinman (Slavic, Polish)
Eastman A. Klepper (REEEC, Russian)
Ethan Larson (History, Serbo-Croatian)
Lydia Medill (Linguistics, Russian)
Thornton Miller (Music, Russian)
Peter Q. Wright (History, Russian)

Our summer awardees:

Benjamin Bamberger (History, Russian and Georgian)
Ryan Eavenson (REEEC, Russian)
Zachary Grotovsky (German, Polish)
Megan Kennedy (Linguistics, Kazakh)
Ethan Larson (History, Serbo-Croatian)
Lauren Hanse (German, Russian)

Our undergraduate recipients:

Kristina Biljan (Serbo-Croatian)
Miranda Wickham (Turkish)
Andrew Dolinar (Russian)

Student Dispatch: A Note from Istanbul

One of the panoramas visible from Boğaziçi University

Coming to Istanbul is always a special experience, even if it is not the first time you’ve set foot in this former capital of three empires. The city is now estimated to have a population of over 15 million people.  It has a thriving economy, as well as a vibrant cultural life with many faces, both Asian and European, each one having multiple districts hosting very different cultures and life styles: from the ultra-modern Istinye neighborhood to the traditionalistic Fatih District.

The two months of intensive language training were obviously not enough to see everything that Istanbul holds, but we did get a glimpse of what this magical city is all about. The program included four to five hours of Turkish language instruction and lab each day, with plenty of homework, as well as regular screenings of Turkish movies each Monday afternoon. There were many things that had the potential to distract students from their studies, among which, the fact that Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) University has one of the most beautiful and picturesque campuses in the world, directly overseeing the Bosphorus. Perhaps the most distracting, and actually painful, thing was the extremely hot weather combined with high levels of humidity, literally making you melt while trying to reach the classroom, follow lectures, learn hundreds of new words, and do grammar exercises. The Monday Turkish film screenings were a nice break from this routine, as the hall where most movies were shown was one of the few places on campus to have a working A.C. I also thought that all the movies had been picked with a lot of taste, and showed different aspects of Turkish culture: some absolutely hilarious, others covering historical events and carrying deep spiritual messages.

In addition, the program included cultural trips to different parts of the city, like the trip to the Fatih District of Istanbul, a place where one gets the feeling that time has stopped, and that in a way, little has changed since the times of the Ottoman Empire. Alongside its numerous cultural monuments, such as old mosques, churches, and religious and secular schools that relate to the various religious and ethnic communities who lived in the Ottoman Empire, one can sense the traditionalist spirit of the people who live in this district. A significant portion of the population in the Fatih district, both men and women, dress in a fashion reminiscent of the Islamic empire that ruled most of the Mediterranean in the times of Süleyman the Magnificent.

During the first day of classes, one of our professors had remarked that it is very often the case that their assistants end up becoming our best friends. This was definitely the case with Büşra and Seda who assisted the professors

Süleyman and Hristo in a restaurant on the Galata Bridge. In the background the New Mosque (completed 1665).

for the advanced level class, as well as many of their friends and fellow assistants. It was Seda’s and Büşra’s idea to organize a trip to Eyüp outside of the official program. Eyüp is another municipality of Istanbul with a very distinct character. Ramadan, an event that changes the character of the metropolitan by bringing it closer to its cultural and religious traditions, had started a couple of weeks prior to that. Besides hosting one of Istanbul’s most remarkable monuments, the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, this area traditionally becomes particularly vibrant during the long nights of feasting after the Iftar (the breaking of fast during Ramadan). Crowds of families, friends, and company get together to drink tea, eat, and have fun after the long days of fasting in patience. Quite a few classmates and I had a marvelous time exploring this beautiful area of Istanbul during such a special time. I believe this is the first time I had the chance to understand and fully experience what stands behind the expression Ramadan’ın keyfi (‘the good times of Ramadan’).

The sea is an essential part of the city’s vibrant life. Many people commute between the Asian and European parts of Istanbul. Usually the reason for this is the more affordable housing on the Asian side. While this can be time-consuming, it is also a beautiful experience, especially in the hot summer months. There is no place as refreshing and beautiful as the Bosphorus when the rest of the city is troubled by traffic and burning heat. While traffic is actually a serious concern for the fast-growing metropolis, it is comforting that one can ride one of the “Marine buses” every day, to and from work at the price of a regular bus trip. This is also the case if one decides to embark on visiting one of the Prince’s Islands.

The Eyüp Sultan Mosque on a Ramadan night

The intensive summer course on a FLAS fellowship was a wonderful experience that helped me strengthen and further develop not only my prior knowledge of the language, but also better understand the culture from which this language springs. Two months are not enough to explore fully such a city as Istanbul, but I am certainly looking forward to seeing more of its many faces and understanding it better as I embark on a full year of academic study on a Boren Fellowship.

Hristo Alexiev is a MA candidate at the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center at UIUC, and a FLAS recipient for the 2011-2012 Academic year and Summer 2013. His focus of studies is Balkan languages and history, with a particular emphasis on modern Turkey and the significance of the Ottoman legacy in modern day relations between the nations of the Balkans. Hristo was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. After graduating from the French Lyceum in Varna, he studied Romanian, Modern Greek, Spanish, and Turkish, in addition to a limited knowledge of Serbo-Croatian. He is currently continuing his study abroad in Istanbul under a Boren Fellowship until June 2013. After completing his studies he hopes to pursue a career in foreign relations. 

Academic Year 2012-2013 FLAS Fellows

REEEC is very pleased to announce the FLAS fellowship recipients for the 2012-2013 academic year. Out of a total of 35 applicants we have 15 awardees and 5 alternates. Thanks to support from the Department of Education Title VI program we are able to support these students from disciplines across campus as they pursue language and area study for everything from Bosnian to Turkish.

  • Bamberger, Benjamin – MA/PhD Candidate in History
  • Davis, Jenelle – PhD Candidate in Art History
  • Dolinar, Andrew – BS Candidate in Sociology
  • Estes, Kyle  – PhD Candidate in Political Science
  • Gillet, Kourtney – MA/PhD Candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures
  • Kleinman, Rosa – MA/PhD Candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures
  • Lakhmitko, Katerina – MA/PhD Candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures
  • Larson, Ethan – MA/PhD Candidate in History
  • Manis, Nellie – MA Candidate in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies
  • Nathanson, Rebecca – PhD Candidate in Urban Planning
  • Pires, Alejandra – MA/PhD Candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures
  • Ruscitti, Deidre – MA/PhD Candidate in History
  • Verdeyen, Eric – PhD Candidate in Political Science
  • Wisler, Caroline – PhD Candidate in Landscape Architecture
  • Wood, Nicholas – BA Candidate in French

Student Dispatch: A Note from St. Petersburg

View of the Monument of the Millennium of Russia in Novgorod, Russia

White Nights, river cruises, and strolls through the recently renovated Letnii Sad (Summer Garden) make the city of St. Petersburg a pleasant place to study during the summer months.  As a FLAS recipient for the summer of 2012, I spent my days in the classroom at St. Petersburg State University, but enjoyed practicing my Russian language skills outside of the classroom as well.

As many visitors will attest, however, many of the inhabitants of St. Petersburg speak English quite fluently, and are not hesitant to speak English with foreigners, whether or not those foreigners might prefer to speak Russian.  I attempted to combat this problem by frequently venturing outside of the former capital to learn about nearby towns and their histories.  The places I visited were all accessible by train or car and could be explored in one day.

One of the unique, and particularly useful, aspects of tourism in Russia is that many palaces, museums, and other places of interest require tourists to take a tour with a tour guide, rather than wandering about on their own.  While some might find this burdensome, I found that this was one of the most useful ways to practice my listening skills.  Many smaller tourist locations do not even offer tours in English, though this is truer outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg.  I certainly found this to be true on my first trips outside of St. Petersburg to the sleepy towns of Gachina and Vyborg.

Vyborg, a city located close to the Finnish border, was formerly the property of Sweden.  Besides touring the old Kremlin and watching a demonstration on medieval torture methods, I explored modern Vyborg with a trip to a restaurant famous in all of Leningrad oblast for its incomparable chiburekki, a deep fried sandwich consisting of a piece of dough folded into a half-moon shape and filled with meat or cheese. The dish is attributed to the Crimean Tatars and is common fare in several Central Asian countries, though it is also hugely popular in Russia today.

Velikii Novgorod, one of the oldest cities in Russia, also presented a unique linguistic experience.  While aimlessly wandering about the monument to the Millennium of Russia, my friends and I were approached by an elderly

Nellie with the United Buddy Bears, a traveling exhibition promoting peace and understanding, which spent a portion of summer 2012 in Petersburg.

man describing himself as a local professor who free-lanced on the weekends as a cash-only tour guide. He said he had  recently written a book on the monument, and would be happy to explain to us, in Russian, of course, exactly what we were looking at.  After inquiring about his price, we agreed, and spent the next hour walking with him around the monument, detailing the highlights of the making of  Russia, beginning with a statue to Rurik.  More than 120 individual statues compose the monument, including those to such important figures as Alexander Nevsky, Peter the Great, Mikhail Lomonosov, Nikolai Karamzin, Catherine the Great, Alexander Pushkin, and Mikhail Glinka.

Besides venturing out of St. Petersburg, I found that a very effective way of practicing my Russian skills was by volunteering.  I first experienced what valuable linguistic and cultural experience could be gained by part-time volunteer work during the fall of 2011, when I volunteered with an NGO called Project Innovation, which provides both material and emotional support to the under-served communities of St. Petersburg, including the homeless, orphans, underfunded hospitals, and drug and alcohol assistance programs.   The staff at Innovation placed me for one month in a kindergarten for children diagnosed with HIV, and one month in an infectious diseases hospital, for children who were being treated for closed tuberculosis.  Both of these experiences were priceless for the cultural insights they provided, but also for the linguistic situations they presented.

Nellie at one of the entrances to the Hermitage museum in Petersburg.

During the summer of 2012 I was able to volunteer for one month at the State Hermitage Museum, one of the former homes of the royal Russian family (then known as the Winter Palace).  I arranged this directly through the museum’s Volunteer Service organization.  Though I was often called upon to help English-speaking visitors to the museum, I often found myself speaking Russian to Russian tourists who had come from all over the country to explore one of the most famous museums in the world.  Many of these visitors had never previously met an American.  Needless to say, I encountered many situations at the Hermitage which stretched all aspects of my Russian skills, and added immensely to my active vocabulary.

Nellie Manis is in her last year as an MA student. She is interested in Russian, East European, and Eurasian sociology and law, with a particular interest in the minority experience and the rights of under-served communities.  She received a BA in History and a BA in International Studies from Penn State University in 2008.  After completing her MA in 2013, she hopes to pursue a career in the international sphere while continuing to study Russian, French, and Ukrainian.

Summer 2012 FLAS Fellowship Recipients

From Left to Right: Jenelle Davis, Samantha Wong, Alejandra Pires, Katerina Lakhmitko, Hristo Alexiev, Nellie Manis

Hristo Alexiev is a Graduate Student of Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. He studied Turkish at Bogazici University in Istanbul.

Jenelle Davis is a Graduate Student of Art History. She studied Czech at Charles University in Prague.

Katerina Lakhmitko is a Graduate student of Slavic Literatures and Languages. She studied Polish at Jagellonian University in Krakow.

Nellie Manis is a Graduate Student of  Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. She studied Russian for the summer of 2012.

Alejandra Pires is a Graduate Student of Slavic Literatures and Languages. She studied Russian in the American Councils RLAS Program in St. Petersburg.

Samantha Wong is an Undergraduate Student of International Studies. She studied Turkish at the Bogazici University in Istanbul