2020-2021 FLAS Fellows

We are happy to announce that REEEC was able to fund nine graduate FLAS fellows and two undergraduate FLAS fellows for the 2020-2021 academic year. This is a decidedly strong group of scholars who highlight the wide variety of interests held by our students. Please join us in congratulating the 2020-2021 FLAS fellows found below!

REEEC FLAS Fellows, 2020-2021

Graduate Students:
Justin Balcor (Musicology) – Georgian
Jacob Bell (History) – Russian
Melissa Bialecki (Musicology) – Ukrainian
Tabitha Cochran (REEES/LIS) – Ukrainian
Murad Jalilov (Slavic) – Turkish
David Louden (Slavic) – Ukrainian
Demetry Ogoltsev (Slavic) – Serbian
Danielle Sekel (Musicology) – Bulgarian
Brian Yang (Slavic) – Russian

Undergraduate Students:
Jasmine Jacome (REEES) – Russian
Haley Nelson (Political Science & REEES) – Turkish

Russian Language Program – Urbana After School Child Care Program at Leal Elementary

This past fall, I had the opportunity to step out of my usual teaching role in the Slavic Department and instead share my knowledge of Russian with some younger minds: the fourth and fifth graders of Leal Elementary School’s Afterschool Program. I admit, at first this seemed like a challenge. I was used to teaching Russia to college-aged students and, in general, Russian-language programs for elementary-school-aged children are not very common. How was I to adapt foreign grammar lessons to accommodate those who have not formally learned all grammar concepts in their native language? How could I convince the kids that learning Russian is more exciting than just memorizing a new alphabet and a whole bunch of grammar rules (and exceptions to those rules!)?

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As it turned out, the kids, along with some helpful teaching resources provided by REEEC, made the process much easier than expected. My students were engaged and committed to learning Russian. Often, they’d want to delve deeper into the grammar and vocabulary than I ever planned. Even though Russian was a choice among many other afterschool activities, my students (a group of about 10) attended consistently, and were always eager to know what we would be working on next. They even took notes and brought their worksheets home so that they could study, even though it was never required.

We met twice a week and each session was 45 minutes. One day a week was devoted to learning vocabulary and grammar, while the other was devoted to cultural topics. Our grammar lessons mainly consisted of learning how to read and write the Russian alphabet. Each day we would learn a few new letters. As the students acquired knowledge of more and more letters, we were able to start learning certain words, and eventually we even were able to formulate simple sentences and questions. The cultural topics ranged from folk tales to art and geography. Among my favorite lessons was comparing a map of the Soviet Union to a map of Russia (this was actually a request from a student!) and recreating our own art pieces in the style of Malevich. We ended the semester with a screening of the Russian Winnie the Pooh and, of course, Cheburashka – both of which were a huge hit among the students!

Teaching at the afterschool program reminded me what I already knew: These programs are important. Learning language is important. At any age.

Nadia Hoppe is a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois.

Study Abroad in Odessa, Ukraine (Summer 2016)

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.


The Odessa National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet

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.


Memorial Plaque on N.V. Gogol’s Odessa Residence


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. 

Kate Butterworth’s Summer in Georgia

This past summer, I had the opportunity to study in Tbilisi, Georgia. I spent the time learning the Georgian language, and becoming acquainted with the culture and society. Georgia is a unique place, situated in one of the most geographically and linguistically varied regions of the world. The Caucasus mountain range serves as a natural border to Russia, separating the South and North Caucasus. Aside from Russia, Georgia is situated between the Black Sea, portions of Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. It has been a crossroads of many different cultures and empires throughout its history. These influences are evident in the current culture and language. While Georgian is the most prominent language in the Kartvelian group, it has been influenced by Greek, Russian, different stages of Persian, and now increasingly, English, particularly in government language. Regarding the separatist regions, Abkhazians and South Ossetians are ethnically and linguistically distinct from Georgians. Their claims for self determination predate the Soviet period and were vocalized prominently during the Russian Civil War.

I lived in Nadzaladevi with a very welcoming and generous couple. On the back streets of the neighborhood, there are small hole-in-the-wall shops accompanied by stands of fruit and vegetables. Walking up the steep and narrow cobblestone streets behind the apartment blocks, there is a clear view of the city and the mountains beyond. Tbilisi is home to the National Archives and a number of museums. Among them is the Museum of Soviet Occupation and the National Art Gallery, which has a number of pieces by Georgian artists. A few metro stops away is Old Tbilisi, where there are a number of outdoor cafes, bars, markets, a botanical garden, and the banya, which sits below the Narikala Fortress. That fortress has stood there since Tbilisi’s founding. Old Tbilisi is a nice historical part of the city and attracts many tourists. I took language lessons through the Language School there. Lessons were engaging, and I was fortunate to learn from a very good teacher.

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Aside from lessons and the commute to and from, I was able to travel. At one point, I went with a friend to Stepantsminda, in the Kazbegi district of Mtkheta-Mtianeti. It lies just south of the Russian border along the Georgian Military Road. It is a very popular destination for many people, especially in the summer, because, aside from its beauty, it is considerably cooler. In the remoteness of the mountains, there is a scattering of villages and livestock ambling about, often paying no heed to cars making hairpin turns up the winding road. In stark contrast to this scene, is Batumi on the Black Sea. Home to casinos, oil refineries, and a beautiful coastline, it is quickly becoming an economic hub in Ajaria.

Spending time in Georgia not only provided more depth to my studies, but also afforded me the opportunity to build relationships with people, which would not have been possible otherwise. Living with hosts added another valuable dimension to my experience and gave me ample time to practice speaking.

Kate Butterworth is a Master’s student in the REEEC program. Her research interests include ethnicity and identity in the North and South Caucasus as well as the efficacy of socio-economic policy in Georgia.  She received her BA from SUNY Brockport in 2011.

Summer Homecoming to Bosnia-Herzegovina

I was born in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina. My family fled to Chicago, Illinois, right after my seventh birthday. I could say that most of what I remember from my childhood occurred in Chicago; my memories from Bosnia became more distant as I embraced my life in America. The first time I returned to Bosnia was 13 years after leaving my hometown of Srebrenica, in the summer of 2013. However, I only spent a week and a half there, not nearly enough time to reconnect with my past and to explore my mother country. I was privileged enough to return this past summer (summer 2014) to study the Bosnian language through a FLAS fellowship from the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center. This opportunity exposed me to the beauty of the Balkan region, Bosnia’s mentality and the dissipating energy from the war.

Bosnia was very different from what I had imagined it to be. I was looking forward to living with a host family, which I hoped would allow me to expand my circle of friends. Indeed, I did establish new friendships and became exposed to the daily life of many Bosnians from different socioeconomic backgrounds. In my first week there, I came to a realization that a “middle class” who lives moderately was very rare. There was a strong divide between the haves and have-nots. I either came across individuals and families that were well-off and chose to brag about their prosperity, or those that earned just enough to get by and complained about their circumstances. The stark division between the two highlighted the country’s economic issues. The corruption and disorderly political structure affected every facet of life. Those that earned a “good” salary by Bosnian standards were unsatisfied because they felt that they should be earning more by global comparisons. Bosnians that could barely get by liked to complain about the system and its flaws because of the difficulty of bringing in a stable income for their families.

My second realization was the unwelcoming attitude that Bosnian residents have towards the Bosnian diaspora. This, by far, came as the biggest shock to me since I imagined a warm welcome and acceptance since I was, after all, Bosnian. However, residents weren’t really favorable toward the diaspora due to their bragging of living in a different and “better” country. Bosnia has a larger diaspora population than the population of the country itself. Summers tend to be packed with the diaspora throwing their money away on food, presents and family members. As a result, the diaspora’s snobbish tendencies agitate the Bosnian residents, who see those tendencies as a way to show off income status. Establishing good friendships with Bosnians revealed their true feelings towards the diaspora. It was extremely entertaining to hear the remarks they made about the Bosnian diaspora.

My third and final realization revolved around the multi-ethnicity of Bosnia. Bosnia consists of three major population groups: Bosnian Muslims (also called Bosniaks), Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats. The first thing that struck me was that people stuck close to their origin. There still existed hatreds among the groups. When I visited Mostar, I was astonished to learn that there is a high school which is subdivided into two high schools: one for Bosnian Croats and the other for Bosniaks. During the first game that Bosnia played in the World Cup, half of Mostar (a city in Bosnia) was cheering for Bosnia, and the other half of Mostar was booing it and throwing around insulting remarks. The literal division of the Bosniaks and the Bosnian Croats is the Old Bridge in Mostar. To drive through Bosnia and experience the division of the different ethnic groups was interesting. Each town or village is usually composed of one of the ethnicities. Larger cities, such as Sarajevo, consist of all three, but the division between the groups is still apparent.

My summer in Bosnia was a growing experience that not only developed my language skills, but also widened my perception of the Balkan states and America.

Medina Spiodic is a junior at the University of Illinois, double majoring in Economics and Communication with a minor in REES. Her expected graduation date is December 2015.

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.

Summer 2014 FLAS Winners

Congratulations to the recipients of the Summer 2014 FLAS fellowships to support language study!

Graduate Students:

  • Benjamin Bamberger (History, Georgian)
  • Kathryn Butterworth (REEEC, Russian)
  • Ryan Eavenson (REEEC, Czech)
  • Kyle Estes (Political Science, Russian)
  • Adrianne Gorbachik (Incoming REEEC, Russian)
  • Anna A. Harbaugh (History, Yiddish)
  • Alana Holland (REEEC, Polish)
  • Eastman A. Klepper (REEEC, Turkish)
  • Emily Lipira (Incoming REEEC, Russian)
  • Scott Maltby (Slavic, Russian)
  • Thornton Miller (Music, Russian)
  • Alejandra Pires (Slavic, Russian)
  • Peter Wright (History, Turkish)

Undergraduate Student:

  • Medina Spiodic (Econ/Comm/REEEC, BCS)

Miranda Wickham Feels at Home in Istanbul, Turkey

For the past three months, I have been studying abroad in the beautiful city of Istanbul, Turkey.  I study at Bogazici University, which is located in a residential area of Istanbul, and overlooks the Bosphorus.  As a political science major at Bogazici, I am taking a variety of courses.  My schedule includes Introduction to European Integration, which is very interesting to learn about in Turkey, as the pending addition of Turkey to the European Union is a main theme of the class. I am also enrolled in Turkish Literature in English Translation.  In this class, we are reading everything from classical and modern Turkish poetry to The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk, and A Mind at Peace by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar.  In the course, we learn about Turkish history and also modern Turkey through literature.  Additionally, I am taking two language courses, Intermediate Turkish and Advanced German Literature.

The two main campuses are North and South Campus.  The South Campus has a beautiful view of the Bosphorus, which is called the overlook.  Turkish and international students spend many hours at the overlook, just talking or doing homework, and enjoying the Bosphorus.  Additionally, the university has its own beach campus, with a free shuttle that leaves from the main campuses.

At Bogazici, I have met students from all around the world.  I live with three Turkish girls, which has been a great way to practice my Turkish.  Through classes and different events held by the university, I have had the opportunity to get to know the Turkish students.  There are also around 500 international students studying at Bogazici.

It is especially interesting to be in Istanbul, during Turkey’s current political situation.  Experiencing what is happening in Turkey, though the eyes of university students has been very enlightening.  I have talked for hours with different Turkish friends, all of whom have different opinions about what is taking place in their country.  There are demonstrations at the University, and the main set of stairs is painted in rainbow colors as a sign of protest, because many students believe that Erdogan only sees things in black and white.

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Two very important parts of Turkish culture include Chi (tea) and Kahvalti (breakfast).  In Turkey, people drink many cups of Turkish tea a day.  There are many small café’s that just serve tea, where people spend hours, and drink cup after cup of tea.  Turkish breakfast or brunch is also a very important part of the day.  On the weekends, people will spend hours enjoying a delicious Turkish breakfast by the Bosphorus.  A Turkish breakfast usually includes olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, boiled eggs, white and yellow cheese, menemen (Turkish scrambled eggs), and different types of Turkish bread.  The cafeteria at Bogazici offers a traditional Turkish breakfast for only 75 cents.

I have also been able to travel a lot throughout Turkey.  During Bayram (a religious vacation), I traveled with a group of friends to Izmir, Ephesus, Pamukkale, and Konya.  Izmir is one of the largest cities in Turkey and is along the coast.  We spent two days in Izmir enjoying the large shopping Bazaar and castle ruins, and took a day trip to Cesme, a small seaside town.  Then we went to see Ephesus, which is the ruins of  an ancient Greek city.

Next, we traveled to Pamukkale.  Pamukkale is a national park, located just outside of a city called Denizli.  Pamukkale means,“cotton castle.” Pamukkale formed from travertine, which was deposited by water from hot springs.  The terraces of Pamukkale look like snow, but are actually hard, with many hot springs.  At the top of Pamukkale, there are ancient ruins, including an amphitheater.

After Pamukkale, we headed south to the city of Konya.  Konya is a much more traditional, conservative, and religious Turkish city.  The renowned poet and philosopher, Rumi, is buried in Konya.  Konya is also very famous for the Mevlevi Sufi order of Islam, now known as the whirling dervishes.  The whirling dervishes perform a religious ceremony, which people travel from around the world to see.

Throughout my time in Turkey, what stands out to me most is the hospitability of the Turkish people.  If you ask someone for directions and they are not sure about where something is, they immediately pull out their phones to find out or look it up on the internet.  Meeting a new friend at a café can turn into an evening at his or her house, learning about Turkish culture and drinking tea.  My efforts at speaking Turkish are always rewarded with excitement, as I try to have conversations and learn the language.  Istanbul really has welcomed me, and become my home.

Miranda Wickham is a  junior in Political Science and German at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She is very interested in the political situation within the Middle East, especially in Turkey, and also Turkey’s relationship with Germany.  

Zach Grotovski’s Summer ‘13: 14 Weeks, 15 Cities, One Long Adventure

After a very long and difficult academic year, summer 2013 could not have started any better. I finished my papers, drove to my dad’s that same night, and was on my flight from Chicago to Warsaw the next morning. From there, I had a long train ride to Kiev waiting for me. With a fair amount of hand movements and confusion, I was able to buy my ticket right on the platform and was soon on my way for a summer in Eastern Europe.

Zach with a bottle of kvas at Patriarch’s Pond

Zach with a bottle of kvas at Patriarch’s Pond

I spent my first month in Ukraine with frequent trips to the grocery store and lots of time at home because of the rain. Since I was staying with somebody, this ended up to be the best way to see what Ukrainians live like on a daily basis. My first meal was homemade meat dumplings called pelmeni. Delicious! My second meal was luckily also homemade pelmeni, but this time it was from a new batch that I helped make. Although the first batch was decidedly better, I know now that all I need is a little practice with shaping the dumplings and adding the right amount of butter and sour cream. Then, I can almost pass for a real Ukrainian. Since this wasn’t my first time in Kiev, I enjoyed the small things that make it so special even more: the old men and women selling their strawberries on the street corners and the various markets with everything from slippers to fake Chinese iPhones to big 3 liter jars for pickles. Now I can truly say that I feel at home in the city.

From Kiev, I traveled around Ukraine a bit. By far the biggest event for me, however, was my first trip to Russia. Having met some Russian friends in Champaign, it was a perfect opportunity to visit them in the summer, especially since they had plenty of time for visitors during the white nights. We took advantage of the increase in daylight by walking around as tourists and visiting churches, museums, and palaces. Once the sun went down around 2 a.m., we were finally able to watch the bridge opening ceremonies and get some sleep. Of course, the sun was up again at 4 a.m., making sure we wouldn’t miss anything.  After taking a night bus to Moscow, we finally arrived to Liza’s family. The sheer size of Moscow, of the different monuments and buildings, put me in shock. Having read The Master and Margarita, a lifetime dream of mine was to see Red Square. It was very exciting to stroll around Patriarch’s Pond and to come across the sign saying “Never talk to strangers!” We did it regardless. But luckily, there was no giant talking cat anywhere near.

The old and the new: new skyscrapers behind Soviet buildings

The old and the new: new skyscrapers behind Soviet buildings

From Moscow, we returned to Kiev, and the next day, I was on my way to Lublin (Poland) for my FLAS Polish classes. I spent seven weeks there traveling to a few cities nearby. Although this second half of summer was less adventurous because I spent the majority of my time studying, my ability to speak Polish greatly increased. The ten to twelve hour days at the university exhausted me. So, returning to the US, even if only a day before the new semester started, was a welcome change. Of course, now I miss Poland, Ukraine, and Russia. But these three places are definitely not gone forever.

Zachary Grotovsky is a graduate student in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures. He is pursuing an MA in German linguistics and a graduate minor in either European Union Studies or Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. He caught the “Eastern Europe fever” four years ago when he met some Polish friends, and he has since acquired a profound interest in Ukraine as well. He plans to graduate in May and work somewhere in Eastern Europe, hopefully for the FLEX program as a recruiter in Ukraine.

Student Dispatch: Ben Bamberger on Mountain Weather

This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to study Georgian in Tbilisi through a summer FLAS fellowship. There were many reasons to spend a summer in Tbilisi, ranging from the constant and delicious supply of fruit and vegetables from the Kakheti region, the casual strolling along Rustaveli Prospect during the warm evenings, or the numerous and oddly affordable open air cafes dotting the old town. But for language study, I was most excited by the opportunity to be immersed in the Georgian language and try to finally be comfortable in its alphabet and impossibly difficult consonant clusters.

Yet, by the end of the summer, I began to feel that my schedule of commuting, class, and grocery shopping was beginning to have some diminishing returns, and that it was time to practice my Georgian in a different environment. One of the reasons I applied to study Georgian this summer was because of a first year paper I wrote which analyzed how tourism reflected Soviet nation-building policies in Georgia, where I began to realize the importance of mountains and mountaineering to early Soviet tourism efforts (as well as the need to work in Georgian sources). Perhaps one of the most impressive and important of these mountains, which constantly appeared in my research, was Mount Kazbegi (or Kazbek in Russian), still a popular destination for both Georgian and foreign tourists located along the Georgian Military Highway on the Russian border. Kazbegi was not a technically difficult summit, but at over 5000 meters, it was an imposing one with constantly changing weather patterns. At some point, an Irish friend of mine named Enda, who didn’t speak Georgian, convinced me that summiting Kazbegi was something we needed to do, with the added bonus that I would get plenty of language practice with the Georgian guide. We were able to make arrangements with a local alpinist named Lasha, who promised to meet us at the base camp, and then guide us to the summit after a day of acclimatization.

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The next week, Enda and I made all the arrangements to rent the necessary equipment, and headed off to Stepantsminda, the nearest town to the mountain. Within a day, we were able to make it to the base camp at 3700 meters, where we spent the night and acclimatized to the higher elevation. Lasha arrived as promised the next day, along with some alpinist friends, and all talk was on the weather. Storms had begun to blow in, and Kazbegi was no longer visible, hidden beneath a shroud of imposing grey clouds. The plan was to wake up at 2 am the next morning to begin the summit (the weather is usually calmest in the morning), and Enda and I went to bed around 5 pm in order to get some rest for the next day. But the weather quickly turned worse, and our tent was soon rattled about by 45 mph gusts of wind. Lasha promised to wake us if the weather was good enough to summit, but there was no need as we laid awake freezing, listening to the icy wind blow down off the mountain. The next morning, Lasha explained that conditions were too poor to attempt the summit, and that we would try the next day. I quickly exhausted my weather vocabulary, not finding the right words for the constantly changing winds and freezing conditions. Lasha and his friend Tornike, both experienced alpinists, assured us that this was just “mtis amindi” or mountain weather, a rather convenient phrase for the beginning language speaker. Staring off at the icy mountain and snow in the distance, and blowing into his cold hands, Tornike ruefully stated what every alpinist must have thought at one time, “in the summer I am in the mountains, in the winter I ski, for me every season is winter!” Sitting there in all my clothes trying to warm myself on a bit of the fleeting sun, I couldn’t imagine that just a few weeks prior I had been complaining about the oppressive heat in Tbilisi or that it was even still August.

The next morning, we were awoken by Tornike at 1 am, who happily explained that the weather had changed for the better, and we were ready to set off. After a hearty breakfast of sausage, crackers, and a rich mixture of butter and honey, we headed out, greeted by the clearest skies and only an occasional breeze. As we slowly made our way up the mountain, the wind picked up but never threatened our pace, and a cool five hours later, exhausted and cold, we made it to the top of Kazbegi. The weather was stunningly clear, allowing us to see the entire Caucasian range, including Elbrus off in the distance, while Vladikavkaz appeared like a toy town below us. As we descended to the base camp, tourists heading the opposite direction kept asking Lasha and Tornike about the weather, but they refused to give a prognosis. By the time we got down to town, Kazbegi was hidden behind menacing clouds, mtis amindi indeed.

Ben Bamberger is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Summer 2013 FLAS fellow.  His research interests include Georgian mountaineering, Soviet nation-building, and Soviet tourism to the Caucasus.  Ben received his B.A. in history and economics at American University (Washington, D.C.).  After graduation, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Georgia.  As Ben furthers his studies, he hopes to conduct research in both Moscow and Tbilisi, ultimately incorporating Russian and Georgian sources into a dissertation about Soviet nation-building projects in Georgia, and the ways the local Georgians negotiated and understood these policies.