Jade Hopkins ’12
I can’t speak completely to how Russian has influenced my life after college because it has in fact shaped it; the person I am now was partially made in my two years in Moscow...
I started studying Russian first semester of my first year at Bowdoin. To be honest, it was the only class that I knew I wanted to take; some people love France, some people study Britain, I was a Russophile, and I wanted to be able to read Russian books in the original. I had never heard of perfective/imperfective verbs.
Russian was the course (and eventually major) that was a constant for my four years. Every time course selection started, I knew where at least one of my four credits was coming from. I studied abroad in Moscow my Junior Year, slipping on the inch-thick ice outside of my dorm, doing homework while drinking tea from a wide cup, smelling the cakes from the Bolshevik Cake Factory outside of my window on the freezing cold nights. I liked it so much that, less than a year after graduation, I moved back to Moscow to teach English.
I am grateful for this decision everyday. Moscow is a fascinating city, and the chance to live in it for two years, make friends, navigate the metro, and learn Russian changed my life. I can’t speak completely to how Russian has influenced my life after college because it has in fact shaped it; the person I am now was partially made in my two years in Moscow, where I learned to be grammatically incorrect all the time, that people who don’t smile can be the friendliest people in the world, and to consider dill an acceptable condiment for all foods. I miss Russia every day, and I plan to return. For now, I satisfy myself by sitting in restaurants for hours on end, wearing scarves around my head in the winter (it is warmer), and still occasionally speaking Russian (even though I’m just an administrative assistant in Boston; you’d be surprised by how many people speak it).
Luke Drabyn ’15
Without the continued support and substantial guidance I received from my professors and colleagues within Bowdoin’s Russian department, and the rigorous curriculum it offered, I am certain I would never have been able to secure such a valuable and life-changing experience abroad.
I graduated in 2015 with a double major in Government and Legal Studies and Russian, and immediately afterward journeyed to Kiev, Ukraine on a Study/Research Fulbright grant for a year. I utilized my Russian language skills to communicate with and interview scores of individuals—students, attorneys, physicians, and bureaucrats, among others—to conduct research on the Ukrainian government’s negligence toward its human trafficking problem, and the effects Russia’s aggression on the country’s eastern border was having on the internally displaced people forced to leave their homes and livelihoods. Without the continued support and substantial guidance I received from my professors and colleagues within Bowdoin’s Russian department, and the rigorous curriculum it offered, I am certain I would never have been able to secure such a valuable and life-changing experience abroad. My stint in Ukraine only reinforced my interest in pursuing an interdisciplinary career that will allow me to merge my interests in human rights, security, and the political and economic development of Russia and the post-Soviet states. I am currently working in Washington, DC as a Communications Associate at the Government Accountability Project protecting whistleblowers and holding governments to a higher standard. In the future I hope to pursue a master’s degree in international affairs and join the Foreign Service—and ideally spend as much time as possible living and working in eastern Europe.
Albert Mayer ’03
Studying Russian at Bowdoin remains one of the most enjoyable and rewarding learning experiences I've had.
In retrospect, speaking Russian in class at Bowdoin was good training for speaking in court. To improve as a Russian speaker, I had to be mindful of declensions and pronunciations unlike anything in the English language, but also willing to make declension and pronunciation mistakes as I practiced speaking aloud with classmates. I've found developing litigation skills similar in the sense that, with the facts and the law in mind, you have to set aside anxiety and perfectionism, stand up, and make the clearest, most accurate presentation you can. As an added bonus, Russian literature includes the most brilliant explorations of crime and morality that I've read.
Studying Russian at Bowdoin remains one of the most enjoyable and rewarding learning experiences I've had. Engaging with such a rich, sophisticated culture and language each morning inspired and motivated me throughout college, and while I don't speak Russian in my job as a trial attorney with the Department of Justice, I still listen to Russian radio stations at night and on travel!
Joseph Kellner ’09
There's little limit on how much Russian you can learn, or how far you can develop your interest in any particular direction.
I graduated in the Russian department in 2009, and most events of my life have somehow circled around Russia since then. Since my junior year abroad in Irkutsk with Middlebury, I've now been back to Russia for two more long stays once to teach English in the Caucasus, which was pure good fun and great for my Russian, and once, in 2014-2015, to research and conduct interviews. This, because two years after Bowdoin, I went to UC Berkeley for a PhD in Russian history. I had no previous history background, but because Bowdoin prepared me quite well with language, I was able to catch up with my colleagues in history while they struggled with verbs of motion, the genitive plural, and other such Russian grammatical puzzles. I'm now in my sixth year in that program, still living in Berkeley, and perhaps a year or so from completing my dissertation and degree. My hope is to teach history at the university level. Advanced students in the Russian program at Bowdoin, or in the history program, are welcome to write me with questions.
The Russian major makes sense for a lot of reasons. First, because of the small size of the program, students just get a quality of instruction they won't find elsewhere or even in other programs at Bowdoin. There's little limit on how much Russian you can learn, or how far you can develop your interest in any particular direction. Second, I think that, despite the post-Cold War delusions of certain short-sighted people, Russia is and will remain a hugely important country, and speaking the language will have important applications in many different spheres of the economy and government for a long time to come. And finally, Russia is just plain interesting it is a complex and distinct world civilization, foreign and peculiar enough to retain your interest for life, but accessible and familiar enough that you can a) find work, and b) transfer the skills and knowledge to other aspects of your life. Both of these things can be said about the language as well complex and distinctive, but accessible to those (like me) who are willing to work, but have no particular brilliance in language-learning.
Katie Lampadarious ’00
I find it so hard to generalize my life in Russia. I remember falling in love with the countryside.
After graduating from Bowdoin in May 2000 I found myself on a plane full of Peace Corps trainees on our way to Vladivostok, Russia. Vladivostok is commonly thought to be in Siberia, but is in reality in the Russian Far East. It's proximity to Korea and China is felt in the cuisine and people. Vlasivostok is a city on the water with lots of hills and Soviet-styled apartment buildings. While in Vladivostok, all of the trainees lived with Russian host families. My parents were Galina Savvovna and Valentine Ivanovich. Galina is a telephone operator and Valentine is a mechanic. After two months of training we became official Peace Corps Volunteers. I moved to what would be my home for two years. Nakhodka is a city of two hundred thousand people. It is on the water and one of the biggest ports in the Russian Far East. The people I met and became friends with were teachers, students, sailors, and business men and women. My school was a gymnasium with a special program in foreign languages. As a result, my students had a pretty high level of English which made it easier for me as a new teacher. I was terrified to teach, but the support I found from my English teacher colleagues was amazing and the growth I accomplished as a teacher and leader was due in large part to them.
I find it so hard to generalize my life in Russia. I remember falling in love with the countryside. Russia's land is vast and varied. I lived in a country full of hills. I visited a country full of mountains and hot springs and a country full of plains. I remember endless train rides through birch forests seeing a wooden house now and then. I remember the love of life that Russians carry with them. Going visiting to people's houses, eating lots of food and drinking vodka were a common event in my life there. Going to the banya was an event that every single Peace Corps volunteer adored. We were lucky to have a public banya in Nakhodka and we soon discovered that sitting in a steam room, beating each other
with birch branches and jumping in a pool of freezing cold water was an ideal way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The Russians I met were complicated people and while I have grown to love them, I know that I will never truly understand them. But that's ok. They challenged me on America, our politics, and our lifestyle. We used to have long chats over cups of tea or bottles of vodka, and those sustained my soul in a country far from all that was familiar. People keep asking me if I would do Peace Corps again. I would and I would and will go back to Russia.