Fall 2015, Issue II
С наступающим! Happy New Year! Soon those words will mark the beginning of every conversation, as Muscovites prepare to greet 2016. Although official New Year’s activities in Moscow begin next week, students on CIEE’s Business and International Relations program are already experiencing the magic of Moscow during the winter holidays with such traditional activities as skating in Gorky Park and strolls through GUM and Red Square’s Christmas Market.
With the approach of the New Year, the fall semester at MGIMO is coming to a close. In preparation for their departure next week, students recently took part in a re-entry seminar, where they reflected on their experiences of the past four months, discussed what they learned, and considered how they might apply their new knowledge, skills and experiences at home.
Students reviewed the highlights of their semester, reflecting on the entire program – from dorm life to MGIMO classes, from everyday interactions with taxi drivers and store clerks to once-in-a-lifetime travels. Through the course of those conversations, they realized they will be leaving Moscow with concrete, measurable knowledge and skills--such as improved Russian language and a more sophisticated understanding of international relations and economics. After four months in Moscow, students also identify themselves as being more patient, better able to take new perspectives into account, more confident in their ability to deal with difficult situations, and better equipped to tolerate ambiguity.
In the spirit of the season, let’s take a look back at the experiences students identified as being the most transformative and most valuable.
This week is the last week of classes for our students – they are writing papers, preparing presentations and studying for final exams (both written and oral). It marks the end of what students identify as one of the biggest challenges of their exchange experience – adjusting to a different academic culture and system of higher education. At MGIMO many elements of academics are different than in US universities – from class scheduling, to homework, to assessment, to lecture styles. While at times the differences were frustrating, at the re-entry seminar students reported feeling a sense of accomplishment for having successfully navigated the differences, becoming more patient and tolerant of ambiguity in the process.
Students have also appreciated the wide breath of perspectives represented in classes at MGIMO’s School for Governance and International Affairs. As part of their CIEE course US-Russian Relations, students participated in round table discussions with their Russian peers on issues, discussing and constructively debating US-Russian relations.
In addition to regularly scheduled MGIMO classes, CIEE students also attended a series of lectures on Russian history by MGIMO professor and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Diplomat Maria Pavlova. Professor Pavlova covered a survey of Russian history from 862 through modern Russia. The series culminated with an excursion to the History of Diplomacy Museum, located in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and open only by special invitation.
This fall CIEE students complimented their BA courses at the School of Governance and International Affairs with active participation in MGIMO conferences, lectures and clubs. In November and December, students took part in activities of the International Club, Debate Club and Energy Club. They also attended International Cuisine Night, Russian-North Korea Friendship Night, MGIMO’s Hanukkah celebration, an economics forum on renewable energy and an international conference “Problems of Global Governance: Economy, Politics, Security.” The events provided students with opportunities to meet Russian students from different departments of the university and to hear a wide variety of perspectives on current issues, perspectives not usually represented on a US campus.
Students on the Business and International Relations program have the option to complete an unpaid academic internship. This semester students completed internships at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), a non-profit academic think-tank founded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
At RIAC, interns had a unique view into Russian foreign policy making process. Students supported projects like the Development of Russian-Chinese Relations, Cooperation for a Greater Europe, and Raising the Efficiency of Russian Participation in BRICS by writing media summaries, transcribing speeches from English-language conferences, preparing monthly digests for publication, and editing and evaluating English-language articles. They also attended weekly presentations by RIAC staff on foreign affairs issues such as the Ukrainian Crises, International Cooperation in the Arctic, and the impact of think tanks on foreign policy making in Russia. Working at RIAC gave students the opportunity to reflect on cultural differences in the workplace and build a professional network, while gaining concrete professional skills and knowledge in their field. Even the commute to the RIAC office, which included a walk across the Moscow River with a view of the Kremlin on one side and Gorky Park on the other, contributed to making the internship an unforgettable experience.
From short trips on public transportation to CIEE organized excursions to St. Petersburg and Kazan, to independent trips within Russia and countries of the former Soviet space, travel was an important part of the students’ experience. While most students could share embarrassing stories of mistakes they made while learning to use public transportation, all agreed that the metro is one of the things they will miss most about life in Moscow. By the end of the semester, armed with apps for the metro and ground transportation, students have mastered travel from the MGIMO campus to stores, shopping centers, libraries, museums and parks.
The Moscow transportation system served as a good introduction to travel in Russia – and students quickly put it to use during CIEE organized trips to St. Petersburg in late September and Kazan in early November. St. Petersburg, about 400 miles to the north of Moscow, and Kazan, about 450 miles to the east, are both an overnight train ride away from the capital. Students traveled in four-person compartments, drinking tea and playing cards just like typical Russian students.
In Russia it is commonly said that Moscow is not Russia – you cannot visit Moscow alone and come away with an understanding of Russia. In their 3-day excursions to St. Petersburg and Kazan, students were exposed to a very different Russia. While both are large cities, neither St. Petersburg nor Kazan share the international metropolis feel of Moscow. Students experienced St. Petersburg as a more European, slower moving city and Kazan as a multi-ethnic city with a blend of Russian and Tatar culture. The trips gave students a glimpse into the diversity and vastness of Russia, something that is difficult to experience without leaving Moscow.
By November and December, students had settled in to life at MGIMO – they became more comfortable with classes, life in the dorm and the rhythms of daily life in Moscow. With the basics of student life on more stable footing, students began to seek out interaction with Russians. Whether making traditional Russian pancakes (блины), watching classic Russian films, skating, or just going for walks, students began actively socializing with their Russian peers beyond the halls of MGIMO. For many students, this is why they came to Russia — to move beyond the headlines and the rhetoric of politics, to learn about Russia from the people who know it best.
Into the New Year
While the students will soon leave Moscow, they will take with them memories of their experiences and a new knowledge, new skills and new perspectives on the world. At the re-entry seminar students identified several concrete ways they will apply what they learned in their time in Moscow. They will bring the Russian perspective into their classes and discussions with professors and fellow students, they will use research to inform development of a senior thesis, they will actively seek out foreign students on their campuses, and they will act with more compassion and understanding to non-native speakers of English. Sounds like they have a busy and productive year ahead!
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С наступающим новым годом! Happy New Year! Wishing you a year of learning and growing!
Nancy Kogin, Resident Director, Moscow Business & International Relations program
Kristina Savchuk, Moscow Student Services Assistant
Irina Makoveeva, Center Director