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CIEE St. Petersburg, Russia
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Azniv Nalbandian

Major: Women's Studies, Russian
Hometown: Andover, MA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I learned about this enrichment experience from my instructors and fellow peers who were CIEE alumni. I also attended an informational meeting where I was able to converse and ask CIEE alumni questions about their experiences. I felt this improved my level of comfort with embarking on the study abroad experience.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

I stayed with a host family, which was comprised of a single woman in her late 50s. She only knew Russian, which was a challenge I embraced every day. I had classes from 10am-3pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays and the weekends were reserved for CIEE coordinated excursions. One of my fondest excursions was our weekend trip to Moscow. Even though this was my second visit to Russia, it was my first time in Moscow. I had few expectations, but was intrigued to compare Moscow with St. Petersburg. When I saw Red Square for the first time, I felt overwhelmed by the historical richness of this attraction. These were the grounds that infamous Russian figureheads had stood on and given landmark speeches. The sheer weight of the location remains palpable in my recollection of that powerful moment. The historical and political richness of the Soviet Union was rooted in Red Square, and I feel as though its significance has not wavered over the decades. My time in Moscow led me to fully capture the oscillating tension between Russia’s Soviet past and the path they have embarked upon after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This tension is hard to reconcile, but is something I wish to continue to reflect upon because I believe it can help with my possible endeavors in the region.

From learning Russian folk songs to reciting Pushkin’s poems, the knowledge I acquired was rich and continues to show its worth in my Russian studies.

How did this experience impact you academically?

The academic experience improved my linguistic and cultural proficiency. I took courses that focused on Grammar, Conversation, Russian Culture, Russian Film, Russian Mass Media, Phonetics, and Russian Music. This truly all-encompassing experience has allowed me to build upon knowledge that I have acquired, and continue to acquire, at Penn State. From learning Russian folk songs to reciting Pushkin’s poems, the knowledge I acquired was rich and continues to show its worth in my Russian studies. I'm grateful for the opportunity that my liberal arts education has given me to be able to not only participate, but also thrive in a study abroad experience that I will never forget.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

My experience and learning in Russia expanded well beyond the classroom setting. I wanted to delve into and feel the pulse of the Russian people, thus I sought to acquaint myself with everyday Russians whenever I had the opportunity to do so. The CIEE program did an excellent job at facilitating such immersive activities, and this was proven during a discussion forum that focused on the LGBT community in Russia. This issue has always fascinated me, and I feel a connection to this topic for personal reasons. I had some hesitations attending such a discussion forum given the predominantly hostile LGBT environment in Russia, however the experience proved to be very fruitful and beneficial. I was able to converse with members of the Russian LGBT community and bridge the gap between our cultural and personal differences. This experience furthered my conviction that social issues are labyrinthine entities that must maintain a level of complexity because oversimplification can lead to dangerous outcomes. Study abroad experiences exceed conceivable expectations in regards to one's proficiency as an individual and global citizen. My time in Russia this past summer has opened my mind to a series of questions that I look forward to inquiring about. In particular, what is the future of LGBT people in regards to their personal safety and right to their autonomy? Do I have the credibility as an American student studying Russian to interfere or even question the political and social justice issues regarding minority populations in Russia? As I embark on my junior year at Penn State, with the looming task of writing a thesis, I hope to be able to find clarity and resolution to the matters at hand. I look forward to exploring difficult paths that lead to undiscovered destinations.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I would recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students because the CIEE program highlighted the importance of full cultural immersion. The staff were trained and experienced and allowed for the experience to go smoothly.

For more information on global opportunities for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.
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