By David Szolosi
This summer I was blessed with the opportunity to study in Saint Petersburg, Russia for two months. I sought this opportunity to complement my studies for the Russian and International Studies majors at Ohio State. I participated in the Russian as a Second Language program offered by the School of Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS). The program was held at the Saint Petersburg State University of Economics in the heart of Saint Petersburg. I lived in the international student dormitory with the other American students in my program, as well as some students from other countries finishing their spring semester.
The main purpose of my stay in Russia was to study the Russian language, but I also developed a much deeper understanding of Russian culture and politics. In class I learned a variety of nuances in the Russian grammatical structure and greatly increased my vocabulary. Living in Saint Petersburg, the location of the Communist Revolution, during the 100th year anniversary of the Communist Revolution, I learned much about this pivotal time in Russian history. The highlight of this aspect of my study this summer was a seminar on the Communist Revolution toward the end of my program. We took a bus tour around the city in which we visited the key sites of the revolution, including the Aurora cruiser, Vladimir Lenin’s apartment, and the Winter Palace. In addition to this seminar on the revolution, I visited many other cultural destinations in Saint Petersburg. For example, I took a walking tour of a variety of places where stories of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s are set. Another academic highlight of my program was the interview I conducted with a native of Saint Petersburg for my capstone project. I interviewed a retired woman who makes additional money by sweeping outside on the university’s campus. I found her story very interesting and I greatly appreciated having the opportunity to see a glimpse into the life of a retired person in Russia. She told me about her life in the Soviet Union and how things changed over the years with a changing government her children growing up. She now lives off of the money she makes sweeping and gives her daughter her entire pension from the government so she can support her child.
Making friends with locals was an integral part of my language learning experience. Outside of class and trips to the grocery store, I had very few opportunities to use Russian, despite living in Russia. I would argue that I progressed in my language profi
ciency more through frequent interaction with the friends I made than I did in class. The day after I arrived in St. Petersburg, I went to Mass because it was Sunday and I am Catholic. After Mass I found a group of other young adults who were either students or recent college graduates. They quickly welcomed me and we started to get to know each other. I learned that this group meets twice a week, so I started going to all their gatherings. On some days when the group did not meet, I would meet one of the guys in the group for dinner. We took turns helping each other practice our English and Russian. I quickly grew close to several of the people in this group and spent much of my free time with them. I was fascinated by the diversity in the group. There were people in the group from different parts of Russia and even different countries around the world. I enjoyed hearing these people’s perspectives about life in Saint Petersburg after having grown up in countries, such as Poland, Ukraine, and Norway. I was also fortunate enough to meet a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church. He invited our group to come to a service at the main Orthodox Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, the Savior on Spilled Blood, to see a youth choir from Kiev, Ukraine sing. The choir was beautiful and I greatly appreciated the opportunity to witness an Orthodox service in one of the most beautiful churches in Saint Petersburg. Outside of our meetings and shared meals, my friends and I loved going on walks around the city center. We developed a frequent route that took us past the Savior on Spilled Blood cathedral to the Neva river, along the river to the Winter Palace, then back to our starting point. I am extremely grateful for the friends I made and I am eager to stay in touch with them.
My experience in Saint Petersburg shaped my future in a variety of ways. I now have several new friends from all over the world, I progressed in my proficiency in the Russian language, and I grew in my understanding of Russian history and culture. I plan to move forward from this experience and continue my study of the Russian language and culture here in Columbus. I look forward to employing the knowledge I gained this summer in my future career.