When UMD was founded in 1947, the Cold War with Russia was just beginning. A lot has transpired since then and this fall, 66 years later, historic events like this will be put into a cultural context as UMD’s first Russian Area Studies minor gets underway.
The program, approved by the Board or Regents in May, is designed to prepare students for engagement with cultures in Russian-speaking countries and compliments any liberal arts degree. It’s completely comprehensive with courses in Russian history, language, literature, and cinema. Current events are weaved into every class through discussion and assignments.
While the Russian Area Studies minor is new, it builds on well-established Russian Area Studies course offerings. Daniel Nolan, director of the Russian Area Studies program, says that a small but mighty group has led the way for the new program, both on campus and in the community.
The Cultural Classroom
The reach of the Russian Area Studies program is wide. One class, Film and New Media in Russian Society, teaches students about the transformative role that film and new media have played in Russian society. Off campus and into the community, the film At the Edge of Russia was screened at the Zinema last spring.
In 2012, Nolan led students through production of a Russian music hour on KUMD. They researched the music, wrote the scripts, and got the show on air, learning a lot about Russian culture and writing for radio along the way.
Russian Area Studies students also, literally, dig deep by growing vegetables that would be found in Russia and using them in Russian soups, like solyanka, shchi, borsch, and pirozhki. “Cooking instructions are repetitive, making them great tools for teaching foreign languages,” explains Nolan.
Tut (Meaning “Right There” in Russian)
Of course, nothing beats experiential learning when it comes to foreign cultures. Students in the Russian Area Studies program are encouraged to study abroad. Steve Hendrickson graduated from UMD with an international studies and Russian minor and spent time in Russia last summer. Thanks to a tip from Nolan, he’ll be heading back there in September for an internship in St. Petersburg. Hendrickson will be doing web marketing at a private language school that specializes is teaching foreigners Russian.
“Studying Russian at UMD has steered my life in a direction I never would have anticipated,” explains Hendrickson. At his internship, he’ll receive free Russian lessons and has the opportunity to practice Russian in a professional environment.
The Program's Purpose
The goal of all this? To prepare students, like Hendrickson, for work in a wide variety of careers.
Nolan explains that some students have obvious professional objectives, like pursuing jobs in law, business, cultural studies, human services, or diplomacy, but others could be described as outliners.
Perhaps you’re tracking the “Mongolian Terror Trout,” like one of Nolan’s students. He’s in the program to learn more before bravely venturing off to Russia in order to catch one of these gigantic 200-pounders. Another student is an enthusiast of Russian cameras. He enrolled in order to read the Russian text that’s etched on the cameras.
Whatever the motivation, key cultural gems are uncovered about an area that is quite mysterious to most people because Russia is so removed from the U.S., both geographically and culturally.
Through these Russian Area Studies classes, an area of the world, once clandestine, becomes accessible. “Studying a foreign language opens the world,” says Nolan. Adds Hendrickson, “The best advice I can offer a student thinking about the program is to just say ‘try it out.’ You cannot even imagine where Russian at UMD can take you until you just give it a try and stick with it.”
Story written by Lori C. Melton, firstname.lastname@example.org