A Russian Tale

Russia is certainly in the news a lot lately, but for some Goucher faculty and students, the country—along with its language, literature, and culture—is an everyday passion.

Competence in a language and culture other than one’s own is a huge part of a liberal arts education. Thanks to a mutually beneficial partnership with the Johns Hopkins University, Goucher students are studying Russia, its language, literature, culture, and centuries of complicated history. Founded in 1970, the Goucher College-Johns Hopkins University Cooperative Program in Russian Language and Literature includes a core of linguistic, literary, and cultural classes, but courses also can be tailored to fit students’ needs. It is the only program in the Baltimore area that offers advanced Russian coursework.

Goucher faculty members Olya Samilenko and Annalisa Czeczulin believe the dual-campus component of the program is a particular strength. “The cooperative program is all about options and providing students at both institutions with the tools they need to compete successfully for jobs,” Olya said.

The courses in the program provide students with the cultural literacy they need to succeed in future careers in Russian. “Our goal is to create competent, marketable young men and women who go on to take a meaningful place in the global arena,” Annalisa said. In Russia “cultural competency, as well as linguistic proficiency, is increasingly becoming the determining factor in who gets the job,” Olya added.

Former Goucher students who have participated in the program are now working on an international scale in business, law, and social justice issues. Five current students are involved with an orphanage in Russia; another is learning technical translation in her field by Skyping with Ukranian experts. The program is also growing its experiential learning through study abroad programs to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Vladimir.

Annalisa believes such driven gradates and current students, increased study abroad opportunities, and flexibility with the current political climate give the program an edge. “The picture emerges of a small, but powerful, program that has been duly noted in field publications across the U.S., and in particular, Washington, DC,” she said.

For more information about Goucher’s Russian major and minor, as well as study abroad and outreach programs, click here.russian1edited1

Below is a transcript of the full interviews with faculty members Olya Samilenko and Annalisa Czeczulin, including details on their personal interest in the Russian language and culture, where former students are now, and how the two handle being both Johns Hopkins and Goucher faculty:

Olya Samilenko is associate professor and the director of the Goucher College-Johns Hopkins University Cooperative Program in Russian Language and Literature since 2000. Annalisa Czeczulin is an assistant professor in the program. She has also organized and run the Russian Olympiada event since 2005. The Russian Olympiada is an event inviting school-aged youth to demonstrate excellence in Russian language and test their knowledge. Her duties also include Russian Club moderator, Russian Table moderator, and Language House liaison for Russian.

1. What was your initial interest in Russian language or culture?

Olya: My mother inspired me. She’s ethnically Ukrainian but spent 10 years in a Russian orphanage during the famine of 1932. During that time she learned to speak Russian beautifully and passed that love on to me. When I got older I fell in love with Russian literature. My students always think I’m joking when I tell them that Russian literature will save the world. Churchill famously called Russia a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. The literature of Russia offers the key to that mystery. It’s as simple as that.

Annalisa: I was inspired by my grandmother, who spoke several Slavic languages, and my father, who spoke German and Japanese. Having learned English through the international phonetic alphabet (IPA), I have always been intrigued with languages and linguistics, but I fell in love with the complexity of Russian. I was making pisanki (drawn eggs) by age 2 and learned at a relatively young age to dance, sing, and cook, so my love of Russian culture was a natural product of my upbringing. Having married a Ukrainian, I began to explore other Slavic languages, resulting in my Slavic linguistics specialization.

2. What do you think is the best part of Goucher’s Russian program?

Olya: I love so many things about the program that it’s hard to pick any one thing. I would have to say, though, that having someone as flexible and likeminded as Annalisa as a colleague is at the top of my list. When she came on board 10 years ago we split the two campuses between us and never looked back. Students at Goucher and Hopkins are equally thrilled to have full-time Russian professors at each location, and it shows in their commitment to the program. Given the small size of our program, we have a disproportionate number of majors and minors at both places. Moreover, the two of us have complementary interests, which enable us to cover all the important aspects of a comprehensive undergraduate Russian program, which includes language, literature, and culture. Thirdly, I am proud and humbled by the continued high regard in which the cooperative Russian program is held. For a program founded back in 1969, it keeps getting stronger and stronger. The fact that I had something to do with the upward spiral is truly gratifying. Since my passion is literature, I especially love it when my students reach the level at which they become critical readers of Russian literature. It matters to native Russians that American students who are learning the Russian language have read the classics. The fact that our students are able to say, ‘I’ve read The Master and Margarita in senior seminar in Russian,’ is a feather in their cap … and ours. My literature courses, which have a good amount of history in them, and Annalisa’s culture courses, which are a potpourri of literature, history, music, cuisine, and dance, provide our students with the cultural literacy they need to succeed in future careers in Russian, where cultural competency as well as linguistic proficiency is increasingly becoming the determining factor in who gets the job. Finally, I love to hear from students several years after graduation that they still miss my seminars. It’s just a great feeling to hear that.

Annalisa: I have to say that one of the best parts of the Goucher Russian program is the talent of my colleague Olya Samilenko. As much as I adore Russian linguistics with its systematically complex grammatical system, Olya loves Russian literature, and no one makes it come alive as she does. While she excels at the intricacies of Russian literature, I excel at the history and development of the language alongside Russian culture. Our teaching is two halves of the same whole—we each have our specialty, but we overlap in the comprehensive teaching of the language. Our goal is to create competent, marketable young men and women who go on to take a meaningful place in the global arena. The partnership with Hopkins seals the cooperative nature of the program, as students with different foci have to learn to work together as a comprehensive whole at an early stage in the major. Add the flexibility to adapt to the current political climate, several excellent study abroad programs through the American Council of Teachers of Russian and Bard/Smolny Study Abroad Program, and a network of alumni who are achieving greatness while reaching back to Goucher to help their younger colleagues, and the picture emerges of a small, but powerful, program that has been duly noted in field publications across the U.S., and in particular, Washington, DC.

3. What is the significance of outreach events like the Russian Olympiada, which recently brought more than 200 students from elementary to high school to Goucher to recite poetry and answer questions about Russian civilization, culture, geography, history, and literature?

Olya: Visibility and recruitment immediately come to mind. Through the years we’ve gotten some top-notch students into the program as a result of their participation in the Olympiada. Some Olympiada alums come back as students; others return long after graduation, volunteering their services as judges or just in setting things up. In addition, the annual event energizes our own students.

Annalisa: I would like to add that the ties that we have made to the community are also extremely valuable. We are charged with reaching out to others and giving our students experience in community-based learning. Through the Olympiada, we have not only forged strong connections with Russian professionals as far away as Alaska and New York, but we have also been able to give back to the greater Goucher community, assisting with adoptions and legal issues and identifying and translating Russian artifacts for members in it.

4. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Olya: The program consists of two halves, but those halves are not separate entities. They are part of an integral whole that encompasses two campuses. My colleague and I treat Hopkins students the same way that we do Goucher students, giving them a lot of hands-on attention. To give our Goucher students more variety we’ve recently added a Russian area studies major, which can be fulfilled at Goucher and is on par with the Russian literature and linguistics major. Also, the conversation and composition course now includes an online and Skyping component with graduate students in translation from the International University of Odessa Ukraine. The cooperative program is all about options and providing students at both institutions with the tools they need to compete successfully for jobs involving the target language.

Annalisa: Our community-based learning programs are taking off this semester. In the culture and civics course, five students are involved in reaching out to an orphanage in Russia. The idea grew out of a need expressed by several members of the Goucher community to give back to an orphanage that had provided several loving couples with amazing children who are now thriving in their adoptive homes. We are communicating the thanks of these parents for the gift of these children, as well as trying to ease some of the issues at the orphanage and teaching the adoptees their native Russian. In the seminar, one student is also piloting a program within which she is learning the technical translation in her field by Skyping with experts in Ukraine.

We are also partnered with excellent study abroad programs. Our partnership with American Council of Teachers of Russian allows students the ability to study in very different cities like Moscow (linguistic capital), St. Petersburg (cultural capital), and Vladimir (school of Navy midshipmen). The Bard/Smolny partnership allows students to study in St. Petersburg, while obtaining financial aid through Bard College.

Photo 1 Caption - Goucher students helping out at the Olympiada

Photo 2 Caption - Dr. Olya Samilenko (second from left) and Dr. Annalisa Czeczulin (second from right) with Olympiada officials.

Share this post

  • Tweet about this post
  • Share this post on Facebook
  • Share this post on Google
  • Share this post on LinkedIn