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Inside CSULB
Vol 58 No. 3 : March, 2006
Vol 58 No. 3 : March, 2006
Rediscovering Russia

Russia got the CSULB treatment last August when 15 students from Romance / German / Russian Languages and Literatures (RGRLL), led by an interdisciplinary faculty, visited Moscow and St. Petersburg for a three-week study trip abroad.

In November, RGRLL’s Harold Schefski, Geography’s Dimitrii Sidorov and Biological Sciences’ Carol Itatani delivered a presentation on their trip in discussing “Rediscovering Russia: Reflections on a CSULB Field Course, August 2005” in the Multicultural Center Conference Room.

“The man who makes this happen is Dimitrii Sidorov, who lives in Moscow four months out of the year while teaching in our Geography Department the other eight,” said Schefski, who joined the university in 1986. With a CSULB connection living in the heart of Moscow, the students, who earned three units for the class, enjoyed a rare opportunity to immerse themselves in contemporary Russian culture.

“We lived amid Ikea furniture on the seventh floor of a dormitory at the Moscow Linguistics University,” Schefski recalled. Students paid $3,200 apiece to cover air fare, an overnight train back and forth on a four-day trip to St. Petersburg, hotels and tours during their 17-day stay in Moscow. The trip was also supported by five $500 scholarships from private donors George and Beverly August to defray travel costs.

The busy travel schedule is part of a drive in RGRLL to found a Russian Studies major.

“We want this kind of trip available at the same time every year so students can get a feel for the country,” said Schefski. “This class is necessary because we can’t expect students to relate to Russian without a cultural experience. It’s our goal to offer this class annually or every two years.”

With Sidorov as their guide, students and faculty followed the Moscow metro for daily five-mile walks. “These are well-traveled students with passports stamped everywhere from Spain to Australia,” Schefski said.

Jose Salvador

There were visits to the center of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sergeev Posad, the ancient city states of Vladimir and Suzdal, Tchaikovsky’s estate at Klin and that of novelist Boris Pasternak as well as St. Petersburg’s Hermitage and Summer Palace.

“We wanted to give these students the experience of the language, culture and the new Russia,” said Schefski. “I hosted seven of these trips during the Soviet phase and I can see now that everything has changed. Everything is for commerce. There are no more free bathrooms.”

The RGRLL Department is not the kind that stays solely in the classroom.

“This is a Russian program that goes to Russia,” Schefski said. “We believe in outreach, including a Russian film festival we hosted in January for the first time. We offer contemporary Russian films because we want audiences to get acquainted with Russia of now, not the Russia of yesterday.”

Schefski praised the success of the latest trip and vowed to return soon with a repeat performance.

“We attracted people who had never experienced Russia before,” he said. “They heard a lot and wound up fascinated by what they had heard. With students like that, we are certain we will have plenty of groups to come.”

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