January 01, 1990

Studying Russian Outside the Capitals

Looking for Language Outside the Capitals


The options for Russian language study today are extensive. In addition to over 200 college-level language programs in the US, there are summer workshops (like the largest ones at Middlebury College and Indiana University), summer camps (like the Concordia full-immersion program) and study abroad programs. The latter have boomed in recent years. Russian democratization and marketization has opened up academic exchange opportunities and fueled the start-up of privately-owned Russian language schools for foreigners.

Time was, if you wanted to study Russian in Russia, you had to go through one or two officially-sanctioned programs in Moscow or St. Petersburg. That has all changed, and the "cutting edge" of language study in Russia is study beyond the two capitals. The advantages of such "provincial" study may not be immediately apparent:

  • There will likely be fewer other foreigners, forcing one toward greater immersion;
  • The pace of life may be less frenetic;
  • Provincial residents tend to be more welcoming to foreigners;
  • One is exposed to less "beaten path" tourist options and more rural and provincial excursions.

On the other hand, there is a reason that "provincial" and "backwater" are often twinned. For some, only megalopolises like Moscow or major cultural centers like St. Petersburg offer the kind of diversions and activities that are sufficiently stimulating for one's year abroad. But Russia's two capitals are fast becoming more and more like the rest of the world's big cities. If you want to see the Russian heartland, to get a sense for how most Russians live, you need to go beyond the capitals.

What cities in Russia are open for language study? More than you would think. One way to investigate programs is to consider where you are interested in living for a semester or year, then looking into what programs are available. It makes no sense to get excited about Novosibirsk University's programs if you don't want to live in Siberia.

Here is a brief listing of programs, by location, with the name of the college or institution that offers the study program.

Irkutsk: School for Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS), Middlebury College

Krasnodar: St. Olaf College

Nizhny Novgorod: Lingua Service

Novgorod: Miami University of Ohio

Novosibirsk: SRAS

Petrozavodsk: SRAS

Saratov: University of Wyoming

Simferopol: Willamette University

Tver: Intercontact Group

Vladimir: American Councils for International Education

Vladivostok: SRAS

Voronezh: Middlebury College

Yaroslavl: Middlebury College

Here are some questions to ask of any program:

  • What is the local, Russian institution which hosts the program, and what is this institution best known for, academically? Do they have a traditionally strong Russian language program for foreigners, or have they just added this to make some money?
  • How much influence does the foreign partner (if there is one) have over curriculum, activities, housing, etc.?
  • How long has the program been in operation? Are there some program alums you can contact for feedback?
  • How do local facilities measure up to what you are used to?
  • Is the program accredited and/or will your credits transfer to your home school?
  • What kind of orientation program is in place for new students?

All of this, of course, is simply an introduction. But if you are serious about studying Russian in the provinces, take a look at the ads in this section, follow the links from the website and do your homework. RL

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