Russian RejoicingGAMBIER, Ohio (May 10, 2007) To do: class, band practice, write letter in Russian, lunch
In a single fifty-minute period, three Kenyon students penned award-winning essays in response to the prompt, "Write a letter in Russian to a famous figure in Russian history or literature." In total, 702 students submitted essays from 51 American colleges and universities in the eighth annual ACTR National Post-Secondary Essay Contest. Jason Cieply placed first among level two non-heritage learners, while Rebecca Holdorph and Ellie Norton placed third in level three and level one, respectively.
The contest is sponsored by the American Councils for International Education (ACTR), an organization that sponsors international education opportunities to foster better understanding between countries in North America, Europe, Eurasia, and South Asia. Three Russian judges evaluate the essays according to how long a student has been studying the language (level) and whether they speak Russian in the home (heritage).
Cieply, a junior who began studying Russian at Kenyon because of his interest in the literature and his own Slavic heritage, penned "a bombastically sentimental" letter to Prince Myshkin of Dostoevsky's The Idiot. Cieply attributes his success to Susmita Sundaram and Natalia L. Olshanskaya, his Russian professors, whom he describes as "both incredible educators and people."
Holdorph, a senior, believes that "the trick to learning a foreign language is to assume a sense of fearlessness and just go for it." Holdorph's Russian education began with a Rotary Youth Exchange program that sent her to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskya for her junior year of high school. There she began her transformation from a student who "literally spoke about five words in Russian" to an award-winning modern languages major at Kenyon. She wrote her letter to Peter the Great to thank him for building St. Petersburg, the city where she lived and studied during a semester abroad from Kenyon.
First-year student Norton, who began studying Russian this year at Kenyon, found the contest a chance to combine several of her interests. She wrote to one of her favorite authors, early twentieth-century writer Ivan Bunin. Her letter focused on his story "Chang's Dreams," which enabled her to use the word "dog" repeatedly--"one of my favorite Russian words," she notes. She attributes her success "largely to Professor Olshanskaya" as well as to her love of Russian, not to mention "some luck."
Kenyon students Andrea Fullerton, in her first year at Kenyon, and Alison Fisher, a junior, received honorable mentions, making this Kenyon's third and most successful year in this contest.
--Lauren C. Ostberg '07