Loving RussiaGAMBIER, Ohio (October 6, 2009) In a country of extremes, two Kenyon students who spent semesters abroad in Russia found themselves worlds apart.
St. Petersburg, bustling with 4.5 million people, is the cultural center of modern Russia. Built in 1703 by Peter the Great as a "window to the West," the city merges Russian heritage with a unique European style and outlook.
Irkutsk, a Siberian city on the banks of Lake Baikal, the world's deepest and oldest lake, was once a place of exile for the Decembrists, revolutionary intellectuals of the 19th century. Surviving wooden houses from this period still ornament the eastern city, which looks south to Mongolia and east to China and experiences average winter temperatures of negative 30 degrees Celsius.
Leah V. Missik '10 of Danville, Kentucky, spent the spring semester of her junior year two minutes from the heart of St. Petersburg. On a Russian-language study program with the Council on International Educational Exchange, Leah lived with two blokadnitsi (women who survived the World War II Siege of Leningrad.) She could walk to the Hermitage. She spent her time working as a disc jockey at Club Mod, teaching English at St. Petersburg University, going to the opera, and visiting the city's hundreds of museums. "There were so many things-cultural and historical-to see and do in St. Petersburg," Missik said. "It was always fascinating."
Almost three thousand miles away, Claire M. Garmirian '10 of Westport, Connecticut, was studying Russian and the ecology of Lake Baikal at Irkutsk State University, through the C.V. Starr Middlebury School in Russia. Encouraged by her program to travel and explore, Garmirian went on ice-fishing and hiking trips around the 5,000-feet-deep Lake Baikal, travelled throughout southern Siberia, and spent a week in Mongolia. She also volunteered at Baikal Environmental Wave, a local environmental group, doing translation, joining discussions on global climate change, and helping clean up Irkutsk.
"Irkutsk was for me the opportunity to go to a place I had never imagined I would ever see," she said. "My ideas of Siberia were rewritten, and I found that I could tolerate cold on a higher level than I had expected. I know that I am going back."
By Ellie Norton '10 of Cullowhee, North Carolina