Name: Michael Druskovich
Location of Study: St. Petersburg or Moscow, Russia
Program of Study: Russian Business
A brief personal bio:
I was born and raised in Traverse City, small town on the coast of Lake Michigan in northern Michigan. After graduating from St. Francis High School, I began attending Notre Dame in the fall of 2012. After taking first year classes in various disciplines, I became particularly interested in two fields of study: Russian and Economics. Upon the end of my freshman year I declared majors in both fields and haven’t looked back since. When I graduate, I hope to attain a job combining both of these interests.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
The SLA Grant is important to me because it gives me a unique opportunity to study a foreign language in the native country and to immerse myself in its culture. By acquiring this grant, I am able to pay for the steep costs that the program incurs. I hope to one-day work as a sort of mediator between the United States and Russia, specifically in private business. With this grant, I will be able to see significant improvement in my language abilities and culture familiarization during the course of my study abroad this summer. This will provide an important stepping-stone for future study as well as professional development in Russia.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
Two of my big goals for this summer are to increase proficiency in the Russian language and to accumulate myself with the culture there. I will be living and studying at a local university in St. Petersburg, where classes, cultural excursions, and every day interactions will be incredibly useful to achieving these goals. This grant allowed me to stay for a period of roughly ten weeks, a timespan in which I believe that I could significantly improve in my language comprehension as well as to become accumulated in the local Russian culture. I also hope to see many of the great Russian festivals, landmarks, monuments, and museums while I am there.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate in Russian on various different political, economic, and day-to-day topics.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to read various Russian works without the need of some sort of translation guide.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to demonstrate cultural competence and to feel comfortable completed daily activities.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to understand the Russian language in a business context well enough to communicate with Russian professionals.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, write and listen at a level of proficiency equal to two semesters beyond my current Russian coursework placement at Notre Dame.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
There will be plenty of opportunity to further enhance my speaking, reading, and writing abilities, as well as to participate in various cultural activities. Upon arrival, the program I will be participating in will have many activities revolved around becoming familiar with the Russian landscape as well as to become acquainted with other Russian students. The courses I take at the university are all Russian language courses in various different topics, including business and politics. I will also be participating in many common day-to-day activities that will help improve my Russian including shopping, eating out, and visiting the city. Guided tours of major landmarks and museums as well as trips to other cities within Russia are all a part of my program. Other cultural activities such as participating in local seminars, festivals, etc. are also included.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
It’s hard to already believe that I have completed over two weeks of class, as time has surely blew by. I’ve finally begun to settle in, and routine activities (buying groceries, navigating the metro, talking to cleaning ladies, etc.) has become much easier. Classes continue to engage us by being able to only use Russian for the four hours that we are there. The teacher does a very good job of stretching our limits of the Russian language during class.
Last Friday, we got the opportunity to meet some local Russians and go out on the town with them. They all knew a decent amount of English, but most of the time we found ourselves trying to communicate in Russian. We went around to various sights in the city as well as some local hangouts, where we played games and asked questions to become better acquainted with each other. I got to know one of the students in particular very well, and we have hung out a decent amount of times since. These interactions far exceed anything in the classroom, as I am more actively engaging in typical Russian conversation (not to say that the lessons are of no use). Today, Wednesday, our program is giving us a guided tour of the Hermitage, one of the most famous Russian museums. Situated near the Neva, the Hermitage is a former Russian palace that has now been turned into a state art museum.
Other than classes, the rest of the week consists of a “quest” (of which we don’t know the details which yet), as well as another urban tour and a informational discussion with one of the program coordinators about the current situation in Ukraine and how to affects Russia.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
The last week has been a rather busy time in Russia, as we went on multiple excursions, including trips to the Hermitage and nearby Veliky Novgorod, one of the first Slavic settlements in Russia. Not only was the collection of artwork in the Hermitage impressive, but the building itself was a thing of beauty. Built by Peter the Great as a winter palace, the Hermitage now hosts one of the largest art collections in Europe. The building itself was built to extreme detail, and the chandeliers alone required two hundred servants to maintain and take care of. Since the Hermitage is such a large building, our tour consisted of only the highlights of what the Hermitage has to offer: paintings by Rembrandt and da Vinci, as well as statues by Michelangelo, among others.
On Saturday we were able to visit Veliky Novgorod, one of the oldest Slavic settlements in Russia. Many impressive statues, churches, and monuments lay here that commemorate it’s history as well as many of it’s influential leaders. Our tour took us all over the city, visiting it’s Kremlin (fortress), wooden architecture museum, and the sites where many of the old churches were built.
Aside from our program’s weekly tourist excursions, I can already begin to feel the benefits of learning a language in the native country. My listening has become exponentially better, a result of being constantly surrounded by the Russian language. This of course has also transferred over to other aspects of language, including reading, writing and speaking. Common everyday phrases and commands are now second nature, and being able to relay what you want to other people has become somewhat easier (although there is still plenty of improvement to be had).
Also, now that we’ve had a wide variety of traditional Russian foods, I am beginning to pinpoint those that are the best. I, in particular, enjoy Russian “Pirogi’s” which is buttered bread with meat, chicken, or mushrooms on the inside. This is a very popular Russian food and is the perfect when I am in need of a quick bite to eat. Kvass, a Russian drink that is derived from bread, is beginning to grow on me. Tasting sort of like apple juice, Kvass is a very popular Russian drink that is sold in almost every market. At first I was a little thrown off by the taste, but after trying it a few times it has begun to grow on me.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
Yet another busy week has flown by, as tours, fourth of July celebrations, and a trip to the beach has left us with little downtime. At the beginning of the week, a few members of the program were brought along a tour of Dostoevsky in St. Petersburg. We started out visiting his museum, located in his final apartment. Dostoevsky was known for incorporating many actual places in St. Petersburg into his novels, and after touring around the museum, we were shown these places in St. Petersburg.
Our second tour was a combined tour of St. Isaac’s Cathedral as well as the Russian museum. The most notable part about St. Isaac’s was the remarkable view of the city that we were able to see atop of the cathedral. The Russian museum, much like the Hermitage, was not only full of remarkable works of art, but the building itself was a masterpiece.
A trip to the beach on Sunday (the day in which I write this blog entry) was a much need day of relaxation along the Gulf of Finland. Finding a beach in St. Petersburg is much harder than one may think, as much of the city doesn’t have access to sandy beaches, and Google doesn’t offer much help, but after some clever manipulation, I was able to find a beach just north of the city. The logistics were rather simple, as a quick metro ride followed by a short ‘shared taxi’ ride made the trip rather easy and chip (roughly 2 dollars each way).
An aside on the transportation systems. The metro is by far the most impressive I have ever seen. Not that I have huge sample size, but I’m just convinced nothing could ever possible compare. For starters, the metro itself is located deep underground. Seriously deep. It takes a couple minutes just to get up and down the escalators to the trains. The stations themselves are a work of art. Many contain large murals of famous Russians and the stations are kept very clean and nice. Trains also conveniently arrive very often, and in the main hubs take no more than a minute or two for a train to arrive. In, Russia there also exists “shared taxis” which are essentially small buses that take passengers to popular to areas around town. For about a dollar, my friends and I were able to take one of these shared taxis from the station to the beach, which was way more convenient than the bus which runs about once every hour.
After the beach, we stopped by an Armenian restaurant to have some dinner. Food is very well priced for a big city here, as some lamb, borscht, and other vegetables ran me only about 15 dollars. On the way back I decided to try some Russian ice cream by buying a tub of raspberry ice cream at the local market. I had heard that Russian ice cream was very good, but I really hadn’t had much of it. Needless to say, I ended up eating the whole entire tub and found my Achilles’ heel in Russia.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
This week was highlighted by our end of the week trip to Moscow. Embarking on a overnight train late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning, I, along with two other friends from Notre Dame, traveled to the historic Russian capital. The train was rather cramped. Opting to purchase the cheapest train (ours took 8 hours, some high speed trains take only 4), our quarters were cramped and the beds that we had been given to sleep on were not conducive to anyone who was over 5’10”. Fortunately, the train did give up good blankets to sleep on, and I was able to sleep the entire 8 hours of the trip.
Upon arrival, we immediately checked out Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral, which are just as impressive in person. What was even more surprising was the incredibly upscale department store opposite of Lenin’s Mausoleum (where they house his dead body). Inside, fountains and high end department stores (Hugo Boss, Luis Vitton, etc.) lined the massive mall. It was kind of comical to see the one of the most sweeping signs of capitalism right across from the former symbol of the Soviet Union. The rest of the day consisted of walking around other significants in Moscow and dinner at a highly rated restaurant near the city center. Unfortunately, Russians still haven’t grasped the concept of dining completely and often get the timing of meals wrong. One of my friends ordered a small appetizer before his meal, and was served his appetizer at the same time as my other friend and I got our main course. Afterwards, there was sort of an awkward time where our friend finally got his main dish while we had already been done for quite some time.
Friday consisted of me visiting a potential study abroad location at the New School of Economics in Moscow. The director of the program as well as several of the professors had invited me to stop by and talk with them briefly about the school and any questions I might have. Many of these professors had various nationalities and all had very impressive resumes with doctorate degrees from many of the top universities (MIT, Princeton) in the United States. They were all familiar with the University of Notre Dame and were very excited to have a potential student from the school come visit. Priding themselves as being the top school for economics in Moscow, they are very keen on having students from top western universities come study at their school. In fact, one of the professors was familiar with a professor from the Notre Dame’s Russian department.
Interested in acquiring some souvenirs from our trip, I headed to the largest open air market in Moscow to haggle with local vendors for their goods. Using the cover of a Croatian visitor, I was able to get the Slavic discount from vendors as well as practice some Russian with sellers. Being Croatian was perfect, because since nobody spoke Croatian, nobody could blow my cover. This led to some awesome steals, including being able to get a Russian ushanka (stereotypical Russian winter hat) for roughly $7. After buying some goodies, my friends and I continued on for our last portion of our Moscow trip. We visited the Red October candy factory, as well as some other important monuments before heading back to St. Petersburg late that night. The train ride back was once again fairly smooth, with the exception of everyone being woken up late because of a crying baby (the parents had decided to use some terrible judgement in bringing their small children/babies on this train).
This next week also looks very adventure-filled, with tours of the Baltika Beer Factory (in typical Russian oligarchical style, Baltika controls over one-third of the the beer market) and a day trip to the Peterhof Summer Gardens, an impressive Palace located just south of St. Petersburg.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
These last two weeks have been filled with many activities, including trips to Russian bath houses, theme parks, Peterhof, etc.
First, the bath houses. Russian bath houses are a very popular thing amongst Russians, especially with the older generation. Usually once a week (historically held on Saturday, but now its whenever) Russians will congregate to a local bath house, which consists of a extremely hot sauna, a cold pool, and showers. I showed up and paid roughly $9 on what was designated as a “men’s day” at the bath house. Upon entrance, I stripped down and went into the sauna, which is like your typical sauna except its so unbearably hot that one can only last a few minutes before having to leave. While in the sauna, people hit themselves with birth branches, which supposedly increases blood flow and releases toxins from your body. Immediately after leaving the sauna, one jumps into a pool of cold water, and leaves one feeling surprisingly good. Showers can be an optional pit stop, but this basic cycle of sauna and cold pool can last anywhere up to two hours. After spending my two hours in a Russian bath house, I wanted to go back again.
Peterhof was Russia’s famous summer palace for their czars. Magnificant fountains, accompanied by palaces and oceanside villas, makes this one of St. Petersburg’s top tourist destinations. It’s truly hard to describe the beauty in a blog post, but a quick Google search will give you a basic idea of what Peterhof is all about.
Another interesting aspect of my trip was visiting St. Petersburg’s amusement park, known as Divo Ostrov. The font used in it’s name as well as many of the mascots that are displayed are direct rip offs of Disney. Instead of paying to enter the park, the park charges a per ride fee. Depending on the ride, it can cost anywhere form $5-$9. Aside from typical roller coasters, the park offered two more unique rides. One was known as the “Catapult”, where patrons are strapped in pairs into a ball where they are launched in a style that is much like a giant bungee jump. Before the ball begins to spin, the ride offers a brief, but incredible, view of St. Petersburg.
As my time begins to wind down in St. Petersburg, my classes have become more enjoyable. Instead of struggling through the all Russian lessons, the class now consists mostly of Russian language discussions, as speaking has become easier and our vocabulary has expanded. Outside the classroom activities involving the language have also taken the place of tours, where a group of students from my program embark into the city to participate in Russian language activities with locals who also want to practice their English.
It’s hard to believe that there are less than two weeks left!
Approaching my final week, things have been beginning to wind down in St. Petersburg. Tours have ceased, and the only activity remaining is a end of the year boat tour, which will keep this blog entry rather short.
Last week, our big event was meeting locals who are practicing their English and playing various games to help improve our speaking and listening abilities in Russian. Games like Taboo (where people are given words and have to describe them so the other person can figure out what it is–similiar to Catchphrase) were played, creating a fun and stimulating environment.
This last weekend I’ve decided I needed to visit all my favorite food joints before I leave. This means eating all the Russian bests: blini, pishki, pirogi, etc. I started by going to Teremok, where they specialize in various different types of blini. Blini is a cross between regular bread and a pancake, and the closest thing we have in America is the bread on the McGriddle sandwiches at McDonald’s. My go-to blini is either a meat filled blin (you can never go wrong by going meat filled) but I decided to branch out and go with their mushroom filled blin. It was a success, and now have a favorite blin in the mushroom filled variety.
Next was shaverma, a local import from many of the Arabic and Central Asian immigrants. Made on a pita, shaverma consists of chicken, vegetables, and special yogurt sauce which makes this a convenient and extremely tasty meal. This next week I hope to eat pishki (round donuts covered in powdered sugar) and my personal favorite Russian meal, pirog. A famous Russian cafe called “Shtolle” makes the hands down best pirog in the world, and one can get essentially any flavor of pirog until the store runs out. Anything from fruit to mushrooms to cottage cheese to various meats fills a buttery bread outside, which makes a meal so good that you have to go back for more.
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
After a week of being able to settle down in St. Petersburg, I finally believe I’m starting to settle. With four hour long classes multiple days of the week as well as various cultural activities, my trip has been relatively busy. We started out by doing touristy things: watching the bridges raise at 1am, tours of the city as well as its impressive monuments, and eating some typical Russian food. St. Petersburg is built unlike any other American city I’ve seen, as it does not have many of the typical large skyscrapers that encompass the likes of Detroit, Chicago, New York, etc. Instead, St. Petersburg still uses many of it’s old palaces (there are a lot of them) as museums, offices, etc.
One of the more difficult parts of entering Russia was the immediate immersion. While I felt comfortable with much of the vocabulary associated with the practices, hearing the Russians use it at a fast pace was a little daunting. Going to the supermarket and ordering food for the first time was an experience, but after a while there is a sort of rhythm that one can get used to. Also, being familiar with food vocabulary was particularly useful, as many Russian products that are similar to US products have much different names. One example is Russian ?????? which is essentially cottage cheese. A friend who tried buying sour cream and onion chips was also very dismayed when he didn’t properly read the label of the bag and instead got “sour cream and dill” chips. Unfortunately, those aren’t quite as good as the former.
Classes are very useful. One of the things that will be the most beneficial is our focus on listening and speaking. The teacher continuously usually Russian to talk and ask questions either in general or over various texts we read. This helps us get comfortable with understanding what is being said and how to respond properly.
All in all, the first week was a success and has gotten me excited for the rest of the summer. The weather in general has been nice and warm (with the exception of rain) and St. Petersburg’s famous “White Nights” are just around the corner. It’s a great time to be in Russia!