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Campus inSaint Petersburg

American Student in St. Petersburg: Understanding Modern Russia

Addie Bacon, an American student from Smith College, who studies the Russian language and literature in the US. She had spent six months at HSE University St. Petersburg attending ‘Russian, Eurasian, and Post-Soviet Studies Programme’. Before she left to go back home we asked her a few questions about her experience studying and living in Russia.

How come you ended up at HSE University in St. Petersburg?

I came for the Summer School last year, and I had a good experience here. One of my professors back from Smith College, Eugeny Dengub, who teaches at the Russian Department, is building partnership with HSE and my university. He recommended this programme.

What courses have you been studying here?

Courses that I have taken here are the Russian language (B1, B2 level), religion with Jeanne Kormina, and society and political science with Sergei Akopov. I don’t study politics or political science, but I really enjoyed his class.

Is it difficult to study Russian?

It is, but it’s also rewarding. I have already been studying Russian for 3 years. I remember when I started the first year at my university, and I knew zero Russian. I have no Russian family, no background in Russia. I chose to study Russian on a whim. So, why not?

I studied here with Alevtina Yagodova. She is the best Russian teacher I have ever had in a way she explains things. I can tell that my Russian has improved and I feel more comfortable. I still make mistakes all the time, but I can talk to people. I understand a lot, but speaking is always the hardest part.

You are also a frequenter of the language club organized by her, aren’t you? What do you do there?

The first half we speak in Russian. Russian students make short presentations, but there is also a discussion. Classes are very casual, and they are not about checking homework or correcting mistakes. We talk about university life in Russia and other countries. The second half is in English. And at the end we have cookies and tea, and we just talk. It’s nice to hear from other students about their normal day to day things.  

What’s the main difference in studying in the US and Russia?

There are a lot of things that are different. For example, the way the schedule is built. Here we had readings and small assignments, and final big assignment at the end. Back at home, it’s split up. There are shorter assignments throughout the semester, and there is also one bigger assignment at the end, but your grade doesn’t just rely upon that one final thing.

What will you be writing your thesis about?

I don’t have a thesis. I could write it if I want, but it’s not required at my university. I am thinking of doing sort of an independent work. I really like science fiction as the genre. Science fiction is a very reflective of political situation.

In my research paper for the political science class I have written about the propaganda in the space race. It’s actually really interesting how the space race between the USSR and the US came out publicizing it differently, and how the counties viewed each other.

Is it worth coming to Russia and St. Petersburg?

St. Petersburg is a really cool city. It has got a modern aspect and old historical things side by side. I love walking along the canals, even if I’m not going anywhere in particular. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to see all that much of Russia, but I hope to in the future. We have a lot of misconceptions about Russia and the Russian people in the States. The media we get about Russia is limited, and mostly negative in the current political climate. That's part of the reason I wanted to come – to meet regular Russian people and to learn more about daily life in St. Petersburg.