From Fulbrights to semesters abroad, Edie Furniss’07 and Anna Bryan’10 each have a lengthy history with Russia and its language. Now they share that passion with students in Beloit’s Center for Language Studies.
Below, these Beloiters talk about how they fell in love with the language, their time in the country, and what it feels like to be teaching in the program that helped them gain proficiency in the first place.
What made you want to study Russian?
Edie Furniss: When I was in middle school, an exchange student from Cheboksary, Russia, named Lena lived with our family. That might have planted the seed. But I've always loved studying languages, and Russian attracted me because it was less common and I love the way it sounds.
Anna Bryan: I started studying Russian in high school, pretty much by chance. The spring before I started high school, I got a mailing from the Russian program (sent to all incoming freshman) listing the top ten reasons to study Russian and inviting me to a free dinner. My mom and I went, and were treated to a delicious meal: dumplings and borscht prepared by the students and salads and cake bought from a local Russian store. During the meal, I also got a chance to chat with students, visit the cozy and decorated classroom, and see a slideshow of pictures from the bi-annual spring break trips to Russia. On the way home, I told my mom that I wanted to study Russian and travel to Russia. Since then, I've never looked back!
When did you participate in CLS as a student, and at what level?
EF: I attended CLS after my sophomore year at Beloit - I was in third-year Russian, and Irina Dolgaleva, who is still teaching at CLS, was one of my instructors.
AB: I took Russian 4 (Political Russian) with Olga Ogurtsova in the summer of 2008, right before studying abroad on Beloit's Moscow exchange program for the fall semester.
Can you talk about your time abroad in Russia, both as a student and after?
EF: I studied abroad immediately after completing third-year Russian at CLS, which had given me a big boost in my proficiency. I was already comfortable speaking by the time I arrived in Krasnodar (by the Black Sea, in southwestern Russia), which made life with my host family much more interesting and less intimidating. I was on the ACM study abroad program; I was really glad to have the opportunity to live with a family and see a part of Russia I probably wouldn't have had I studied in only Moscow or St. Petersburg.
After graduating from Beloit, I went to St. Petersburg for ten months on a Fulbright scholarship, where I did research on Russian teaching materials and attended graduate courses on intercultural communication.
AB: I studied abroad in Moscow for one semester, on Beloit's exchange program with Russian State University for the Humanities. Before I left, four months seemed like a long time, but it went by in a flash. Adjusting to life in a foreign country was hard, but the partial immersion I got at CLS made the transition much easier for me - I was already used to hearing and speaking Russian for hours at a time and communicating with a variety of native speakers. I loved my time in Moscow and felt that my Russian improved a lot (especially listening comprehension), but I was not there long enough and had a hard time meeting Russian friends. For that reason, I decided to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grant to go back to Russian after graduating from Beloit. I was fortunate enough to be awarded the grant two years in a row: first I taught English at a university in Kursk (near Ukraine) and then I taught at a pedagogical institute in Ussuriysk (in the Far East of Russia, near Vladivostok). Working as a Fulbright ETA gave me the opportunity to live independently in a smaller city, where I got much more exposure to the Russian language and culture.
What section of CLS do you currently teach? What's it like to have come full circle, as student of Russian at the college, in the CLS program, and now teaching in the program as an instructor?
EF: I currently teach second-year Russian. It's great having the insider perspective, being a former Beloit and CLS student - I studied intensively, like my students are doing now, so I know how demanding and rewarding the experience can be. And I am very familiar with the college and the people here, which makes working here a pleasure.
AB: This summer, I am teaching Russian I and II. I studied Russian II as a freshman at Beloit, so it has been very interesting to come back and revisit the same material as a teacher at CLS. On the one hand, it's been a great way to see how far my Russian has come in the last seven years, and on the other hand, I can draw on my own memories to anticipate what difficulties my students will face and help them find ways to overcome them. It has also been an eye-opening experience to see just how much work goes on behind-the-scenes to organize CLS and make it a success. I've been very involved in the lesson-planning for the first year course - it takes a lot of time and effort, but I feel it's well worth it when I see the enthusiasm of my students and hear how much they have learned in the short time they've been here. It's also been very rewarding professionally to go back and further develop the skills I developed during my time with Fulbright. On a personal note, I've always loved being in Beloit in the summer - the campus is beautiful, the people are friendly, and the farmer's market is awesome!
What will you be doing once the CLS program ends for the summer? What's up next?
EF: After CLS ends, I'll be returning to Penn State to continue work on my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Fall semester I'll be taking my comprehensive exams, co-teaching an introduction to applied linguistics course for undergrads, and teaching in the intensive English program.
AB: After CLS, I will move back to the Washington, D.C., area to look for a job in international education and start applying for grad school. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what my career goals are, but at this point I could easily see myself working as an international student advisor at a college in the US or as a program coordinator for a Russian-focused exchange or study abroad program.