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Matthew Estes'18, Russian Language and Religious Studies Major from Portland, Ore.

February 2018

Major: Russian Language and Religious Studies
Portland, Ore.

  • Dr. Donna Oliver, Professor of Russian and Martha Peterson Chair for Distinguished Faculty Service
  • Dr. Debra Majeed, Professor in the Religious Studies Program

Matthew Estes'18

What activities are you involved with on campus? 

I am on the executive board of BSSFA (Beloit Science Fiction and Fantasy Association), I host Dungeons and Dragons Night on campus, I am a regular member of Russian club, I host a radio show on WBCR, and last but not least, I'm a Senior Class Officer for the Class of 2018.

What else are you involved with off campus? 

I try to volunteer at the schools whenever I get the chance, and back in my hometown of Portland I have done internships at Providence Hospital.

You studied abroad in Moscow and visited various Russian museums, landmarks, and other tourist destinations. Can you share a little bit about that experience?

I had a great time studying abroad in Moscow. I stayed in century old dorms and cooked for myself most of the time. In the evenings and weekends I traveled all around the city, going to soccer matches, Russian malls, museums, parks and (unsuccessfully) trying to learn to ice skate in Gorky Park. I met lots of new friends, got to explore the nightlife of clubs and parties and great restaurants all over the city, as well as fun outings together.

I visited famous Russian landmarks such as the Kremlin, Red Square, St. Basil's Cathedral, the Tretyakov museum, and lesser known landmarks such as Novodevichy cemetery, and even a gallery opening at the Pushkin Museum. In a trip to St. Petersburg I visited the world famous Hermitage and the State Museum for the Arts, as well as St. Isaac's Cathedral.

What prompted your interest in studying abroad in Moscow?

The study abroad was pretty much a done deal when I chose to major in Russian Language. Moscow hosts a great exchange program with us, and I was excited to go. 

What implications did your study abroad have for the research you've done at Beloit?

I was visiting so many tourist destinations and became very interested in who else was visiting. Internal tourism seemed very popular. So then my research developed around studying the overarching tourism habits of Russia, and how geo-political happenings were affecting that.

Can you talk about the research that followed from your semester abroad in Moscow?

My research project focused on the internal and external factors affecting Russian domestic tourism. By analyzing various policy changes, projects, and economic events, I, with the help of various economic journals, pieced together an understanding of why tourism for Russians was shifting from abroad to domestic. Spending and travel abroad saw around a 30% decrease each in the period of about 2014-2016 compared to previous years. On the other hand, domestic travel increased by a similar 30%.

The most important factor was the 2014 economic collapse of Russia. The price of oil dropped rapidly, and the value of the Ruble nearly halved. This is because oil makes up around 70% of all Russian GDP. The Ruble halves, meanwhile the Euro maintains stability, which severely harms the once dominant EU control over Russian tourism. In that same period of time, Turkey and Egypt both maintained top spots as Russian tourism destinations. Their currency was still even/less than the Ruble, and so exchange rates didn't harm the exchange between the two countries. Egypt had actually begun to develop special packages and deals for Russian travelers when ISIS bombed a Russian airline departing from Egypt, killing all 200 passengers. Since this event, Russian travel to Egypt has been heavily regulated and restrictive, effectively closing most of Egypt off for Russian tourists. Turkey and Russia's opposing involvement in the Syrian Civil War is what caused recent fallout between the two nations, when conflicting air-spaces caused a Turkish fighter to shoot down a Russian jet. Putin described the event as a "stab in the back" and restricted numerous deals with Turkey, including tourism and travel access. This has left many Russians without their favorite travel destinations.

In response to this, the state government, hand-in-hand with wealthy investors, have begun to develop cities into tourist attractions, most famously Sochi, which was the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Post-Olympics, this city has become Russia's premier destination for extreme sports and luxury relaxation. Moscow has seen a great deal of development in the past year or so, preparing it for hosting the 2018 World Cup for soccer. They're expected to receive 20 million tourists for the sporting event.

What role did you mentors play in this research project?

It was nice having a Professor giving feedback and advice and small tasks and goals to help develop the research project over a period of time. Though a great deal of it was hands off and independent as well.

How did your time in Russia inform your vision for the future of your education and career?

I think I developed a large sense of independence, and a newfound desire to live and work in a big, fast paced city. I gained access to a lot of cultural touchstones and ability to communicate with Russian immigrants in America (and have since used that on job applications multiple times; Portland has a high Russian immigrant population).