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Live from Russia! Introduction to Russian Language and Culture

In this living and learning program, you will learn to read, write, and speak Russian—while simultaneously discovering the vast and fascinating complexity of a land that covers one-sixth of the earth’s landmass, and a people whose tremendously diverse society and dramatic history is inextricably linked to ours. During the 20th century, the Soviet Union was the “other superpower;” today, Russia is back in the news again, and will not go away! This is a wonderful time to take up Russian, as a resume-popping skill that doubles with majors in virtually any area, e.g., environmental studies, computer science, international law and politics, or any of the arts.  Most importantly, our living and learning program in Russian language and culture is “more than a language”—it’s a daily process of discovery from the inside out (what concepts do Russians associate with the words for “beauty,” “home,” or “leadership,” or “freedom,” and how do these overlap—or not—with your own word-associations?). Live From Russia! is open to everyone who wants to have fun, work hard, and see the world in a new way.  

Inside the Classroom

The best way to learn a brand new language from scratch is to do a little bit every day. In a certain sense, it’s child’s play: we all learned language as small children. So, yes, in this class, we all listen, laugh, learn, and talk to each other—in Russian. Fortunately, as adults, our brains are also ready to grasp the idea of language: how do different languages allow us to express different nuances of emotion? What counts as slang or “bad words” in different languages, and why? Why are computers still so bad at translating even relatively simple human conversations?  In Russian 101, we will try to combine the best of both worlds—language play with linguistic understanding—in a way that will keep you thinking beyond the classroom as well. This is a living and learning community that allows you to truly “live a bit of it” every day, as you walk out of class with new ideas and phrases, ready to scribble on your neighbor’s whiteboard (in Cyrillic!) or bring something to discussions in your other classes (e.g. how does Russia’s endangered species act work, and what animals are included? how does Russian health insurance work, and which citizens are included? and so forth). 

Outside the Classroom

Live From Russia! includes various fieldtrips in and around Richmond, notably to the Russian food store, where will buy ingredients to cook a Russian-style feast;  to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to see their unique collection of the Tsar’s Faberge jeweled eggs; to the Lazare Gallery of contemporary Russian painting; and, if all goes well,  to a boat trip on the James River, during the weeks when a newly-discovered population of sturgeon (“the caviar fish”) can be seen leaping out of the water under the moonlight. We will also benefit from the expertise of local experts in Russian and Soviet history and politics. 

Course Fast Facts

Yvonne Howell, Ph.D.

Fall Course:
RUSN 101: Introduction to Russian Language and Culture (1 unit)
Monday-Friday (daily), 12-12:50 p.m.

Number of Students:

Residence Hall:
Wood Hall (co-ed community)

Guest Speakers and Topics

  • Anna Gryaznova,  "Ethics and Leadership in Putin's Russia"
  • TBA,  "It's the American Dream, right?: The Richmond Russian Resettlement Project"
  • Laura Browder: "My Grandfather: Russian Communist" 
  • TBA, "Russian Hackers: Why they're so good at it"   

Cultural and Art Events 

  • VMFA Faberge exhibit
  • Richmond Ballet
  • Russian Art Gallery on the James River