Irkutsk, is a regional cultural center with spectacular natural attributes whose winters are among the sunniest of any major city in Russia. The life and history of the city are closely tied to Lake Baikal, known as the Pearl of Siberia, the world’s deepest fresh-water lake. Endemic species, accounting for 80% of the life found in or on the lake, thrive in Lake Baikal. Students can learn about the lake’s ecology while simultaneously benefiting from the region’s recreational opportunities. The city of 600,000 is host to multiple universities and is full of students who are active in all walks of Russian cultural life. Irkutsk boasts several theaters and museums, and the plentiful social and cultural outlets should assuage any fears about Siberian isolation. Past students have taken advantage of Irkutsk's proximity to Mongolia and China, as well as to the Russian Far East, for travel during vacations or after the conclusion of the academic program.
Students take courses at the Middlebury center in Russian language, literature, culture, politics, and history, with particular focus on regional Siberian studies, while Irkutsk State University, Middlebury's host institution, offers mainstream courses in biology, geography, and geology that focus on Lake Baikal, in addition to a full range of liberal arts disciplines.