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According to student Sarah Norris (MANPTS ’14), if you want to learn about Russian policy and perspectives in the context of language learning, there is no better place for you than the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, thanks to its Graduate Initiative in Russian Studies (GIRS). The program offers students with advanced language skills the opportunity to participate in an active dialogue with Russian and Eurasian experts on a range of issues such as Russian politics, economics, and security.

The program, which is generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, includes public lectures where members of the public, students from the neighboring Naval Postgraduate School and Defense Language Institute—in particular Foreign Area Officers studying Russian—and of course Middlebury Institute students, staff, and faculty have the unique opportunity to engage with some of the most interesting academic figures of current-day Russia.

“It has been incredible to get to interact so closely with these amazing people,” shares Aleksandr Vlasenko (MANPTS ’14), who was born in Uzbekistan, but grew up in the United States and aspires to a career as security expert with a focus on Central Asia. He smiles broadly while explaining that he and his classmates get special access to the visiting experts who teach classes in Russian and engage in dialogue with students. He says that Professor Anna Vassilieva, director of GIRS, has a “keen understanding of what students require,” and tailors the program to fit their needs. As a heritage Russian speaker, Aleks came to MIIS seeking to elevate his language skills to a professional level, and says this excellent program has helped him achieve that and more.

Ruben Gzirian (MANPTS ’14) also came to MIIS as a heritage speaker, hoping to take his Russian language skills to the next level as he focuses on his security studies, specializing on issues related to Ukraine and the Russian Federation. He likens professor Vassilieva to a mother who cares deeply about the interests of her students, helping them to achieve their individual goals.

Sara has been fascinated by Russian language and culture since she was an undergraduate student at the University of Georgia. She says she practices her language skills daily and last year spent several months in Moscow as a Boren Fellow. Along with two other students, she works on a GIRS project translating surveys from the non-governmental Levada Center. Every month, the Levada Center conducts national polls across the 45 regions of the Russian Federation asking people about their attitudes towards a range of issues. The Levada Center surveys are now available in English thanks to the GIRS and its students.

For more information about the Graduate Initiative in Russian Studies and its programs, visit the GIRS website.

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Jason Warburg

Eva Gudbergsdottir