By: Matthew Brainovich
For many within our country, Russia is nothing more than a strange, enigmatic place with an extremely cold climate as well as a complicated history with the United States. Yet this vast and diverse state has much to offer for students as well as the common traveler. In the summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to spend a few months travelling throughout the European section of the country among the cities which make up the Golden Circle. Today, I am in a very different and seemingly much more remote part of the country, Novosibirsk, the third most populous city in the country and the largest in the Siberian region.
My name is Matthew Brainovich and I am recipient of the 2012 Padnos Scholarship as well as the 2012 Boren Scholarship provided by the National Security Education Program (NSEP) and the International Institute of Education. I am currently spending my last year as an undergraduate here in Novosibirsk, Russia in order to improve upon my fluency in the Russian language as well as my knowledge of the culture, history, and general understanding of this misunderstood and fascinating country.
Founded as an important thoroughfare along the Trans-Siberian railway in the late 19th century, Novosibirsk is today a major center of commerce, education, and technological innovation within the Russian Federation. Located on the banks of the Ob River, this important economic center may not be one of the country’s oldest cities or as rich in historical sites and as attractive to tourists as Petersburg or Moscow, yet it is still an intriguing city with a proud past and a bright future. Even though this region has one of the coldest climates on the planet, this should not discourage those seeking to become masters of Russian studies from travelling here.
I will be honest, winter in Siberia can be a dull and frustrating period. At times I have felt myself going stir crazy and the weather, coupled with my lack of proximity to Novosibirsk’s city center discourages exploration and travel to the area’s various entertainment and cultural sites. Undoubtedly, Russia’s harsh winters are the reason why it is in general recommended that students study abroad during the spring, summer, and early fall before temperatures plummet in October and the cold sets in up through March. Believe me when I say that waiting 45 minutes for a single mini-bus in a vast line of people when it is -35 degrees Celsius outside is not a pleasant experience.
Nonetheless, the weather has not prevented me from taking advantage of my time here. I am currently an intern with EducationUSA at its local center here in Akademgorodok (the student city located near Novosibirsk) and I also hold weekly English language discussion clubs at a foreign languages organization headed by one of my instructors. I regularly visit schools and academic institutions in order to give presentations on an array of subjects from the United States elections to American perceptions of other cultures to the history of the United States in general. Apart from keeping me busy, my work with these institutions has imparted on my invaluable experience and insight, especially in the language area. I definitely encourage anyone studying abroad to look into volunteer work or an internship during their time abroad. Not only will they gain noticeable experience that may one day lead to a career, but they will also be integrated into the community in which they are living and studying. Without a doubt integration, as I know all students who have studied abroad would agree, is an essential part of the experience and necessary in order to adapt to and become more knowledgeable of a country’s language and culture.