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Studying Russian in St. Petersburg

by Anna Dunlavey

It all started one night when my dad and I were watching a hockey game. It was the Washington Capitals, near the end of the regular season in 2010. The camera kept going back to the Capitals’ goalie, Semyon Varlamov. This was back when very little was known about him, and everyone pronounced his name “VAR-lamov” instead of  “var-LAM-ov.” My dad told me that Varlamov didn’t speak much English, and that he had just recently come over from Russia. I was already intrigued. Then he took off his mask and shook out his sweaty hair. That, I believe, was the moment I decided I was going to learn Russian.

I know that sounds like a really dumb reason for studying Russian, just because the country is home to many hockey players. But in listening to interviews with Varlamov, as well as with the team’s captain Alex Ovechkin and my now favorite player Alexander Semin, I first noticed the beauty and mystery of the language. It seemed like a shy dialect almost, a language you mumble as words roll off your tongue. It was enough to make a shy girl like me want to know more.

So I learned more. I was possibly the only person in my class in high school who enjoyed Crime and Punishment. I did a project for that same class on the poet Andrei Voznesensky. And I told everyone that when I got to college, I was going to begin studying Russian. I don’t know if anyone necessarily believed me, but doubters aside, that was the very first class I signed up for as a freshman at Kenyon College.

Now, Varlamov no longer plays for the Capitals, but I am still obsessed with Russia and the Russian language. It’s even part of my major. I am a double major in English and Modern Languages, and the latter is when you study two languages, a primary and a secondary. French is my primary language, because I’ve been studying it for a longer period of time. Russian is my secondary language, and I’ve just finished my second year of Russian language classes.

I think I am finally ready to go to Russia and immerse myself completely in Russian culture this summer. Hopefully, I will qualify for the advanced Russian language course, and I will also be taking a history class: St. Petersburg’s Role in Russian History and Culture. I am so excited to learn in Russia and gain a perspective I could not get anywhere else. I’m nervous, of course. Russia will be different from anywhere else I’ve been in my entire life. But becoming familiar with the country is just as important as becoming familiar with the language, and I’m more than willing to take a chance and spend my summer there.

Unfortunately for me, though, I first have to get through finals week here at Kenyon.

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