Russian at a Cultural Crossroad

In 2023, Carleton College’s off-campus program in Russian is moving to Almaty, Qazaqstan. Almaty is the largest city in Qazaqstan, its dynamic and cosmopolitan cultural capital, in sight of the Trans-Ili Alatau range of the Tian-Shan mountains. Built at the crossroads of ancient and modern trade and cultural routes, Almaty exemplifies the spirit of openness, creativity, hybridity and acceptance that has always characterized the cultures that inhabited the great steppe. The Russian language is the language of intercultural communication in Qazaqstan; it remains the language most commonly spoken in Almaty but its changing role in the region is increasingly challenged and problematized. Immersing ourselves in the Russian language and the cultures of Central Asia, we will discuss the role of the language in the debates about cultural and political identities, in postcolonial nation-building projects, and in efforts to bring together the ethnically and linguistically diverse people of Central Asia.       

On the Russian at a Cultural Crossroad program, students will devote half of their academic hours to language study. Intensive Russian classes, offering instruction in all aspects of the language (reading, oral comprehension, conversation and phonetics), will take place at Al-Farabi Qazaq National University (KazNu), one of the country’s largest and well-known universities. Students will live with families in the center of Almaty, where they will enjoy the city’s many historic landmarks, museums and cafes, parks and cultural venues, and immerse themselves in the Russian language and the life of this cosmopolitan city from day one. Through their growing knowledge of Russian, students in the program will enter conversations with people of enormously varied backgrounds. At the same time, through reading, discussions, and travel, students will explore complex issues of national, cultural and linguistic identities of people of Qazaqstan and discuss the country’s role in the region, issues that are central to Qazaqstan’s participation in global culture today and in the future.

On excursions, students will explore the neighborhoods, sites and hidden corners of Almaty, and the beautiful nature that surrounds it. Day trips will include visits to iconic sights: the Big Almaty Lake, a natural alpine reservoir of otherworldly beauty that provides drinking water to the city; Medeu, the Soviet-era outdoor skating rink in the mountains near Almaty; Shymbulak, the largest ski resort in Central Asia; Charyn Canyon, Qazaqstan’s answer to Grand Canyon, and other beautiful sights. Possible weekend trips will take us farther along the ancient Silk Road: to the monuments of ancient civilizations in Shymkent, Taraz and Turkestan, to Qazaqstan’s new futuristic capital, Astana, as well as to the places associated with the traumatic history of the long 20th century: KARLAG, the largest camp in the GULAG system, located near Karagandy; the sights of the grand Soviet projects: Semey (Semipalatinsk), Baikonur, and the Aral Sea. And, towards the program’s end, we will travel to Uzbekistan and visit the iconic cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, where the students will use their Russian-language and cultural skills to navigate cross-cultural communication along the Silk Road. Excursion program will comprise an important part of the academic program.