Russian Students Report on Summer Adventures

30 October 2006

Early last spring, five Carleton Russian students were awarded fellowships to conduct research or volunteer projects in Russia and Ukraine. All five, now seniors, participated in Carleton’s Russian Seminar in Moscow during the spring of 2005.

Ben Owens, a Russian major from Athens, Ohio, received a grant from the American Society for Ecological Initiatives to spend a month working on the Lappland Reserve near Monchegorsk. Located on the Kola Peninsula in Russia’s far northwest, the area experiences ‘midnight sun’ in late June very year, when it is possible to read by sunlight even at two or three o’clock in the morning. Thanks to a separate grant from the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, he then made his way to Lake Ladoga, the largest lake in Europe (though not in Russia) and the island of Valaam, where he spent a month restoring the well-known monastery there with a group of Russians and three other foreigners. They worked side by side with the monks themselves for ten hours a day, digging trenches, moving hay, collecting stones for the sidewalks, and performing other necessary tasks. Though the labor was exhausting, Ben particularly enjoyed getting a chance to talk with some of the younger monks about their own lives, and even playing soccer with them.

Nazish Zafar, a sociology/anthropology major from Singapore, received a Kelley Fellowship to carry out research for her comps project comparing the social adaptation of institutionalized children in Russia and Singapore. She spent two months volunteering with orphans from a variety of residential institutions, including “psycho-neurological” orphanages for children who have been diagnosed as physically or mentally disabled. She was able to interview orphans, their caretakers, orphanage directors, and other foreign volunteers, and is currently in the process of transcribing these tapes into English.

Nate Chappelle, a biology major from Pierre, South Dakota, was awarded a Newman Language Scholarship from Carleton to spend six weeks in Siberia this summer assisting three Russian scientists from the Krasnoyarsk Institute of Forestry. The team is studying the behavior of forest fires in the taiga around the southern edge of Lake Baikal. The only piece of equipment they brought with them on the 21-hour train ride from Krasnoyarsk to the lake shore was a shovel head, Nate said, “Everything else they needed came from the forest itself.” They were particularly impressed by his ability to use an axe, and somewhat taken aback when he revealed that he doesn’t, in fact, like tea.

Jonathan Rodkin, a sociology/anthropology major from Greenwich, Connecticut, received a Class of 1963 Fellowship from Carleton to spend two months this summer studying social networks among elderly Jews in Odessa, Ukraine. This research will form the basis for his senior comprehensive exercise. Jonathan writes:

“Prior to my trip, I became familiar with the conventions of social network analysis andconstructed a survey in Russian that I used throughout my time in Odessa. A typical day there consisted of morning services at an Orthodox synagogue, after which I tried to convince congregants to complete the survey with me. Then I would often walk to the headquarters of one of the main Jewish social service agencies in town, where elderly community members are able to pick up their monthly package of foodstuffs. There, I sat in an office and, again, tried to attract people to participate in my study. As my weeks in Ukraine ticked by, the number and strength of the relationships I was forming grew. By late July, I found myself fielding invitations to birthday parties, various classes at the Jewish senior center, Shabbat celebrations, museum tours, trips to the beach, and other events and places. Sometimes I invested my time wisely, and emerged from engagements with completed surveys in my file. Often, though, I came up empty. One steamy afternoon, I went to a weekly gathering of elderly, vision-impaired members of the Jewish community in a woman’s apartment. Unexpectedly, the agency that organized the group sent an accordion player to play some tunes to commemorate a member’s recent 80th birthday. You wouldn’t have known Fanya had just turned 80, judging by her saucy, low-cut summer dress and her insistence that the young American get over his shyness and dance the waltz with her. My waltz was rusty, and I got pretty sweaty in that stuffy living room, and I didn’t succeed in completing a survey that day, but dancing with
Fanya was a true delight.”