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Russian Repeat: Two more students headed to Vladimir, Russia
Photos and Story by James Hill
Two second-year Russian language students have been selected as participants of the Critical Language Scholarship Program for summer study in Vladimir, Russia.
Heather DeField of Northeast Portland and Matthew Smith of Southwest Portland were awarded the scholarship, which is funded by the U.S. State Department and is considered the most prestigious language scholarship in the nation for Russian. Only 80 students are selected from across the nation from a pool of more than 500 applicants.
In addition, classmates Travis Hobbs and Christine McGovney were chosen as alternates for the program. In that last two years, PCC has sent five students to Russia through this language immersion scholarship program. Last year, Evan Schott, Darrian Bowen and Jason Junkkarinen also earned trips to Vladimir.
“I’m still in disbelief I’m going to Russia this summer,” Smith said. “It’s going to be great. The idea I’ll have to wake up in the morning and already have to be thinking about Russian because I’m living with a Russian family; I like that. That’s how I learn. There has to be high pressure.”
Trip part of U.S. program to train citizens in critical languages
A program of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Critical Language Scholarship Program offers intensive summer language institutes overseas in 13 critical need foreign languages. The Russian program consists of intensive language training with 20 hours per week of classes and a full slate of cultural events, home stays with a family and side trips to St. Petersburg and elsewhere.
“It’s a dream come true,” DeField said. “It was a combination of me crying and laughing in my car when I heard. There is nothing like immersion. It’s the way to learn. To have that experience is life changing.”
Although PCC does not offer a degree in Russian, the classes are lower division collegiate courses that transfer to a four-year college or university. There are more than 140,000 Russian-speaking immigrants in Oregon and Washington. The U.S. Census indicates that the Pacific Northwest has had the greatest influx of Russian-speaking immigrants anywhere in the nation during the last decade, making Russian one of the most commonly spoken languages in the region.
“It’s a great language to study because with so many other languages you have to leave and go someplace else to use it,” said Sylvania Campus Russian instructor and Department Chair Kristine Shmakov.
Application process in-depth
In applying, DeField and Smith had to write three essays that showed their enthusiasm for Russian and how they’ll use the language in their careers. A half hour, phone interview – entirely in Russian – will determine what level of Russian they will be placed in on the trip.
“We look at their experience in being situations where they needed to be adaptable,” added Shmakov, who is also a judge for the scholarship program, about the application process. “Are they be able to go to Russia, study there intensively and deal with all the changes in culture and life they are going to be facing?”
DeField started at PCC in the Sylvania Campus Transitions Program while taking her Russian classes and is now currently in the ROOTS program. Both of these programs serve nontraditional students, who may be the first in their families to go to college or are displaced homemakers. Her interest in learning Russian stemmed from her great grandfather working as a mining engineer in the Soviet Union during the Cold War and her father asked her to write story about his time there. But ultimately, she would like to use her skills to help the local Russian community transition into American life.
“I m really open to what I want to do, but it will involve people,” DeField said. “There’s a huge market and need for (Russian) in this region. I’m always surprised when people ask me, ‘Why Russian?’”
Students credit instructor for Russian opportunity
Smith moved to Oregon from California in 2009 after getting out of the military and started his associate’s degree at PCC. Now enrolled in the international studies program at Portland State University, he said he has no specific job in mind when he completes his education (maybe at a foreign embassy), but praised PCC’s program and Shmakov for her program’s approach to language learning.
“She is why I’m doing this because she pushes us so hard,” Smith said. “She teaches an immersion style class. You can kind of fall back on what she is saying because she has the same system everyday in class.”
DeField added that everyone is welcome and the approach is effective.
“I understand a lot more than I can say,” she said. “It gave me a good base. It’s a very supportive class, especially being an older, nontraditional student.”