Students in Russian courses travel to Moscow over spring break

Jessica Lawson
April 05, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The College of the Liberal Arts offers many embedded courses to Penn State students. Embedded courses are semester-long classes that include an optional short-term international experience related to the course content.

Students in Russian courses this semester had the opportunity to attend the Russian Cultural Immersion program in Moscow over spring break. Irina Mikaelian, teaching professor of Russian, and Yelena Zotova, assistant teaching professor of Russian, led this year’s trip. The program was organized and supported through the School of Russian and Asian Studies, a leader in advanced programming in the post-Soviet area over the past two decades.

The program included both academic and cultural components. Students attended lectures on the Russian opera, contemporary art, geography, and Old-Novgorodian birch-bark letters. The lectures were held by faculty of the Higher School of Economics, a leading Russian University.

“My favorite lecture was on contemporary art,” said Olivia McCormick, a first-year student planning to major in international politics and Slavic studies. “I think that the students in the embedded course enjoyed that the lectures were on an array of topics because it seemed like everyone appreciated and thought about different lectures.”

Megan McConnell, a senior majoring in international politics, found the Novgorodian birch-bark letters lecture to be particularly fascinating.

“It’s incredible how much we’ve been able to learn how many theories have had to be corrected because of the letters left by ancient people,” she said. 

Cultural activities included a city tour, visits to museums, the opportunity to see a multitude of historical and cultural landmarks, a ballet performance, and even a rap concert.

“I loved visiting the Kremlin and Armory. Inside the Kremlin there were grand buildings and churches that we got to go into and see,” said Courtney Kay, a junior studying psychology. “We learned about the past leaders of Russia who lived in the Kremlin and its history. The Armory was so cool because we got to see the collected artifacts of the past tsars of Russia. We saw old carriages, crowns, gifts, etc., of the past tsars. It was awesome seeing in person the belongings of the tsars and rulers that I had learned about.”

Katerina Ellis, a junior majoring in management information systems, enjoyed taking a backstage tour of the Bolshoi Theatre.

“I play flute and piccolo, so being able to listen to the musicians rehearse was like a dream,” she said. “Their piccolo player was the best piccolo player I have ever heard. There are very few piccolo players in this world that can match the ensemble like that.”

Besides organized events and activities, Penn State students had the opportunity to talk with local students. These conversations helped students of both backgrounds gain more knowledge about the other’s culture and encouraged open dialogue about both their similarities and differences.

“One of my favorite memories of the trip was sitting in the stalovia (cafeteria) of the dorm we were staying in and talking with the Russian students,” said Kay. “We compared our countries, experiences and thoughts about each other’s countries in an open conversation. It was really cool to become friends with these students and learn about their lives.”

Students enjoyed the structure of the course. Prior to the trip, they learned about Russia, specifically Moscow and all the sights they would visit. Then, they got to connect what they learned and see it in real life.

“Not only did I learn before the program in class, but every experience while traveling was active learning. I loved being able to talk to Russian students,” said Kay. “My favorite excursion was either the Armory where we got to see all the artifacts of the old Tsars, or the Bolshoi Theatre where we saw the ballet dancers and orchestras practicing.”

Embedded courses are available in many different departments and on various topics. To learn more about liberal arts embedded courses and see more programs, visit

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 05, 2019