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Russian language immersion program inspires IWP student

When IWP student Nicholas received an email from Jason Johnsrud, Vice President for Student Affairs, about an opportunity to participate in a language immersion program abroad, he immediately got on board.

“There are things you can’t learn inside the classroom,” Nicholas remarks.  While teaching at Xavier High School in New York City, he put this idea into practice by co-directing two Europe immersion educational programs to Italy and the Vatican and to France.  He also went with his students on service trips to Tijuana, Mexico and Tennessee.

Nicholas immediately took advantage of IWP’s new partnership with AMBerg, and decided to study Russian in St. Petersburg.  He had taken Russian area studies during his undergraduate career at St. Joseph’s University, and hoped to deepen his knowledge. 

When he arrived in Russia this past July, “I didn’t know any Russian,” Nicholas remembers.  “When I left, I could ask for directions, I could order a meal, etc.  I threw myself into the experience, and absorbed as much as I could. I was also exposed to some of the unique history of the language and some of their common expressions.”

During the month he spent abroad, Nicholas took class every day for four hours, five days a week.  His classes were small–the largest had just six students.  “You could schedule individual classes or a medium-sized class with about ten people, depending on your preference,” says Nicholas.  After this accelerated language program, he says, “You understand more than just the formal textbook language but the living vernacular.”

The experience was “educational, beyond just the language component,” he comments.  “You immerse yourself in another culture, and get to know people with another outlook on life in almost every aspect.  I learned Russian history through the eyes of Russians, and I saw how they view their society and others.” 

Back at IWP for the fall semester, Nicholas is continuing his Russian language studies with Professor Basil Bessonoff.  For Prof. Robert Stephan’s class on Spies, Subversion, Terrorism and Influence Operations, Nicholas is examining how the Soviet Union attempted to subvert our culture through our educational system.  They strategically placed people who were either communists or sympathizers in U.S. schools, who would then create sympathy for communism among their students, who in turn would influence others in the culture.  “Targeting institutions who train future leaders can be very effective,” Nicholas comments.  “They end up making policy decisions.”