FAQs

  1. Why should I study Russian?
  2. Why should I concentrate in Russian?
  3. I have come to Russian studies late in my undergraduate career - can I still do a degree in Russian?
  4. I want to do more than the language requirement.  Is there a way of gaining official recognition for my work in Russian?
  5. How do I declare a concentration, or complete my concentration release?
  6. Can I get credit by examination or credit for courses I have placed out of in Russian?
  7. Can I travel to Russia independently, can I travel within Russia independently?
  8. How can i transfer credit for Russian courses I have done elsewhere?
  9. I am a "native speaker"/"heritage-speaker;" what courses could I take?
  10. Should I choose Russian or Russian and East European Studies as my concentration?
  11. What opportunities for study in Russia are there?
  12. What organizations and events at UM facilitate Russian conversation?
  13. Where could I find russophone communities and resources locally, outside of the University?

  1. Why should I study Russian?

    Taken from Prof. Michael Makin's Twenty Questions on Russian Language and Literature
    If you ask most Russianists (people who study the language and culture of Russia), they will tell you that they became fascinated with Russia, intrigued by the Russian language, and that they fell in love with Russia’s great literature, and that these are good enough reasons on their own to study Russian.  And they are.   But there are lots of other reasons, too.   Russian is the primary language of the 150 million citizens of the Russian Federation, as the Russian state calls itself, and is the native language of approximately 30 million people living in the other states which were formed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  In many if not all of those states (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kirgystan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia) Russian is widely spoken by people who are not themselves ethnic Russians, and it is also spoken – if sometimes reluctantly – by many people in the other countries of the former “Warsaw Pact.”  In other words, it offers a key to the parts of Europe which will be most changed by economic development in the coming century.  And while Russia itself may not look like a wealthy, or even economically healthy, country right now, it has enormous reserves of valuable natural resources and an extremely well-educated populace – in other words, it has great potential for economic growth.
    Moreover, the last few years have seen a great improvement in the Russian business climate, and current indications are that it is becoming increasingly easy and more profitable for western companies to do business in Russia.  Given these circumstances, knowing the country’s language and culture will certainly give graduates looking to work in international business a very important line in their résumé.  Moreover, knowing any other country’s language and culture is both very useful and very appealing to employers and to professional schools, while knowing the language and culture of a major and very remarkable European country indicates that a person can handle all kinds of different and even difficult challenges (although the Russian language is really nowhere near as hard as people who have never learned it tend to think) and can acquire useful knowledge on a very significant part of the world.  With the globalization of business, employers are often very interested in hiring people who show that they are familiar with a culture well beyond their own, and are comfortable handling the differences and even difficulties that working in a different culture brings.  As Sally Adamson Taylor, in her book Culture Shock, puts it, “assigning home office personnel abroad is an expensive and complex proposition”.   She cites the authors of Leaders Sans Frontiers, who assert that when staff assigned abroad return home early “they cost their company between $25,000 and $125,000 in wasted capital, not to mention the hard feelings left with clients they were unable to deal with successfully” (and those costs were estimated almost fifteen years ago!).  She concludes, “multinational companies need leaders who are internationally adept” (Sally Adamson Taylor, Culture Shock! France, revised edition, Portland, Oregon, 1999, p. 211 – incidentally, although she writes about France, her chapters on general “culture shock” will help anyone traveling overseas).  So, yes, learning Russian could make a big difference to your career.

  2. Why should I concentrate in Russian?
    The Russian concentration enables you to gain a very solid grounding in the language (most concentrators take the equivalent of at least four years of Russian), and an equally good introduction to the literature and culture of Russia.  By the time you have finished your concentration, you will speak and read Russian with good fluency, understand spoken Russian well, and write well enough for most everyday forms of communication.
    You will know quite a lot about one of the world’s undoubted great literatures, and understand why it has had such enormous impact on other world cultures.  You will have read authors such as Tolstoy (War and Peace), Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment), Chekhov (The Cherry Orchard), Bulgakov (Master and Margarita).  You might well have studied some of the most famous films and film-makers in the world (Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, for example, was once voted the greatest film ever made).  You will have completed a liberal-arts degree which will show that you can: learn a language well; analyze complex materials (literary texts, films, etc); write analytical and discursive prose; enter into a foreign culture and understand it (see question one). 
    You will quite probably have lived and studied, perhaps even worked in Russia. This will certainly make you stand out when you apply to graduate and professional schools, or look for employment, and the skills you have learned will serve you well.  Our graduates are, without doubt, very competitive in applications to law schools and to business schools, and seem in general to appeal to employers.  In recent years, a lot of Michigan Russianists have also been concentrating in a social-sciences subject (history, psychology, economics, for example), or have even been completing joint undergraduate degrees, for example with the Engineering School.  The academic and professional profile of such double-concentrators and dual-degree students has been especially strong.
    And, by the way, our concentration program is such that Michigan Russianists form a tight-knit and friendly community (it’s not too big), and take classes in small and medium-sized classes.  Our faculty and our GSIs are very accessible, and love to answer questions from undergraduates.  Office hours of faculty and GSIs are posted in the Department’s main office (3040 MLB), where the Student Services Assistant, slavic@umich.edu is a mine of information. 
  3. I have come to Russian studies late in my undergraduate career - can I still do a degree in Russian?
    Of course!  Even though you need a minimum of three years of Russian language, or the equivalent (and most students do four), as well as two courses in Russian language and culture in Russian, three in English, and two more courses in the Department, plus a cognate – wow! – don’t despair.  Think about the following: the Intensive Program in Russian Language, based in the Residential College, offers the equivalent of two years of Russian over a year of study in two eight-credit courses (details at www-personal.umich.edu/~resco/ contact the director, Alina Makin at resco@umich.edu; the University of Michigan’s Summer Language Institute regularly offers intensive courses at all four levels of Russian (details at lsa.umich.edu/sli, or call the Slavic Department at 734-764-5355); there are lots of other summer-study programs in the US, and great opportunities for study in Russia (see one of the questions below).  So, if you are determined, you can complete the equivalent of three years of Russian in one calendar year, and the odds are that you will be a pretty good Russianist at the end of that year.  If you push it, you can complete all the other requirements in one more year.  Questions – talk to any of the Michigan Russianists, and write to the concentration adviser at mlmakin@umich.edu. 
  4. I want to do more than the language requirement.  Is there a way of gaining official recognition for my work in Russian?
    The Slavic Department offers a minor in Russian (and minors in Czech and Polish).  These minors require some courses in the language, and some courses in literature and culture, but far less than the concentration. Details are at lsa.umich.edu/slavic/undergrad/minors.   Note that you cannot complete one of these minors if you are also concentrating in Russian or REES, that you can only complete one of the Slavic Department’s minors, but you can complete both the minor in REES and one of the minors in the Slavic Department, although with certain restrictions (these are College rules, not CREES or Slavic Department rules).  If you want to declare a minor, or confirm the completion of one for your official U-M record, contact the Slavic Department’s Student Services Assistant, at slavic@umich.edu, who will order your file and make an appointment with the appropriate advisor.  You can always drop in on the concentration advisor for informal advice, of course, and you can even print up an unofficial copy of your transcript in his office, if you need to go over with him the course work you have already completed.
  5. How do I declare a concentration, or complete my concentration release?
    That’s the easiest question to answer – contact the Slavic Department’s Student Services Assistant, Jen White (jenpatri@umich.edu), who will order your file and make an appointment with the concentration advisor.  Before you meet the advisor, don't forget to look at the details of the concentration by reading through the program--links are available above.  And, if you are completing a concentration audit prior to graduation, don’t forget that you will need to check general requirements with a general advisor too.  If you want to substitute courses, use transfer credit, or do anything else beyond the basic pattern of the concentration, talk to the advisor well in advance of graduation!  Of course, you can always drop by the advisor’s office during his office hours, or even try to catch him at another time – and if you need to go over your transcript with him then and there, you can print up an unofficial copy from Wolverine Access, on his computer – so don’t hesitate to come to see him whenever you need to.
  6. Can I get credit by examination or credit for courses I have placed out of in Russian?
    Please contact Jen White at jenpatri@umich.edu to discuss how credit may be obtained. However, currently the Slavic Department does not offer retroactive credit or credit by examination for its courses.
  7. Can I travel to Russia independently, can I travel within Russia independently?
    Travel to and within Russia is much easier and more practical than it used to be, although it certainly demands more of you than travel within the United States or in Western Europe (yet another good reason to work on that Russian…).  Although you still require a visa, it is now much easier to get one.  You can apply directly to the Russian embassy, but you might want to pay extra and go to a visa service, such as that provided by Russia House, www.russiahouse.org – you pay for the service, as well as for the visa itself, but then the whole business is usually pretty painless, and you should get your visa in good time.
    Several major airlines fly from Detroit to Moscow, and flying from the US to other big cities in Russia is pretty easy. If you like to travel, you won’t need any advice here on how to find the cheapest fares – the web is full of useful sites – and fares to Russia can be very low, especially outside of the peak-travel summer months.
    International chain hotels in the big Russian cities are expensive, sometimes very expensive, as are the best restaurants, but Russia is also full of cheap places to stay and to eat, and most are perfectly acceptable. One Slavic faculty member traveling in provincial Russia last year stayed at local, small hotels, mostly serving traveling civil servants and the like, and paid less than $20 a night in quite big cities such as Toms and Petrozavodsk, and about $10 a night in a tiny town near Lake Onega.  The hotels were pretty simple, but clean, and the cost covered twenty-four hours in a room with its own bathroom, a TV, and a telephone in each case.  Such places are best booked ahead – a good travel agent within Russia will do it for a small commission, or, if you are confident in your Russian, you can call the hotel yourself and ask to book a room.  If you are planning to have any kind of official contact (for example, you want to visit a library or a museum and do some research there), ask the institutions you are visiting to help you – they should be able to find you accommodation, book a hotel room for you, and so on quite easily.  One faculty member traveling in 2000 was very satisfied with the services of Maria Travel Agency in Moscow www.maria-travel.com.   Better guide books (for example, the “Lonely Planet” and “Rough Guide” series) often have useful information on hotels in the provinces, as well as the big cities, and lots of general information. 
    Russian trains are very good, and relatively cheap.  A good travel agent in Russia should be able to get you tickets in first class (i.e., spal’nyi vagon -- a two-berth compartment) for travel to most cities, although tickets to popular resort destinations may be hard to come by in the summer.  First-class carriages in the better trains mostly carry business people (although you might have to share a compartment with a member of the opposite sex – that is the Russian way), and many trains have acceptable food service, although most travelers also take their own supplies.  Some long-distance trains, however, carry large numbers of private traders (so-called chelnoki, or “shuttles”) and their purchases, especially between European Russia and the Russian Far East, China, and Mongolia.  Traveling on these trains is said to be sometimes stressful and unpleasant.  So, if you are traveling all the way across the country by train, plan carefully and ask for lots of advice (in general, try to travel on the so-called firmennye poezda – they are usually clean, pleasant, and safe).  Abundant information on trains is available on the web, including detailed time tables – you can start at: http://parovoz.com/ (the massive Paravoz railway site, where you can find more than you care to know about trains, from their history to their timetables).  Another useful site for those planning rail travel is www.express-2.tsi.ru/ .   Finding out about inter-city bus travel can be more difficult, but most Russian towns of any size now have some sort of web site, and if you negotiate the links carefully, you can often find out about bus services (essential information if you are heading to really small places).
    Flights between cities with thriving business communities are frequent and, in tourist class, generally cheap.  In the summer of 2000 a flight in tourist class from Moscow to Tomsk (in central Siberia, four hours time difference with Moscow), cost about $150 one-way.  However, if a city does not have a strong new-business base (often from oil, gas, other natural resources, and the like) it may not be well served by airlines, although it will almost certainly have air service with the resort cities of the south in the summer.  Information on airlines and on schedules can be found on the web.  You could start at www.polets.ru/
    Driving in Russia is not for the fainthearted, and renting a car to drive yourself is very expensive.  You are much better off hiring a car and driver.  In the provinces that can be quite cheap (and a good way to learn about the area), and even in Moscow a reasonably new German car with a good driver may cost as little as $40 per day.  One of the biggest taxi firms offering good service in and around Moscow is: Taksi Prestizh (+7-095-915-4376).  If you call them from the States, they will have a driver to meet you at the airport when you arrive (if you wait until you arrive and try to negotiate with the cabs waiting outside the terminal, you will almost certainly end up paying more). 
    In Moscow, you can also rent a mobile phone quite inexpensively by the day (very useful in a country where “land lines” leave much to be desired – every prosperous Russian has a cell phone).  One company which rents phones by the day is Moskovskaya sotovaya svyaz’ (www.mcc.ru/)
    The biggest cities have plenty of businesses that take credit cards (and charge lots of money for their goods and services), but, in general, and universally for the average Russian, cash is king.  Most larger cities have at least some ATMs (and Western Union affiliates in case you need emergency funds wired to you), but it is unwise to bank on always being able to get more cash.  At the same time, you would be ill advised to carry large amounts of cash with you and even more ill advised to advertise the fact. 
    Traveling within Russia is not like traveling within the US or in Western Europe – it costs less, but requires more of you.  But it is fun, and, if you are careful, it is generally perfectly safe.   If you are prepared to “rough it” a little bit, and do without some of the home comforts, you can live very inexpensively in Russia, and still enjoy yourself enormously.  However, as everywhere, the naïve traveler is likely to pay more than he or she should, and be less well served – prepare properly by reading, ask widely for advice, and make sure that you keep your eyes and ears open as you travel.  You should also be sensitive to the fact that, although the big Russian cities, especially Moscow, have plenty of very prosperous citizens (living in expensive new apartments, vacationing in Paris, on tropical islands, and so on, driving brand-new luxury cars and making use of every electronic aid to life known to humanity), most Russians are not particularly well-off right now.  Indeed, $100 may be a good monthly salary in a provincial city.   So bear in mind that the “impoverished student” from the West is a rather privileged person in Russia, and try to take this into account in your everyday encounters with “ordinary people”.  Russians remain very hospitable and, for the most part, very sympathetic to the foreign traveler (indeed, it can be hard to be a constant object of enthusiastic interest when you travel even a little bit off the beaten track), but, as in any new culture, the first-time traveler to Russia should be sensible and should also be respectful of his or her hosts and their notions of what is acceptable behavior.  Last, but by no means least, remember that Russian hospitality can involve invitations to drink a lot of alcohol.  You will be happier, healthier, and safer if you learn to say “no”, and if you remember that almost no foreigner can cope with that aspect of the Russian table like a native.
    Of course, you should do your own research carefully and cautiously, as with any planned trip, and the suggestions above should in no way be seen as official endorsements from the Slavic Department of the University of Michigan. They are simply records of individual experience, and that, as we all know, varies greatly.
  8. How can I transfer credit for Russian courses I have done elsewhere?  
    Credit transfer is administered by the University Office of Admissions, not by the Slavic Department, whether the courses you have taken or are planning to take are at an American institution or abroad. Of course, feel free to seek advice or suggestions from the concentration advisr, or other faculty members. This is what the Office of International Programs says about courses taken by direct enrollment at a foreign institution:
    “Information on how certain classes taken abroad may be accepted for transfer credit can be found at: www.lsa.umich.edu/english/undergraduate/advising/petition.asp. This information is provided by Undergraduate Admissions and is not a guarantee of credit transfer, only a guideline. When you get to this link, scroll to the alphabet at the bottom and select the first letter of the name of the Foreign School or the first letter of the US School hosting the program (for non-UM study abroad).”
    But – this is important to remember – it is generally up to the concentration advisor to decide what role in fulfilling concentration requirements will be played by courses taken elsewhere, especially in Russia (this is not the same thing as transferring credit – the concentration adviser may waive certain concentration requirements because of courses you have taken elsewhere, but this does not mean that the Admissions Office will give you UM credit for those courses equivalent to the requirements waived). Overall, the Department tries to be flexible with students who have completed study-abroad programs, because we firmly believe that students benefit enormously, both as Russianists and in broader terms of personal development, by studying in Russia.
  9. I am a "native speaker"/"heritage-speaker," what courses could I take?
    First of all, congratulations on having special access to one of the world’s great cultures.  You may well be one of approximately one million people born in the former Soviet Union, and now living in the United States.  We warmly welcome students from Russian-speaking backgrounds, and offer many courses which help them deepen their understanding of their own roots.  Moreover, we have just begun to offer a language course specially designed for people who know some Russian from childhood, but would like to improve their general language skills (Russian 225 – Russian for Heritage Speakers).  In general, such “heritage speakers” form a special category of student, and before they enroll in pure language courses (i.e., Russian 101-402), they should talk to the director of our Russian language program who will be able to help place them in the right course. They are, of course, very welcome in all of the literature and culture courses, whether taught in Russian (Russian 351, 499, and so on), or English (Russian 347, 348, 449, 450, and so on), and such students often choose to complete a concentration in Russian, usually in combination with another concentration, either in the social or the natural sciences. If they are interested in the concentration, they should talk both to Professor Makin, the undergraduate advisor (mlmakin@umich.edu).
  10. Should I choose Russian or Russian and East European Studies as my concentration?
    Of course, in addition to Russian language and culture, Michigan offers another concentration for the student interested in Eastern Europe – Russian and East European Studies (REES).  It is administered by our friends and colleagues at the Center for Russian and East European Studies.  REES gives the student the opportunity to learn one of the Slavic languages while also taking a broad range of courses relating to Eastern Europe from across the humanities and the social sciences.  Whether you choose REES or Russian for your degree really depends on where your interests lie, and on your feelings about the respective benefits of the sort of core-oriented liberal-arts degree offered by the Slavic Department and of the area-oriented diversity of study offered by REES.  Both are good choices, and the overlap between them means that you might even be able to move from one to the other if you change your mind, but it is a good idea to talk to both advisors if you are not sure, before you elect one or the other.  Both these degrees – Russian and REES – are, as noted, excellent (of course!), and they have many points of contact.  Needless to say, the Slavic Department and CREES work together on many projects, and all Michigan Russianists are encouraged to follow the excellent and varied range of events at CREES. For more information about REES and the Center, follow this link: http://www.ii.umich.edu/crees/.
  11. What opportunities for study in Russia are there?
    There are many study programs in Russia, from summer programs to semester- and year-long programs. Michigan is directly affiliated to a number, and our faculty and graduate students can provide useful, often current information on many programs. But the first place to contact is our excellent Office of International Programs, where Leslie Dorfman Davis (who herself wrote a doctoral dissertation on Russian poetry) can provide lots of material and advice – write to her at serapion@umich.edu. Look at the OIP web site at www.umich.edu/~iinet/oip/ – it not only tells you about the programs Michigan is affiliated to, but also gives you advice on other programs, and on direct enrollment at foreign institutions. If you plan to use study abroad to complete parts of your concentration, don’t forget to talk to the concentration adviser both before you leave and after you get back, and keep a careful record of all the courses you do and the work you complete.
    The Slavic Department thinks that study abroad is an excellent way to broaden your education, whether you are a Slavist or not.  If you are a concentrator, we will make every effort to ensure that your studies in Russia help you to graduate on time (that’s why you should talk to the advisor before and after).  When choosing a program, bear in mind that the more established may well be better organized, even if more expensive, while the newer ones may offer all sorts of interesting innovations, but may require more input and more patience from the participants.  For example, some programs now offer internships, but these are still somewhat “experimental” in shape (so expect the unexpected).  In general, don’t forget, that you are going to Russia to speak Russian and learn about Russia – go there with an open mind, be willing to tolerate and understand what is different from home, and try not to spend your whole time speaking English with other students from America!  Books such as Culture Shock may help prepare students for study abroad, especially those who have not previously lived overseas.
  12. What organizations and events at UM facilitate Russian conversation?
    The Intensive Russian-language Program at the Residential College holds a Russian Tea from 3 pm to 5 pm every Tuesday of Fall and Winter Terms (Greene Lounge, East Quad).  The program also holds a Russian Lunch Table in East Quad at 1 pm every week day except Wednesdays.  All are welcome at both the Tea and the Table, which are attended by students of every level, and also by others interested in speaking Russian.  For information, contact the program director, Alina Makin (resco@umich.edu; http://www-personal.umich.edu/~resco/).  There is also a Russian Student Association (http://www.umich.edu/~rusassoc/). For information on the undergraduate Russian Club in the Slavic Department, please call the Department at 764-5355.
    Where could I find russophone communities and resources locally, outside of the University? 
    Southeastern Michigan is now home to many people who speak Russian as their native language, and you hear lots of Russian on the streets of Ann Arbor.  In Winter 2001 and again in Winter 2002 one of the Slavic Department’s faculty members even taught a one-credit course on “Russia on the Great Lakes!” In the Ann Arbor area, two community organizations are particularly prominent – Jewish Family Services (telephone 734-971-3280) and St Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Church (tel. 734-475-4590; www.stvladimiraami.org/). Both are places that newly-arrived immigrants and visitors may turn to, and both serve as centers to the Russian-speaking communities of the area.   In Metropolitan Detroit, the largest concentration of russophone businesses (grocery shops; a book-, CD-, and video-store; a furniture store; a restaurant, and so on) may be found in the Oak Park/Southfield area (mostly on and around Greenfield Road, within a block north and south of I 696, at exit 13), and in Farmington Hills and West Bloomfield (Northwestern Highway and Orchard Lake Road). A faculty member in the Slavic Department has compiled some information about these communities – it will soon be available through the Department’s web site, in the mean time, please write to mlmakin@umuch.edu.