US students building bridges with Russia

In the 1990s, Russian Studies was not a popular pick for students in American universities. However, nearly 20 years on from the collapse of the Soviet Union, things are changing.

A new generation of American students is strengthening relations between Russia and the US, one language lesson at a time. Although Russian student Alex Fischer has never been to Russia and has no Russian relatives, she is a self-professed Russian nerd.

“It started back in high school,” Fischer said. “I took a history class and did a lot of European history – studied the tsars, studied the Cold War.”

“I just sort of gained an interest in it that slowly grew over time, and now Russian is pretty much my life,” she added.

Many of Alex’s classmates feel the same way. In her class of 16, only two have been to Russia at this point, but they all hope to pursue a career that somehow involves the country.

“I feel that Russia is a very important economic and political power and it is almost foolish to ignore it,” said one of the students.

Meanwhile, between 1989 and 1999 the number of students studying Russian in the United States halved, from 46,000 to 24,000.

Professor Dan Davidson, President of the American Council of Teachers of Russian, thinks that Americans just could not relate to Russia’s new identity.

“When the Soviet Union ceased to exist in December of 1991, there was a feeling for a while that the country had gone away,” he said. “And so why would you continue to study the language of a country that is not there anymore?”

However, since then, slowly, but steadily Russian is regaining popularity in the United States.

In the past two years, the number of students at the intermediate Russian class at George Washington University has doubled. The students say it is because their generation sees Russia differently.

”When my parents first realized I wanted to make this part of my life, they were still in that Cold War mode,” Alex Fischer said. “I think it is just a generational difference.”

Meanwhile, Professor Davidson says the increased interest in Russian studies shows the staying power of Russia on the global scene.

“What we have seen in the last decade is that the image of Russia has strengthened,” he said.

”There is a sense ‘Oh, now we know who it is, we know where it is. It is not the Soviet Union, it is Russia. It is one of the players on the international global scene – it is going to stay that way’,” he added.