Karissa Jackson ’14 enjoys Moscow through Boren Scholarship
Karissa Jackson ’14 is currently spending her junior year a little differently than most of her classmates. As Centre’s first Boren Scholar, she is studying at Moscow Humanities University for the year.
This is not Jackson’s first time in Russia—she spent the summer of 2011 studying jointly in Arizona and Kazan, Russia, with the Arizona State Critical Languages Institute (CLI) on a Project Global Officer (GO) scholarship, as well as a second summer with the CLI in 2012 in Kiev.
“I was probably most excited about just coming back,” Jackson says of the Boren Scholarship. “Studying abroad is a blast! I still can’t believe I lucked out with such a great opportunity.”
Jackson studies Russian intensively throughout the week, with subjects ranging from grammar and literature to culture and contemporary issues, and also has several hours of lectures in English. It’s not all work and no play, however—she and her classmates often take excursions.
“We have at least two a week, generally one on a weekday and the other on Saturday,” Jackson says. “We go to museums—Museum of the Great Patriotic War, Russian History—ballets, musicals, concerts, art galleries and more.”
The group took an extended excursion to St. Petersburg this summer and intends to take another later in the year.
“In St. Petersburg, we visited the Hermitage, Russian Art Museum, St. Isaac’s Cathedral and several other notable places,” says Jackson. “Next semester we’re going to spend ‘spring break’ in Kazan, which I’m really excited about because that was the first place I studied abroad. This time I’ll be much more competent in the language.”
Outside of spending time in classes and with her peers, Jackson also has an internship at the American Center in Moscow.
“I advise Russian students applying for school in America, especially with essays,” she says. “I also give people one-on-one English conversation practice—and sometimes they let me practice my Russian, too.”
Working with Russian students has given Jackson insight into how young people there view the United States.
“It’s very interesting to hear all of the reasons why students would rather study in America—a lot of these kids want to come to America because our schools offer much more variety. We also have significantly more extracurricular activities,” says Jackson. “The American Center in Moscow is the largest in Russia and it’s always full of people just interested in our country and language. It gets a little hectic at times, but I really enjoy it, especially since I feel that I’m helping students achieve their goals.
The students Jackson works with have also shown her various ways that Russian schooling and education is markedly different from in America.
“Honestly, the Russian students are a lot more humble than American students. They have a hard time doing the ‘sell yourself’ thing with their essays,” she says. “The other day, I asked one of my Russian friends for homework help and he asked me if I wanted any errors. He explained that Russian students usually leave a few intentional errors in their assignments so that they’ll get a B, because if they get an A, the teacher will drill them with questions that will often result in a decrease of grade. Isn’t that crazy?”
Beyond educational differences, Jackson has picked up on numerous cultural differences between Russia and the United States.
“Since this is my third time over here, nothing surprises me anymore. I suppose I’m still in awe of how women manage to walk on ice wearing high heels,” Jackson says. “The culture here is very different from that of the States. The more obvious differences are the lack of smiling and the style of clothing. Despite their cold facade, Russians are probably the most hospitable people I’ve ever known, and they’d do anything for their friends.
“I think Americans are a lot more high strung and tend to stress about things beyond their control, and here there’s a lot more of the ‘go-with-the-flow’ mentality,” Jackson continues. “When things don’t go according to plan, it’s not the end of the world. I’ve become a much more patient person. I’ve also come to realize that it’s foolish to waste the opportunity of seeing something in person that most people only get to read about because it’s a little cold outside and I have grammar exercises due the next day.”
When Jackson returns to Centre next year, her study of Russian won’t come to an end—she remains dedicated to learning more about the culture and language.
“I’ve self-designed a major and I’ve taken every opportunity possible to study the language and culture,” she says. “Last school year, I commuted to UK to take Russian on top of Centre classes.”
Now partway through her Boren Scholarship, Jackson is only looking forward to the rest of her school year based on how much she has enjoyed her time in Moscow so far.
“I love everything about this experience. I’m excited about my progress in the language, I love all the excursions, I can’t wait to see snow that I haven’t experienced since I lived in Alaska,” says Jackson. “It’s so hard to pick a favorite part—maybe my favorite part is how each day offers as many new experiences, surprises and awesome opportunities as the day before. I don’t foresee myself getting sick of this anytime soon.”