March 11, 2022 | LIFE | By Alexandra Akinchina

“The residents and regular guests [of the Russian House] make up a motley crowd with a wide range of voices—we often sing together—representing different races and ethnic backgrounds, hauling from Kiev, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novokuznetsk, Hanoi, Bishkek, Dushanbe, and other spots around the globe. It’s essential, especially now, that we continue to maintain and foster the generous and tolerant atmosphere that generations of [Russian] students have contributed to since the early 1990s,” said Alexei Pavlenko, Russian professor at Colorado College.

“Read it again!” I shouted, bubbling with excitement. With the miniature Russian children’s book nestled into my hands, my parents sang the words off the pages of  “В лесу родилась ёлочка.” The melodic phrases sweetened the air and the bright rainbow-colored pages brightened the world around me. I pointed at the cartoon tree and announced with enthusiasm that it was my new-found friend.

Growing up in a Russian household, I was accustomed to hearing the sound of Russian language. To me, it was the sound of home. But outside of that home, life was different.

I remember teachers telling my parents I should stop speaking Russian because “we were in America now.” I remember my classmates questioning whether I was a “true” American. Most of my experiences inside and outside of school were characterized by constant jokes and caricatures of Russians.

Before coming to CC, I never had a community of Russian-speaking people outside my home, let alone people who were interested in Russian language and culture. I was shocked when I first visited the Russian House on campus. For the first time, I saw a room full of people my age genuinely interested in Russia.

There, I started having conversations with people who were respectful, curious, and willing to have open discussions. Suddenly, I felt more at home.

I’m not the only one who feels this sense of home in the Russian House. Russian Professor Tatiana Nikolskaya, who resides in Russia, teaches at CC two or three blocks every year.

“I never forget that I am only a visitor here, that I am a foreigner. However, when I see the Russian flag on the Russian House, this feeling fades away,” said Nikolskaya.

She explained the Russian House’s community reminds her that people care about Russia, and therefore herself, which encourages her sense of belonging on campus.

“We, the Russians, have a very strong, as we call it, ‘sense of elbow,’ sense of comradeship. The Russian House gives me this sense.”

Similarly, when Russian Cultural Program Coordinator Maria Glukhova first came to CC, she also experienced the welcoming environment of the Russian-speaking community.

“The Russian professors, Alexei, Natalia, and Tatiana, immediately made me feel a part of the team, and I am very grateful for their trust and support,” Glukhova said. “I know that I can always ask them for professional and personal advice and that they will do their best to support me.”

At first, Glukhova, like me, was surprised at the extent of interest in Russian culture among CC students.

“Here, students and community members actively participate in Russia-related cultural events that we organize on campus and always bring new perspectives to the group,” she said.  

Having several professors who live in Russia and come to teach at CC provides students with this different perspective.

Professor Natalia Khan shared her frustration at the American media for frequently misrepresenting the opinions of the majority of Russian people, and how the media is generally “distorted and excessively negative.”

 “My Russian colleagues at CC — as well as the experience of the Russian study abroad program itself — offer a rare opportunity to CC students to enter directly into the Russian perspectives that are so different from what is shown in the news,” Khan said.

These unique perspectives are one of the defining features of the Russian House and one of its main purposes.

“The House’s purpose was to embody the objectives of the program: To explore and celebrate the dizzying variety — tied by the Russian language — of the vast region stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean,” Pavlenko said. “We aspire to study these cultures and histories through the post-Cold War, post antagonistic lenses. Thanks to our talented [Cultural Program Coordinator], the House continues — even now — to provide an open, welcoming space for the [Russian and Eurasian Studies] students and faculty who sometimes hold opposite views.”

These new perspectives and welcoming environment make the Russian community at CC special. The Russian House gave me the sense of home and community I longed for, and it continues to be a place that is welcoming of all people.

“The Russian House does not feel like a strictly academic environment, but rather like a space for everyone to share their experiences and spend a great time with a group of friends,” Glukhova said.

Russian Tea takes place at the Russian House every Thursday at 3:30pm, except during 4th week.

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