Holy Cross Professor Spearheads Virtual Study Abroad for the College and Russian State University for the Humanities

Photo courtesy of the Russian State University for the Humanities.

The remote summer study provided Holy Cross students an immersive experience to enhance their Russian language abilities

When the 2020 Moscow Maymester was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 12 students who were scheduled to attend found themselves suddenly without their highly anticipated study abroad plans. But Olga Partan, associate professor of Russian and co-director and faculty advisor for the 10-year-old program, rallied to find a new opportunity for an immersive language experience for her students.

"The Maymester program is a critical element of our Russian studies program—students love the experience and it significantly enhances their language skills," Partan explains.

Working closely with Valentina Trufanova, the head of the Center of Russian as a Second Language at the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH) in Moscow, as well as Holy Cross and RSUH administrators, Partan tackled the logistics involved in designing and creating the program alongside Loren Cass, dean of experiential learning and student success, and Brit Smith, director of study abroad. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the program was able to launch only a week later than the Maymester had originally been planned to start.

During the intensive program, students at four different language levels worked online five days a week for six weeks, with second-year Russian students taking four hours of online sessions per day with RSUH instructors, and students at other levels following individualized plans. Two students outside of the College—one from Vassar and one from Brandeis—were also accepted into Holy Cross' program. All of the students were taught by world-leading specialists in teaching Russian as a second language.

Teresa Esquivel '23, a Russian and international studies major, found the remote instruction to be extremely effective. "I was pleasantly surprised by the skillful integration of electronic media into presentations and our interactive lessons. I felt as close to a 'regular' student as possible during my courses, and found every one of my professors to be an exceptional, approachable educator. I can say without hesitation that my grasp of the Russian language has grown deeper than I ever could have imagined in so few weeks of study."

Nicholas Partan '22, a political science major and Russian minor, appreciated the variety of instruction. "Before beginning, the director of the program in Russia spoke individually to all of the students in my class to better understand what level we were at going into the program, in order to better suit the course material to our needs. During class, we were taught every hour by a different instructor, which helped to keep us engaged and allowed us to hear a broad range of native Russian speakers throughout the day."

Students received significant individual attention during the summer session, made marked progress in their Russian proficiency and will receive a full course credits toward their Russian minor or major.

"Most importantly," says Professor Partan, "This program has opened a window to Russian culture and society for our students who were unable to travel to Russia. Students had several virtual tours in Moscow and other Russian cities, were singing popular Russian songs, were working on their phonetics and pronunciation as well as reading and discussing a variety of Russian texts. The students really enjoyed close online interaction with native Russian instructors who are living in Russia."