Back to SummaryAlissa Bonneau - Student Advisor Profile
I was intrigued by Russia for many reasons. Russia is the largest country in the world, with one of the most interesting and enchanting histories. It’s growing preeminence in the global market proved particularly fascinating to me—given it’s position as the leading exporter of natural gas in the world, Russia plays a dominant role in the economy. Moscow is quickly becoming one of the world’s major international business cities. I decided to go beyond my interest in Russia as an economic superpower and experience the culture and people for myself. Some people told me I was crazy—“Why not somewhere more… traditional?” they would ask. For me, it was a decision based on adventure and the opportunity to truly experience an exotic place that I likely wouldn’t have gone to without the facilitated opportunity.
Moscow is a captivating city with two entirely different, yet simultaneous, feels to it. Getting off at most metro stops, you see modern, international shops and food
stores, like Zara and KFC. But when you walk into the housing areas, you feel the remnants of Soviet rule in the traditional style apartments. It’s an incredible feeling to be able to imagine such drastically different times, within the comfort of modernity.
The Stanford in Moscow program provides an incredible language learning opportunity. I am still in awe at how quickly we all went from speaking no Russian to being able to communicate and interact candidly with the locals. We learned a staggering amount of information in the three-week intensive course at the beginning of the quarter. Being able to learn the equivalent of one year of language in three short weeks sounds impossible, and it was incredibly challenging, but entirely worth the reward. Sooner than we knew it, we were completely comfortable navigating the city’s metro and bus systems in order to explore the city.
And the city certainly had much worth investigating. Moscow is dotted with art galleries, theatres, shops, museums and monuments. Russians love paying tribute to their famous citizens—Tolstoy, Lenin, Dostoevsky, and Pushkin, just to
name a few. About two months into the program, we had a group event at the Tolstoy House museum, where Tolstoy used to live. When I got up early that morning to find the museum, I realized the address was on my own street, and it turned out that Tolstoy lived next door to my apartment! The whole time up to that point I’d admired the beautiful brown house, standing alone amongst a jungle of communist flats, and never realized that I was in the presence of such a powerful and talented Russian.
In addition to various museum trips, we went on a group trip to the Bolshoi theatre. While admiring the world famous production of the Swan Lake ballet, we noticed that Beyonce was sitting in the theatre also! After leaving California to go halfway around the world, we found it so funny to see her there. Seeing her made us realize that the culture and life of Moscow draws people of all walks of life.
Of course, we did also go to classes while we were there. The classes were taught in a way as to complement the cultural experience we were having, by explaining Russian history and culture as to explain the political and social developments
happening in our daily lives. My favorite class was on the economics of modern Russia. The professor, Vladimir Mau, was also the director of our academy, and previously served as an advisor to the Prime Minister in the early 1990’s, a crucial time in the development of the Russian Federation. Not only did I find such a talented and accomplished professor in Mau, but also a mentor. He now heads the Institute for the Economy in Transition, a research organization where I interned over the quarter. I was able to get invaluable international work experience while studying something that really fascinated me. The Stanford in Moscow program did a fantastic job setting up the students with valuable internships in a variety of fields that appealed to them the most. There were internships at law firms, hospitals, research centers, and newspapers, among others.
One of the most memorable aspects of the program were the numerous friendships we made with Russians. Across our group, there were friendships with students at our school, coworkers from internships, teammates from sport clubs, and others. It was great to be able to discuss the political and social ongoings with locals who were excited to hear our opinions. They also loved showing us around and brought us to many places we wouldn’t have experienced without them. We found the Russian people incredibly loving and compassionate once you build relationships with them.
My experience in Russia will continue to affect and impact my life at Stanford. With new friends and interests spurred by the trip, I look forward to expanding my knowledge of Russia and the Russian language while being back on campus. It was far and above my favorite quarter at Sanford, and I hope that you can also take a leap of faith and go experience this breathtaking country for yourself.