Back to SummaryCarolyn Forstein - Student Advisor Profile
Major: International Relations
Academic Interests: International development, diplomacy and law
I took off for Moscow not even knowing how to read Russian, let alone speak a word of the language. My first memory of Russia is landing in the airport with my friend Roxanne at 3 am, being very gratefully met by the Moscow program director, Sasha, and sitting in a cab blaring techno music, half in Russian and half in English, while whizzing past a city of neon colored lights. It was hard to imagine that I had just landed thousands of miles away from the U.S., in the capital of the former Soviet Union.
The Moscow program is an amazing opportunity to throw yourself headfirst into a language and culture that are, both figuratively and literally, on the other side of the world. I and seven other students who had never studied Russian before showed up in Moscow in early September to take intensive Russian for the three
weeks prior to the start of the quarter. While we quickly learned the basics, our Russian teacher, Tatiana, also taught us some traditional remedies for sicknesses (they included: lots of honey, dried mustard seed, and vodka). By the end of our thirteen weeks in Moscow, all of us had gone from unable to spell our own names to being able to hold a conversation in Russian.
Beyond language, our other classes ranged from courses on Soviet history to modern economics to popular Russian films. I learned about the development of ideology and progression of leaders in the Soviet Union, explored how modern Russian textbooks and museums reflect the country's history, and discussed current Russian politics. In Moscow, it was not only my language classes that I would put to use as soon as I stepped outside; you almost can't help but find yourself face-to-face with history in Russia, from visiting Lenin's mausoleum to walking past Lubyanka, the former headquarters of the KGB. Along with other Stanford students I travelled to Ukraine, Romania, Finland, Estonia, and the Russian cities St. Petersburg, Kazan and Suzdal. I visited to a dacha, a Russian country house, and tried out a banya, a traditional sauna.
One of the greatest things about living in Moscow is how much you can see the many regimes and cultures which have dominated in country in the city itself: from the tiny 16th-century churches with a single onion dome tucked behind every office building, to the hammer and sickles adoring the metro system, to the “graveyard” of former Soviet monuments which is now a modern art exhibit. Moscow today is the biggest city in Europe, and is packed with restaurants, outdoor cafes, clubs, and even urban beaches, but there are still enormous outdoor markets, selling everything from clothes to produce, spread all over the city.
My host family was an integral part of my time in Russia. My host mother, Larisa, was a history teacher who had studied abroad under the USSR in Yugoslavia, and
would spend hours translating history documentaries to me. Her mother, Nina, spoke no English, so I began putting my Russian to immediate use every night when I came home, along with some fairly elaborate hand gestures. Over the three months I lived there, we talked about everything from their family history – which includes a grandfather who worked for state security under Stalin, and Nina's travels with her husband, who was a Soviet diplomat, to Germany and Sri Lanka – to the best way to make borscht, or Russian beet soup.
The Moscow program director, Sasha, also helped me find an internship at the Slavic Center for Law and Justice, a law firm which works to protect human rights
and religious freedoms within Russia and
bring cases to the European Court of Human Rights.
The work I did in my internship and my time in Moscow led me to
write an honors thesis about the rule of law in the country, and
inspired me to return the following summer on a research grant.
This past summer, I spent five weeks living in Moscow with my
friend Nastya, who I had met in the fall, interviewing lawyers,
civil society activists and academics in the city about the judiciary,
legal rights and reform efforts in modern Russia, and the role
of international law. I didn't realize just how much my first
three months in the country had impacted me until I returned to
the country; when I got off the plane and knew exactly how to
take the metro and direct a cab driver to my apartment, being
back in Moscow, and living in Russia, suddenly felt ridiculously
Moscow doesn't just let you study abroad: it lets you explore a country with a cultural, linguistic, and historical tradition that is entirely unique. When I first began to look into Stanford's abroad programs, I had never given much thought to studying in Russia, but I can't think of a more exciting or relevant place to go – or a more vibrant city than Moscow. Life in Moscow sometimes felt absurd, but this is what made it so engaging, and what has drawn me in academically and personally in the year since I have returned. If you are considering going abroad, pack a parka, start prepping your Russian phrases, and head across the world for a three-month adventure.