Back to SummaryEmily Singer - Student Profile
MAJORS: Slavic Language & Literature, History & Culture track; Economics
Academic Interests: Healthcare delivery, Public Health and Health Policy
Sometimes I still smell Russia when I wake up. It’s the parquet floors ubiquitous in old apartments, the wooden boards with interlocking tongue and
groove creating repeating V-shapes lining narrow hallways; it’s the perpetually boiling teakettle waiting in the miniature kitchen; it’s the smoke hanging in the cold air. As I wake up I imagine myself in the apartment of my Moscow host mother, lying in my little bed while snow falls past the window, accumulating on the sill, then blanketing the still-quiet and dark street below, covering the leaves of the trees that line the park across the street from our seventh-story apartment, and silently accumulating on the black woolen shoulders of the overcoat worn by the lone early-morning walker in the park.
Perhaps mine is a romantic image of Russia, an impression inspired by Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, Dostoevsky’s Poor Folk, or Gogol’s Nevsky Prospekt. It was, after all, literature that initially attracted me to studying Russian language, history, and culture. Though I entered Stanford with a set goal of completing premedical requirements and becoming an economics major, I took a Freshman Seminar that introduced Nikolai Gogol, “Russia’s Weird Classic.” Fascinated by Gogol, I continued to squeeze courses on Russian history, literature, and culture into my schedule among chemistry, math, and economics classes. My advisor recommended that I look into studying abroad after hearing me express special interest in my Russian classes.
Suddenly at the end of the summer I found myself on a plane to St Petersburg, where I spent three weeks on the Bing Overseas Seminar with two Stanford professors and a small group of students. The three weeks were filled with cultural outings to museums, churches, and concerts, all of which were accompanied by lectures and literature readings. St Petersburg was
constantly alive in the summer – the streets buzzing with pedestrians and traffic at all hours. Several nights out little group contributed to the humming of the city – walking in step with the pace on the street from our small hotel in the middle of the city to a nearby club or bar. I already felt saturated in Russian culture when, following the seminar, I boarded the ten-hour train to Moscow where I spent Fall quarter at the Academy of National Economy under the Russian Federation, Stanford’s shared Moscow campus.
If St Petersburg breathes, Moscow pulses. The size, pace, and energy of the city trumps that of New York. The Stalinist precision of the Metro, the width of the city streets, and the Roman Imperial inspired architecture impresses
and at first overwhelms. Perhaps more hair-raising than the city itself is the home-stay with a Russian family. I was unsure of what to expect living with Tatiana, a Russian grandmother in her 70s, and her cat, Musiya. More than that, however, I was terrified of making a cultural or linguistic blunder – my Russian at the time a feeble ten weeks old. She proved, however, more caring and forgiving than I ever could have expected, and did all she could to help me understand her, speak with better proficiency, and eat as much as possible. Whenever I got home there was food waiting for me: steaming at my place on the table was always a fresh bowl of soup made from vegetables grown in my hostess’s garden; one or more courses and tea were sure to follow. Over the course of the quarter, she became family to me – a warm force constantly looking to ensure my happiness and safety.
My cultural introduction to Russian life at home with Tatiana was complemented by the academic programming at our Russian university. We had daily lectures on Eastern European economics, history, society, politics, and of course the Russian language. I never could have expected to listen to talks in an intimate setting with a chief Russian economist; I never knew that I would find myself in the State Archives of Moscow with one of the directors, (my professor), while flipping through albums of original photographs taken at the Nazi bunker where the bodies of top officials were found by Red Army forces, and, according to Professor Kozlov, a fragment of Hitler’s skull.
One of the most trying and rewarding parts of studying in Russia is recognizing and being incorporated into the realities of very subject: In Moscow I walked around Patriarch’s Ponds, the opening setting of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita; I visited apartments of Russian writers, was introduced to contemporary artists, some of whom are exhibited in the Tretiakov Gallery of Moscow and Russian Museum in St Petersburg; I stood outside the prison where Anna Akhmatova waited years for news of her son, incarcerated behind the tall brick walls on the bank of the Neva River.
Studying abroad in Russia exposed me to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, temperatures and heartbeat of the country I had read about in the pages of my history texts and through the words of literary icons including Pushkin,
Dostoevsky, Gogol, Chekhov, Bulgakov, and more. After my initial exposure to the Russian experience on the Bing Overseas Seminar and Stanford in Moscow, I knew that I would continue to travel to Russia throughout the rest of my life. This past summer I returned to St Petersburg, having received a scholarship from the State Department to study Russian language at the Philology Faculty of St Petersburg State University. I plan to return to Russia to pursue research in Russian healthcare delivery. If, however, I am unable to begin such a project, I will return to Russia simply because I can’t stay away