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Alumni Spotlight

Class of 2022 - Daria Novikov

Sophomore year of college, I enrolled in Russian for Heritage Speakers, taught by Dr. Helen Myers, hoping to brush up on conversational Russian and learn how to write. Growing up in a Russian-Ukrainian family, Russian was a crucial aspect of connecting with my extended family, especially my great-grandmother, born the same year as the Soviet Union. Although the pandemic prevented our goodbye last year, being able to translate her memoirs to English is a gift for which I will always be grateful to the Russian department.

Studying Russian helped me determine my post-graduate career focus. After my first semester with Dr. Myers, I enrolled in the Russian major and will be graduating with bachelor's degrees in both Political Science and Russian Language. Through the Russian department, I met and began working for Dr. Pasha Johnson at the Hilandar Library, where I gained an appreciation for Old Slavonic religious cultures, and developed my research abilities. After the pandemic forced an end to my Hilandar tenure, I was fortunate to receive the FLAS Fellowship and spend two full years studying Russian language and Eurasian cultures with Drs. Myers, Dragostinova, Suchland, Lin, Isurin, Burry, and Hashamova. 

Daria Novikov and her mother

Over summer breaks, I interned with the Cleveland City Council, election campaigns, and public opinion agencies. Most recently, I became a research assistant at the Wilson Center, which has remained my part-time job through senior year. These jobs, like my classes, contributed a great deal to my understanding of policy, Russia, and the United States’ interests worldwide. After graduation, I intend to work in media to help develop our understanding of the post-Soviet sphere. To this end, I will spend next year studying at Stanford University to complete a Master of Arts at their Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Center. 

Ohio State’s Slavic Department’s and Center's countless lectures, cultural events, extracurricular activities, and talented faculty were essential to my personal and professional development during undergraduate studies. Whether 8:00am aspect conjugations with my beloved Russian class or overcoming stage fright for Kapustnik, I already miss it all. I was very lucky to have been advised by Eileen Kunkler, and Drs. Dragostinova, Myers, and Suchland in planning my post-graduate trajectory, and I appreciate Dr. Isurin for giving me the opportunity to share my experience! In the image to the left, I have just come out of the voting precinct with my mother, born and raised in Soviet Ukraine — a reminder of how important our work is!

Class of 2021 - Paul Faupel

Paul Faupel completed his undergraduate degree from The Ohio State University with a double major in International Relations and Russian Language in 2021. Paul completed a study abroad during a summer in Moscow, which led him to adding Russian Language as his second major and an internship opportunity with Professor Ludmila Isurin. Paul provided open-source analysis of media techniques used to adhere to reader’s memory and biases from articles written by both American and Russian news accounts of significant events concerning both nations within the past decade.

After spending four years as a Main Battle Tank Technician in the United States Marine Corps I decided to use my GI Bill benefits towards my undergraduate degree in January 2018. Travel and service being two important parts of a career for myself; I chose International Relations as a major, with plans for working for the U.S. government. My interest in Russian language originally rose from it being considered a critical needs language for government workers, however it didn’t take long for me to grow a passion for the language, food, music, literature, and films of Russia and former Soviet Republics thanks to the immersive classes and knowledgeable and inviting staff of the Slavic department at OSU.

Paul Fauperl in Moscow

The summer abroad I spent in Moscow and visiting St. Petersburg in 2019 really solidified my love for Russian language and culture. I was lucky enough to have a homestay program in Moscow, where I lived with a lovely and insightful pensioner named Galina whose knowledge and memories of living through the years  of nearly every Soviet leader, years following the 2nd World War, Yuri Gagarin’s space flight, the Cold War, and Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost, as well as everything leading up to Modern Russia provided me with invaluable learning experience and friendship, not to mention cooking lessons and great language practice!

Following my new experiences abroad I got back into my coursework at OSU, where I met Professor Isurin who taught my Russian Pronunciation class. One morning after class, I asked if she had any recommendations for extra language practice and she offered me a chance to help her by providing analysis for her upcoming book “Reenacting the Enemy: Collective Memory Construction in Russian and US Media”. This offer led to a full semester long internship which counted towards my major. The internship allowed me to complete the same type of work analyzing media and open-source materials in Russian that I planned on doing in my career and I’m now acknowledged in a book published by Oxford University Press.                                

Other phenomenal language professors like Helen Myers and David McVey always provided learning opportunities and guidance every class session, they were also available whenever possible for office hours and extra clarification. I enjoyed time at Russian table chatting with fellow students in Russian and it provided great practice whenever I had the chance to do so. Other extracurricular activities like Maslenitsa were some of my favorite memories at OSU as well. Maslenitsa at OSU was based off of the Slavic folk holiday welcoming spring, students and staff shared Russian and Slavic dishes and snacks and even performed skits and sang!

Following graduation in May of 2021, I began working for a government contractor training the U.S. Army in role playing scenarios as a Russian language speaker in roles such as foreign diplomat, non-government organization members, and a media representative. My goal was to provide realistic training opportunities to enhance that unit’s capacities. My studies at OSU were extremely important in receiving this job and doing well at it.

I then moved to more permanent work and to look for another way to serve, as an Operations and Policy Analyst working for the Oregon Health Authority in Portland, Oregon. The position specifically called for a Russian speaker to help find new ways of reaching populations in the state of Oregon to expand immunization coverages for COVID-19 and vaccine-preventable diseases. I enjoy this work and think it is a good example of the different and really wide opportunities that learning Russian language and a degree in the humanities can take you.

Class of 2020 - Sydnee Wilke

Sydnee Wilke completed her undergraduate degree from The Ohio State University with a double major in International Studies and Russian in 2020. After completing a study abroad in Moscow and writing her undergraduate thesis on Russia, she wanted to continue and expand her studies of the area. She’s currently working towards a Master of Arts in Eurasian Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies. Her research interests include soft power diplomacy, the Caucasus, and the Baltics. She hopes to one day pursue a career as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer or in the field of international development.

Right now, what would you say is your career goal or next career step? When did you decide to pursue this career track? Finally, where did Russian or Slavic studies fit in?

I have always been really interested in other countries and other languages. When I was younger, I went to DC and I saw all the embassies and found that fascinating, so from then on, I had the dream career goal of being a US diplomat, such as a foreign service officer with the US Department of State.

I went into college with that goal in mind and I decided to major in International Studies at Ohio State. Since I chose to do the International Studies Bachelor of Arts, I found out that I needed to minor in a foreign language, and so this where Russian comes in. I had no idea what language I wanted to choose but I knew I didn't want to do something I had already gotten the opportunity to study. I wanted something different, and I was speaking with an advisor and she said to me “well, if you think about long term career goals, the people who spoke Russian in the State Department were around for the Cold War era, and a lot of them are retiring.”

I decided to begin studying Russian and I loved my first semester professor so much I ended up taking her for two more semesters. Her passion for her country and its culture was really what inspired to keep learning Russian. I enjoyed it so much I turned it into a double major.

And because of that, I still have the goal of becoming a foreign service officer, however, I'm now realizing that becoming a foreign service officer is something you don't usually do immediately after college or graduate school. So, my current path is moving towards international development. I started an internship in the fall with USAID and I've gotten to see how the US pursues international development initiatives and where they work. In international development there are many countries from the former Soviet Union, such as those in Central Asia and the Caucasus, that receive significant investment from the US. I am hoping to now take my career towards international development work for USAID or one of their implementing partners, or on the ground in another country with a smaller international development firm.

SEELC Student Sydnee Wilke at the State Departmnet in Washington D.C.

Was grad school always in your plans?

Not always but after studying Russian for four years, I realized that if I want to use Russian in my career, I'm going to need to keep developing my language skills. Going to Russia and learning Russian there is always probably the best option, but grad school was something that I could do right now in America, especially due to the pandemic, but it seemed like the logical next step because I knew I needed to develop my language skills in order to use it in my career.

What were some of the OSU or Slavic Department resources that you found most helpful while you were at Ohio State?

I think one of the things that specifically sticks out is Russian table.

At first when I was younger, I didn't attend Russian table very often. I participated in a lot more events like Kapustnik. I was hesitant about Russian table because I was kind of nervous to use my Russian in a setting with other people, but then during my senior year I started going every week and it actually turned out to be really fun as well as beneficial. I got some of my other classmates and friends to come along and it was so much more relaxed than I assumed it would be. Russian table was very helpful because in the classroom you get to speak Russian, but you're not trying to have a full-on conversation every single day. Trying to have a conversation and express meaning and understanding in a more informal setting was actually very, very beneficial to me.

I think, just in general, the course offerings in the Slavic Department are really unique. There was a lot of variety, such as Russian history and culture, Russian film, and the Russian spy class. I got to learn a lot about Russia in a lot of different disciplines, which really helped me when I did go to Russia because I had some cultural, historical, political, and language knowledge. All that really benefited me and made me a more well-rounded student and really prepared me for grad school.

In this day and age, when people look at the humanities they may ask “What's the point?” “Why am I learning this” or “Why wouldn't I just get a professional degree”? As someone who’s pursuing a career outside academia, what do you think about this?

Yes, it's definitely one of those things that people don't take into consideration, unless they're very serious about area studies are working in the region and that's why I really like the graduate program I’m in as well it's because they offer courses on the Caucasus, Central Asia, places I’ve not really gotten a lot of exposure to, and now I’m getting to focus on their history and their culture, so I will have a more well-rounded view of everything in the region.

You mentioned going on a study abroad trip to Russia. Outside of the courses in the Russian degree curriculum, what impact did study abroad or internships have on how you were thinking about your career? Do you think any of these helped to give you a more competitive graduate school application?

Study abroad was very important in helping me decide whether or not the foreign service was something I could actually do because I'd never done any substantial travel outside of the US. A couple vacations here and there, but nothing major. This was my first time going to a country where I did not have the best grasp or understanding of the language and I had to use public transportation, order food at restaurants, go shopping, and a lot of other things that you would have to do if you lived there full time. At first it was challenging, and I had my fair share of struggles, however, by the end I really could view myself living in Moscow. I was like “wow I can't wait to get back” as opposed to “wow I can't wait to go home”. I couldn't wait until I got to go to Russia again.

Almost everybody in my graduate program has gotten the opportunity to visit Russia or one of the countries of the Caucasus or Central Asia.

A lot of the job applications I’ve seen actually ask “how long have you been abroad?”, so I'm now trying to get more experience abroad. While at Ohio State I did virtual internships throughout my career. I did two internships with the US Department of State and one with EducationUSA-Ukraine. I ended up really, really enjoying them and they did make me a more competitive applicant, at least for grad school.  Although I was not located in a place that had all the opportunities of a city like Washington DC, I made the most of opportunities online or things I could do virtually.

Last question. You kind of touched on it already, but if you could recommend one course for somebody to take in our department and one activity for them to participate in what would those be? Or top three if that's easier.

Yeah, I think top three would be good. Russian Culture and Politics (Russian 3350) was very eye opening because we talked a lot about the end of the Soviet Union as well as when and how Putin came to power. There was a lot of background information I didn't have about a lot of the current events that were happening, and that was early in my career, so it was probably around 2017 that I took that class. This was right around the time Russian involvement in the election and Russian politics in general were moving to the forefront again, so having that class was very beneficial.

I really enjoyed the Russian film course (Russian 340.01/.99) because there was a lot of freedom in that we got to choose what we watched and then do projects on movies we were interested in. I got to learn a lot about many classic cultural films, so when I talked to Russians and I mention that I've seen Irony of Fate, they were impressed! I think that these films also give a really good insight into life in Russia, especially the Soviet period.

The spy course (Russian 3480.01/.99) was really fun. It was a good combination of history, film, and culture. I think it really helps students identify cultural stereotypes in the media and think critically about them, so you don't just like take them at face value. That course really helps you reevaluate why we believe some of the things we do. It really helps dispel stereotypes and that's incredibly important in diplomacy. It’s a great course for Russian studies students, as well as other students who don't know much about Russia but want to learn more about the facts and that spy films are not the way to find out about Russia!

For activities, I guess I’ll just give the two main ones that I really liked. Kapustnik and Russian table.

Kapustnik was always fun. I participated or attended almost every single semester I was at Ohio State. It makes the department feel more close-knit and like we're all working towards similar goals. It’s a great way to make friends too!

I actually still attend Russian table virtually with Dr. Myers and enjoy getting to catch up with people from my classes as well as meet new students at Ohio State. Russian table is a great way to practice your language skills. Having that extra time outside of the classroom where there's no pressure of grades was very helpful to the development of my language skills.