Student Reflections on STARTALK, the SLI, and Project GO


Photo of Kaylie Arriaza

Kaylie Arriaza

I live in Chicago, Illinois, and I am a senior at Pritzker College Prep. I currently have a year-and-a-half of IB Russian under my belt along with two STARTALK Russian summer programs, fly-in and virtual. After high school, I plan on attending college, I am not sure exactly where, but that is the plan. In college, I want to major in Russian and International Affairs. I knew I would be studying Russian my junior and senior year of high school; however, I decided to get a head start the summer after my sophomore year. My older sister, who had just graduated, was going to major in Russian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so Russian was definitely of huge interest to me. I took French as a child; however, I never mastered it. It took years to understand how I had missed that opportunity, so when I had the opportunity to learn a different foreign language, I was very excited. In the future, I want to be a diplomat or someone that is a part of global affairs. I plan on using my Russian skills to be able to live in Russia, or neighboring countries, for some time. Aside from the language itself, learning Russian has also helped me hone my skills on learning about different cultures and traditions. When I did the Russian STARTALK program at the University of Pittsburgh, I was immersed in Russian music, food, traditions, media, and the language. Learning about a certain country or being able to live and work there do not solely rely on the knowledge of their language, but of the way their society is built. I would argue that learning Russian and getting involved in many different activities has opened my narrow-minded view of life. To conclude, I cannot imagine a future where I do not pursue my Russian learning, and I am very glad to have taken it up. 

Photograph of Eytan Goldstein

Eytan Goldstein, a fourth-year student at Barrington High School in Rhode Island, became interested in Russian as a first-year high-school student reading Lev Tolstoi’s novel War and Peace.  “Learning Russian has introduced me to artists such as Ivan Shishkin and writers such as Isaac Babel,” Eytan writes. “Ultimately, Russia and Eastern Europe offer so much more than meets the eye: incredible food, fascinating and tragic history, as well as kind, resilient people.” 

Having begun language study early through STARTALK and National Security Language Initiative for Youth, Eytan is headed to Harvard in Fall 2021, with longer-term plans to pursue a PhD in International Relations.  “I will need Russian to study the literature on that large nation’s impact on the global stage and future aspirations,” Eytan writes. “In the nearer term, I know that I will be able to find a home in my university’s Department of Slavic Studies.”

With three years of Russian study at Brashear High School here in Pittsburgh (including Pitt’s STARTALK), Autumn Rigot was first and foremost attracted to the challenge of the language. “I decided to study Russian because the Spanish classes that I was taking at the time were not challenging enough. The chance to study Russian in high school a unique opportunity that I did not want to miss.” After high-school graduation, Autumn entered Pitt be become a double major in Russian and political science. 

Currently a third-year student at Pitt, Autumn was able to spend six weeks studying Russian in Daugavpils (Latvia).  She writes: “My decision to study Russian changed my life in a significant way. When I started learning Russian, I thought it would just be a random high school class. Most importantly, my decision to start studying Russian helped me develop my plans for future education. I picked a Russian major purely because I enjoyed taking language classes. I was inspired by my Russian classes to become a political science major when I realized the complexity of the relationship between the United States and Russia.”  With plans to work in public policy, Autumn sees a future that may not include Russian in her professional life, but nevertheless has shaped her personal interests.  “My Russian language classes have introduced me to new hobbies, such as reading Russian literature and watching movies in Russian.”

Photo of Ankush Trivedi

As a student at United World Colleges-USA (New Mexico), Ankush Trivedi began studying Russian at Pitt STARTALK in 2018, inspired by a strong interest in political-cyber communication.  This concentration in the intersection of Russian language and technology has sparked an interest in international relations and foreign affairs. 

Ankush sets his goals high: “I believe in order to build peace between hostile countries in a technological age, it is up to young people who are fluent in English, Russian, and technology,” he says. “Learning Russian creates a foundation to ultimately strengthen international relations in this entirely technological economy.”  As a result of his STARTALK experiences, Ankush began to notice instances of spoken Russian around him: “I first noticed it in my local community after my first summer at STARTALK -- at the beach, the supermarket, and the movie theater and was surprised to see it often in my classes. Most recently, I noticed it in my Global Politics class at UWC-USA where we studied Ukraine.”  As for longer-term goals, Ankush hopes to enter international diplomacy, a field in which he could combine “the understanding of languages and cultures with a crucial understanding of forms of government.”

The Summer Language Institute

Photo of Alexa Kurmanova

Alexa Kurmanova
SLI Russian 2017, 2018 (Pitt+Moscow)

While completing my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh, I participated in the Summer Language Institute two years in a row. Although I had a prior knowledge of the Russian language, I was able to quickly build my vocabulary and rejuvenate my grammar skills while in the program. The program’s Russian speaking professors made it easy for me to immerse myself in such an intensive course. The attentiveness of the program administrators and professors to the barriers and doubts that present themselves when learning a language allowed me to be more confident in my ability to speak the Russian language!

Photo of Klementyna Pozniak

Klementyna Pozniak
SLI Ukrainian 2019

Learning Ukrainian at SLI was one of the most rewarding academic experiences I have partaken in. During my time at the SLI program I was constantly encouraged to challenge myself and grow as a language learner. I was taught by a phenomenal teacher who is passionate about teaching Ukrainian and wanted to see her students succeed. The combination of language lessons, singing classes and weekly films in my target language allowed me to a gain a deeper appreciation for Ukrainian and Ukrainian culture. I believe that the language skills I gained during my participation in SLI strengthen my resume exponentially and provided me the additional edge I needed to secure a Fulbright grant. 

Project GO