Story by Noah Mayhew, Dual degree NPTS (MIIS/MGIMO), ’18
I started learning to speak Russian in kind of an ironic, organic fashion. I met my best friend during my first year of college and she was born in a small town in the Smolensk region of Russia.
She was adopted and moved to America when she was 12 years old, and after we met and she told me her story, my interest in the language and culture naturally evolved. Though Elena grew up in a less than ideal situation, she always spoke with such wonder about her memories of her family and childhood friends, how much she missed Russia and most how much she loved her home town. It was through that lens that I started my language study, so it was quite personal from the
If I’m entirely honest, Russian initially was a language she and I could speak as a secret language. There weren’t many people at my undergraduate institution who could speak Russian. Later, though, I started to understand how important Russian-American relations are in the international landscape and decided to combine my Russian skills with my public relations background to try to do some good.
It wasn’t until I participated in Middlebury College’s language immersion program that my Russian skills finally passed a threshold and got to the next level. And that was my introduction to the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. I am fortunate to have been accepted to a new partner initiative between the Middlebury Institute and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, the most elite institution of its kind in the Russian Federation. I can now say with confidence that people in Russia look at you differently as an American when you can speak their language. And studying all things nuclear is certainly an unexpected element of my interest in Russia, but the deeper I dig, the more fascinated I become.
All the same, it all comes back to people – just people. It goes back to my time learning classic Russian poetry and cultural dances and to the time I spent with Elena in her home town of Novodugino.
We study a lot about international relations and statecraft, but what studying Russian helps remind me is that, at the end of the day, we are all people and basically want the same things – to live our lives and prosper.