Although most Fulbrighters in Russia don’t take classes, I decided to take a couple this spring related to both my project topics and own interests. They’re great language practice, a good way to meet people closer to my age (and smart professors), and in the case of classes related to my project topics, a great source of background information, current events and ideas. On the Fulbright you can’t get grades or credit for your courses, so I am truly just an auditor (and can do as much or as little work as I choose J ). Far Eastern State University (DVGU) actually let me “shop” for my courses for a couple of weeks, which is rare in Russia. I’m not taking all my courses with one group of students or in one department, either – also an exception here. I take all my courses with Russian students – there are no other foreigners. I am taking 3 courses at DVGU’s Environment Institute: Nature Protection and Regional Environmental Issues; Geoecology, and Political Geography. The first class covers a number of topics of great interest to me, from ecological monitoring approaches to environmental impact assessment in Russia to natural resource use in the Far East, to why and how the Russian Far East is one of the most unique places on Earth in terms of nature. Given my avoidance of the PoliSci department at Wellesley the Political Geography course might seem an odd choice, but the professor is interesting so I decided to go with it. I don’t really get Geoecology but hey, in the worst case scenario, all of these courses are a glimpse of Russian education and great language practice and, which in itself is useful. I realized I have come a long way since Irkutsk, when at the beginning of courses I would miss every 3rd word in the lecture – now I have no real difficulty getting everything down.
I’m also taking a 20th century Russian literature course at the Language and Literature Institute, because I just can’t get away from Russian lit! It is always so fascinating to me.
Otherwise I will also being doing some of my own research, of course, and will start exploring the library soon. I’m going to start by reading more about the history of natural resource use and human-nature interactions in the Russian Far East, which will give me a great excuse to read a bunch of works by Vladimir Arseniev, a famous explorer of the RFE, that I have wanted to read for a long time. And I am going to read more about the development of the protected areas (i.e., nature reserves) system here. And then I will go from there! In addition to the research thing I want to participate a couple of “practical” activities here, so I am not just doing the theory side of things, and as I am meeting more people associated with the Institute of Marine Biology and some local environmental NGOs, I am learning more about some cool possibilities, so I can make a few choices soon. But more on that later!
1. Main building of Far Eastern State University (the Environment Institute is located on the second floor), 2. The staircase near my building is half-cleared 9 days after our Valentine’s Day blizzard. Traffic jams and icy, unplowed streets and sidewalks have made getting around Vladivostok slow, difficult and treacherous over the past week and a half.