Aleks Cwalina


Please introduce yourself to prospective students!

Hi! My name is Aleks and I have been in the Russian Flagship for a little over a year now. I have always been fascinated with Eastern European culture and have decided to develop this further at UW-Madison with courses examining Eastern Europe through history and language, taking the “Russia and the World” First-Year Interest Group (FIG) on sort of a whim freshman year. I love to learn languages (Russian is my fifth) and was initially cautiously interested in the language portion of the FIG but came to love it and the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic as a whole through the wonderful students and staff learning and working in it.

How have your Russian language skills changed since joining the Russian Flagship Program?

My Russian skills have dramatically improved since joining the program. After just first year and summer Russian, I managed to reach Intermediate High on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) scale in speaking, a level usually attained after four years of traditional high school language education. This is due to the higher expectations (but higher rewards) of work within the Russian Flagship and the vast amount of resources available, whether through extra classes or weekly tutoring. My speech became more fluent and natural, and my comprehension of spoken and written material drastically improved as well, both around Advanced Mid by ACTFL standards. In comparison to other language classes at UW-Madison, it’s hard to find a program that fosters these skills at a similar level.

What are some of your favorite aspects of the Russian Flagship Program?

I think my favorite aspect of the Russian Flagship is, as cheesy as it may sound, the people you meet along the way. I’ve made most of my best friends in college through the Russian Flagship, whether by seeing them in class every day or through other extra-curricular activities that the program organizes. Additionally, there are many other amazing people in the various cohorts and faculty and staff with unique backgrounds and specializations that, even looking beyond Russian, I am glad to have met.

Why is a professional level of proficiency in Russian important to you?

Professional/Superior proficiency in Russian is important to me because, as an aspiring political journalist, Russia and its people are often ignored or sidelined in European and world politics due to remnants of post-Cold War Russophobia. However, as many know, Russia plays a large role on the political stage and ignoring its perspectives comes at a detriment to achieving a better overall view necessary of anyone studying journalism or political science in the twenty-first century. On another level, Russian culture in and of itself is fascinating and learning the Russian language and culture makes following it more engaging and interesting.

What advice do you have for students who are considering the Russian Flagship Program?

First, although the requirements may seem tough or hard to fit in, I recommend applying anyway and seeing how you feel after the first semester. Even for a double major pursuing a certificate in another language, I have managed to fit in Russian and anything else the Russian Flagship Program requires just fine. If something seems dicey, faculty and staff are more than happy to help you work things out. Another word of advice is to take advantage of every resource the Russian Flagship offers. Many of the events outside of the classroom are helpful to not only brush up on your Russian, but also to meet people in the program outside of your cohort who are interested in the same things as you!