Undergraduate Russian Flagship students present research at UCLA conference

Congratulations to Russian Flagship students Alex Steiner and Kendall Werneiwski, who participated in the UCLA Undergraduate Conference on Slavic and East/Central European Studies in Los Angeles on April 29, 2017. Steiner and Werneiwski were nominated by the Russian Flagship Program to participate in the annual conference, where students have the opportunity to integrate their language skills with focused investigations into the histories, politics, literatures, and cultures of the regions where those languages are spoken.

Russian Flagship Program coordinator Laura Marshall sat down with Steiner and Werneiwski for a quick Q&A on their work:

Alex Steiner is a senior majoring in Russian and international studies. Steiner spent summer 2016 studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, and will study abroad on the Russian Overseas Flagship capstone program in Almaty, Kazakhstan in academic year 2017-18. Steiner's conference paper focused on the history and present-day use of the term “fifth column” in Russian political discourse and its implications for the domestic Russian political opposition and international relations.

Q: Please describe your experiences conducting research in a foreign language. What were some of the most rewarding parts of the experience and/or biggest challenges?

A: Conducting research in a foreign language is a challenge, but I really enjoy the process. It pushes me to apply my language skills in a very concentrated way. It's very personally rewarding to be able to analyze primary sources, construct an argument, and defend it in a foreign language.

Q: Are you planning to expand on this research during your capstone year in Kazakhstan (or at some other point in the future)?

A: If possible, I'd like to expand on this research while on the Russian Overseas Flagship capstone program. The term “fifth column” has also been revived in Kazakhstan, and it would be interesting to compare my findings between Russia and Kazakhstan.

Q: What inspired or motivated you to choose this particular topic?

A: I'm interested in opposition politics in Russia and the ways in which the opposition is characterized linguistically. This characterization often implies association with foreign governments, which has important implications for Russian foreign relations. That's what motivated me to learn more about the origins of the term “fifth column.” I was surprised to find that a term that had arisen during the Stalinist era was experiencing a resurgence in contemporary Russia.

Kendall Werneiwski is a junior majoring in Russian and political science. Werneiwski spent summer 2016 studying abroad in Kyiv, Ukraine. Werneiwski’s research paper explores the future of EU-Ukraine relations in terms of the developmental paths of the European Union and the Russian Federation, and their impact on Ukraine.

Q: Please describe your experiences conducting research in a foreign language. What were some of the most rewarding parts of the experience and/or biggest challenges?

A: Conducting research in a foreign language is highly challenging, but highly rewarding. Since Russian is not my native language, I needed to read every article and every source very carefully and closely to fully understand subtle nuances and vocabulary in the cultural and political context from which they came. Therefore, it was much more time consuming. However, the most rewarding part of the experience was being able to successfully provide a unique point of view that many in the English-speaking world may not have been exposed to otherwise.

Q: Were you able to integrate your experiences studying abroad in Ukraine into your research for this paper?

A: My study and internship experience abroad in Kyiv, Ukraine supplemented the research for my paper immensely. During my time abroad, I was able to meet and talk with many Ukrainians from around the country in both professional and informal settings. In talking to those people, I was able to hear opinions and experiences from those who are currently living through the crises in Ukraine. This experience allowed me to better understand the difficulty and the impact of the crises in Ukraine, which I used to supplement my research.

Q: What inspired or motivated you to choose this particular topic?

A: The inspiration for this paper came from my experience working abroad in Ukraine. As a part of my internship, I had the opportunity to travel to Slavyansk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, which was a city that was formerly occupied by Separatists at the start of the war in 2014. Seeing the conflict firsthand sparked my interest in the geopolitical significance of Ukraine, so I decided to explore this further in my research.

The UW-Madison Russian Flagship is a collaborative initiative of the UW-Madison Department of Slavic Languages and Literature  and the Language Institute, with the Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia, and the Doctoral Program in Second Language Acquisition
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