From Russia with Love: Bears, Balalaika, & Beyond

From Russia with Love: Bears, Balalaika, & Beyond
GLOA MA student Valeria Lamarra (left) and a classmate learned to weave flower crowns

During the Summer 2018 break, Global Affairs MA student Valeria Lamarra spent two months in historic Vladimir, Russia, studying Russian language and culture on a Department of State Critical Language Scholarship. She sees her experiences there as a natural progression of, and embellishment on, her studies at George Mason. While most associate Russia with eternal frost, vodka, and bears playing balalaika, this time abroad painted a vibrant - even hopeful - image of a land so often considered bleak and gray. Studying alongside Russian students at a local institution, she was privileged to witness the pervasive and nearly instantaneous nature of globalization today. In her two months abroad living with a Russian family, she learned more about American pop culture than she has over a lifetime in the US - including how its influence bears out on the development of Russian popular media.


International Pickle Day festival in Suzdal.

Opportunities to participate in both folk festivals - dancing, playing games, and learning the symbolism behind folk art - as well as in the daily life of Russian classmates, opened the door to a new and greater understanding of cultural transnationalism on a practical level. More formally, the KORA institute in Vladimir pushed American students from a variety of academic backgrounds to consider economics, public policy, demographic issues, and more, from the perspective of Russian and post-Soviet world citizens. The multidisciplinary nature of Valeria’s education at Mason prepared her well to understand and discuss the thought paradigms represented by immigrants and native-born Russians of all ages. Being provided the opportunity to see first-hand how Russians struggle still to redefine themselves socially after the fall of the Soviet Union in the context of a dynamic, shifting global marketplace, and how Moscow uses unusual diplomatic techniques to maintain influence within their ‘near abroad’, created the opportunity to redefine, on their own terms, how she approaches the idea of ‘knowing’ others. The frequency with which she was asked “What stereotypes do Americans believe about us?” reinforced the notion that - with or without the words to say it - attaining the means for meaningful self-definition is a powerful and truly transnational aspiration.