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A Winter Adventure

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What do you do if you are going to Russia and Ukraine for three weeks in January? The first thing I did was to gather up warm clothes. I packed cotton long johns to wear to bed, silk long johns to wear under my street clothes, socks good to 30 degrees below F, a very warm winter coat with a hood, sturdy boots, and Polartec hat, gloves and muffler. I borrowed a heavy duty sleeping bag as I understood that the university hostel rooms were chilly. I reasoned that if I could keep warm and sleep cozy, I would be ready to meet the challenge.

My plan worked well. While in Moscow, I was ready to brave the elements and get on with whatever new adventure each day brought. I was there to learn and see first hand what the five-year-old Study Abroad Spring Semester for the College of Agricultural Sciences students was all about. Armed with first hand experiences, I can more effectively recruit for the Moscow program. In addition, along with my traveling companion Anatoliy Tmanov, we contacted Russian agribusinesses to propose adding internships onto the students’ semester.

It was good for me to see (and photograph) where our students live, where they shop, and where they eat. I was able to meet the Russian students, who are an important part of this experience, and to see where the Russian/American students meet for class. I traveled about the city by metro, bus, hair raising private car transportation and foot (Muscovites do not clean off their sidewalks in the winter, so this was treacherous; witness the quarter size scar on my knee!). I shopped at the local grocery, unique strip malls and bazaar stalls.

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The Russian students were wonderful – they were eager to show off their city and heritage and regularly organized treks to museums, monuments, parks and favorite affordable restaurants. If not for their hospitality, I would not have been able to see as much of Moscow as I did. I had a wonderful afternoon being led all over downtown Moscow via main roads and alleys to see the sights. We even walked across the Moscow River Bridge at dusk. Certainly our students will not run out of things to fill their free hours.

The second half of my East European adventure began with a 25 hour train trip from Moscow to Lviv, Ukraine. The train was hot, stuffy and filled with cigarette smoke, but I am glad I had this experience at least once. Watching the countryside and farm land roll by was a good transition between a city of 12 million and a city of 1 million. Sometimes it felt as if we were rolling backward in time and were seeing farms as they were in America in the 1940s and 1950s.

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We traveled to Lviv State Agrarian University to begin the process of establishing a study abroad spring semester there. In our four days in Lviv, we toured the university premises and the dormitories, spoke with faculty and students, and were treated to magnificent marathon lunches. On the last day, Myroslava Ischuk and her husband gave us a wonderful walking tour of Lviv—a city founded in 1256. Its baroque architecture was established after a devastating fire in 1527 razed Lviv to the ground. There are 27 museums, 12 theatres, at least 19 churches, and numerous parks and monuments to visit in addition to trying to find the location of the 154 lions located all over the city (Lviv means lion).

Did my experience give me new tools for recruiting students to these two study abroad programs? Yes. I now know what it’s like not to see sunshine for two weeks and not to have instant internet access. I can offer students advice on what to take and what to leave behind (if you like peanut butter, take it, but leave your dependency on keeping in touch by phone here – when my phone bill arrived I wished that I had “reached out” less!). If, at my age, I can go to Russia not knowing the language and become adept at using their currency, master the metro system (which does not have any English language signs) and learn enough Russian to buy fruit/vegetables/bread at the bazaar in two weeks, then our students should be able to master the city easily in a semester. If a student isn’t ready to experience a city of 12 million but wants an East European study abroad experience, then they should try Lviv. There they can enjoy living in a quaint, ancient city while being within minutes of agriculture being practiced very differently than anything they might find in America.

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I will be urging students to GO – they will have a life changing experience that they will never regret. I just hope I get to go back and experience it again!

To learn more about Moscow and Lviv in January, feel free to contact Marilyn McPheron at:

Email: mbm8@psu.edu
Phone: 814-863-0249

Check out the INTAG newsletter/photos being published by students currently in Moscow, via the INTAG website.