A young woman with braids and flowers in her hair.
Program Overview

Russian

Explore the vast and complex land where West meets East.

Yuliia Podstavniagina, 2018-2019 Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant, at the Russian department’s annual Maslenitsa festival, which ushers out winter and welcomes spring.
Photo credit: Michael Hartman

Russian is More Important than Ever in Today’s World

Russia: snow, bears, vodka, caviar, ballet, sprawling novels, revolutionaries, spies, tyrants… Russia continues to reassert itself on the world stage, but Americans still fall back on easy clichés when dealing with their longtime rival and sometime nemesis. Oberlin’s Russian program challenges students to go deeper as they explore the extraordinary diversity, complexity, and beauty of a country that stretches over one eighth of Earth’s inhabited surface. Our approach is at once pragmatic and intellectually adventurous, and we offer both a Russian language and literature major and an interdisciplinary Russian and East European Studies major. We provide rigorous training in the Russian language so that students can live, study, and work in Russia, and we also teach a wide array of classes in translation on literature, film, visual arts, music, history, politics, sociology, food studies, and environmental studies focused on Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.

A Vibrant and Tight-Knit Intellectual Community

Students will discover a real spirit of camaraderie in the department, which is small enough that you inevitably get to know all your professors well. We offer a host of opportunities that are unique to Oberlin. Many students live in the semi-immersive environment of Russian House, the oldest and most atmospheric dorm on campus. Advanced majors often help teach Winter Term Elementary Russian. Our honors students work one-on-one with their professors, and sometimes travel to Moscow and St. Petersburg to do library and archival research. We have sponsored faculty-led winter term trips to Russia and the Baltics to study theater and politics. Majors head off to Lake Baikal, the Republic of Georgia, and many other destinations for three-month internships that are truly life-changing. We place our students in top graduate schools, and recent grads have gone on to careers in journalism, academia, public policy, and law; one is now a park ranger, another a sommelier, a third a professional baseball scout (and yes, he played baseball in Russia!).

Oberlin has sent more than 50 students to work with NGOs in Russia and surrounding states.
Learn more about our OCREECAS internships

Russian House

Russian House (Русский Дом) is the oldest, smallest, and most distinctive dorm on campus, and the welcoming hub of all things Russian at Oberlin.

Two festive students hold up a picture frame around their faces that says 'Typical Russian'.
Oberlin College is among the top producers of Fulbright scholars in the United States, with Russian among the top yielding programs at the College.

Learn—and Teach!—the Language of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky

One reason our majors land so many Fulbrights is that they have the chance not just to take Russian, but to teach it as well. We’ve run a student-taught Winter Term Elementary Russian Intensive for almost 50 years.

A student writes on a chalkboard.

Featured Courses

RUSS 222

Russian Foodways

A hands-on exploration of  the vital role of food and drink in Russia and its borderlands (Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Central Asia) from a historical, cultural, environmental, and culinary perspective. Topics include the dual peasant and aristocratic origins of Russian cuisine; food, drinking, and national identity; food and memory; the Russian vegetarian tradition; foraging and hunting; feasts and famines; kitchen and dacha- gardening; current trends such as fast food, local food, farm-to- table. Cookbooks, literary works, essays, films. Entails kitchen time. No cooking experience required!

Taught by
Tom Newlin
RUSS/CMPL 225

The Existentialist Imagination in Russia and Europe

Responding to the major crises and anxieties of modernity, particularly the decline of religion and the rise of metaphysical skepticism, existentialism invites us to explore such themes as consciousness, death, the absurd, freedom, and responsibility. This course probes the origins of the existentialist worldview in 19th and early 20th-century Russian literature (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky) and classic texts by European existentialists (Kafka, Unamuno, Camus, Sartre, de Beauvoir), then considers how this legacy was refracted in 20th and 21st-century Russian literature and film. In English.

Taught by
Vladimir Ivantsov
REES/HIST 360

Constructing the Russian Revolutionary Self

What role do individuals play in revolutionary history? How do understandings of identity change in moments of upheaval? How do scholars use ‘ego-documents’ as historical sources? This research seminar is an exploration of selfhood in the modern Russian revolutionary tradition. Through treatises, memoirs, artworks, and films, we will examine how nihilists, populists, Marxists, feminists, and the militant working class constructed new forms of radical subjectivity. Final primary source-based research paper focused on revolutionary biography.

Taught by
Nicholas Bujalski
RUSS 411

Special Topics: Women’s Voices in Contemporary Russia

This course explores the landscape of women's lives in contemporary Russia from a variety of perspectives—social, political, cultural. We will juxtapose readings from well-known Russian women writers such as Liudmila Petrushevskaia and Liudmila  Ulitskaia with the voices of a wide range of contemporary Russian journalists, film directors, philanthropists, and video bloggers. Involves regular discussion and hands-on projects. Conducted in Russian.

Taught by
Maia Solovieva

Student Paths and Profiles

Oberlin-Moscow-Colombo- Alaska-New York-Uzbekistan

Globe-trotter Sarah Chatta ’17 double-majored in creative writing and Russian and wrote an honors thesis on Bollywood  in the Soviet Union. After graduation, she taught English in Moscow, then worked as a journalist in Sri Lanka (on a Princeton in Asia Fellowship), Alaska, and New York City (for Inside Edition). She is currently a Fulbright Fellow in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.

Sarah Chatta

Oberlin-Yakutsk-Berkeley

Hank Miller ’17 taught Winter Term Russian and wrote an honors thesis on Nabokov’s Pale Fire. After graduation, he  journeyed on a Fulbright to Yakutsk, the coldest city on earth, where he taught English for a year and visited the local Wooly Mammoth Museum. He is now in the warmer climes of Berkeley CA, where he is pursuing a PhD in Russian literature.

Hank in a museum, with a giant woolly mammoth on display behind him.

Natural Winemaking in Georgia

Russian major and varsity swimmer Jean-Paul Gilbert ’17 headed off to Sighnaghi, Republic of Georgia after graduation to work at a natural winery through an OCREECAS internship. He then did a stint at the world famous restaurant Noma in Copenhagen before going back to his hometown of Chicago, where he plans to open a natural wine bar.

Above, Jean-Paul cleans out a qvevri—a giant amphora buried in the earth for fermenting wine.

Jean-Paul's head pops up from a hole in the floor amid buckets and a hose.

What does Russian at Oberlin look like?

A professor in a classroom.

Professor Tom Newlin leading an Elementary Russian class.

Photo credit: William Bradford
A group of students enjoying an outdoor event in winter.

Luci Williams ’23, Tara Bobinac ’23, and Brian Shoop ’23, and (back) Effigy Long-Winter ’23 at our February 2020 Maslenitsa Festival on Tappan Square.

Photo credit: Courtesy of the Oberlin Russian Department
A group of 8 people meets in a lounge.

Students at Russian Table with Professor Maia Solovieva and Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant Yuliia Podstavniagina.

Photo credit: Courtesy of the Oberlin Russian Department
Four travelers stand beside a Pan American Airlines plane.

From Oberlin’s archives: the 1964 Oberlin Choir tour of the Soviet Union.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives

Next Steps

Get in touch; we would love to chat.


Students sitting in a circle in the grass, spaced widely apart from one another.
Photo credit: Yvonne Gay