When the United States government advised American citizens to leave the Russian Federation after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, plans for students to study abroad in Russia had to be discontinued for the foreseeable future. Professor Jason Merrill, one of the co-directors of the MSU Russian language study abroad program in Russia, had already investigated new locations for the Russian language study abroad program. MSU’s Russian language study abroad program was moved to Daugavpils, Latvia in summer of 2023.
MSU’s study abroad program in Volgograd, Russia had existed in various forms since the late 1990s. Academic travel to the Russian Federation has been canceled for the foreseeable future, but due to the legacy of the Soviet Union, students who study the Russian language have several options for immersive study abroad experiences. “Russia is not the only country where people speak Russian in their everyday lives,” said Shannon Quinn, Associate Professor of Russian.
Many students from other universities have been studying in recent years in countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, including Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Armenia. Latvia was chosen as the site for the MSU program, in part because it is a member of the European Union and NATO. It also has a location convenient for travel to other countries in Europe.
Kayla Wikaryasz is one of the students who studied in Latvia in the summer of 2023. “Overall, I’m most surprised at how comfortable I felt in Latvia, even though I had never traveled by myself before. Living with a host family also wasn’t as stressful as I thought it was going to be. The experience taught me to have more confidence in the things I do and to have more confidence to try new things.”
The city of Daugavpils, where MSU students study, has a large number of people who speak Russian at home – around half of the city’s residents are ethnically Russian, though most people speak Latvian as well. So students get a lot of experience with intercultural communication and see the crossroads of several cultures while at the same time working on their language skills.
“Though students can’t visit Russia right now, I am just as grateful to have had the experience of traveling to Latvia as I would have been if I were to travel to Russia. I felt like I was challenged and I left with a whole new perspective of the world,” Kayla said.
MSU students at Daugavpils University