Lecturer promotes Russian culture in Wilmington

For Russian native Roza Starodubtseva, expanding cultural opportunities is important for students of all ages.

However, a program she started for children in grades 7-12 is in danger of ending due to lack of funding.

Travel Around Russia is a tuition-free, two-week summer immersion program that brings students from across North Carolina to the UNCW campus to explore Russian music, dance, food, dress and other traditions, all while becoming conversant in the language.

Some of these students had Russian heritage and were looking to reconnect with their family's history; others were simply curious to explore a new culture. The program also provided opportunities for UNCW students, who were able to work as counselors. Travel Around Russia UNCW 2013

Despite Travel Around Russia's inaugural success, the program has lost its funding through STARTALK, an initiative of the National Foreign Language Center to increase the number of Americans learning critical need languages. Currently, Starodubtseva is searching for an alternative source of support to continue the program.

"Travel Around Russia is a valuable cultural opportunity," Starodubtseva said. "I hope North Carolina students continue to have access to it."

When Starodubtseva, who is a lecturer in UNCW's Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, moved to Wilmington 20 years ago from St. Petersburg, Russia, she searched for opportunities to speak her native language and commune through common culture.

"I really didn't speak English," she explained, and to compound matters, there was a dearth of regional offerings pertaining to Russian language and culture.

In 2000, Starodubtseva created a Russian language program at UNCW's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Shortly thereafter, she was invited to join North Carolina Virtual Public School, a state initiative in online learning.

Though the state's Russian population has grown considerably since Starodubtseva's arrival in Wilmington, no local schools offered programs in Russian-related subjects for children growing up with conversational Russian at home or for their classmates, who, after meeting their new Russian peers, became interested in learning about the culture. However, now through NCVPS, any public high school student in North Carolina may enroll in online courses, which now include Russian.

In 2012, Starodubtseva joined the faculty at UNCW, where she found a crop of students eager to learn about her homeland.

"Studying Russian language will make these students stand out from the crowd when competing for internships and jobs," Starodubtseva said, "especially those who major in computer science, engineering and economics."

According to Starodubtseva, studying Russian may also increase opportunities to work for the government, through the CIA, foreign services-even within NASA's astronaut program. Further, it helps students understand the impact of globalization.

"For example, the very morning when a meteorite fell in Siberia last year, we used Skype and had a conversation with some people from Chelyabinsk, who witnessed the event," shares Starodubtseva.

Learn more about Travel Around Russia online at UNCW and on Facebook.