My degree in Russian from the U of A provided opportunities that I never dreamed possible. After graduation, I was selected as a Protocol Guide/Hostess at the Winter Olympics in Albertville – one of the few who came from outside of France. Later, a Scottsdale art dealer asked me to provide translations of artist biographies for a coffee table book, and I was even able to work with two visiting physicians from Leningrad who were on an exchange co-hosted by the Phoenix Fire Department and Maricopa County Hospital. It was also through U of A that I found myself working in a one-year position in the Refugee Section of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow – a position that indirectly launched my career as a U.S. diplomat. At the end of my studies, another U of A Russian graduate – who was one of the first contract employees at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow – had come to Tucson to recruit, and after having gained some experience after graduating, I landed the position in Moscow. This renewable position enabled me to stay in Moscow for four years from 1994-1998, during which I had the opportunity to experience the enormous changes of that time firsthand in Moscow, and through extensive travel in Russia, Belarus, the Baltics, and Central Asia.
The “human touch” in the Russian Department – which it was famous for when I was in Tucson – opened doors to studying in the Soviet Union in 1990. This experience provided me with an incredible immersion-based linguistic and cultural foundation. But I would not have been able to study in Leningrad without the basis gained in our fantastic classes in Tucson. I have no idea how Dr. Delbert Phillips did it, but he provided cassettes of native speakers conversing that gave us listening comprehension practice. It was not easy to find such material in the pre-Internet days, and I really take my hat off to him for making it happen! The Department also subscribed to all of the essential Soviet publications of the day and maintained a direct Soviet television feed, giving instructors and students the opportunity to follow changes in the middle of glasnost and perestroika from source material. This exposure gave us insights into the Soviet system, which is important to understand to this day as you have to know the past in order to understand today – and anticipate the future.
As a Foreign Service Officer, I have served in the U.S. Embassies in Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Senegal, and Turkmenistan, and continue to focus my work on improving the relationship between the United States and other countries throughout Eurasia. My University of Arizona education in the humanities provided many basics upon which I rely every single day. The (painful) grammar exercises, practical comprehension experience, conversation practice – in other words, use of the language and insights into life – that the Russian Department exposed me to are the reason why I have been able to do what I do.
When Professor Colleen Lucey brought a group of students to DC in October 2019 for networking with others who are traditionally underrepresented in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, it was inspiring and exciting to meet young scholars! And I was glad to see that tradition of the human touch in the Russian Department continues. The fact that more recent graduates have also been able to actively engage in Russian language as professionals speaks to the Russian Department’s professors’ and graduate teaching assistants’ devotion to creating this gem in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.