Marshelle Machtan participated in our Russia in the 21st Century in the summer of 2000. She has since gone on to earn two Master’s degrees from Bowling Green State University and is currently using her Russian language skills to serve a Peace Corps mission in Ukraine, a current hot-spot for world journalism as well as political and economic studies.
SRAS: For those of us who haven’t met you before, tell us a bit about yourself. How are old you, what are you doing now?
Marshelle: I’m a 28-year-old double masters degree graduate from Bowling Green State University in Political Science and German. I’ve spent much of my life traveling to Germany and studying in German-speaking countries. Right now I am serving in Ukraine through the Peace Corps as a professor of English at Luhansk National Pedagogical University in the Preparatory Training Faculty.
SRAS: So you have a lot of experience with German, why then did the Peace Corps elect to send you to Ukraine?
Marshelle: I asked specifically for Ukraine because I was interested in learning more about the country, its culture, history, and politics. I had traveled to Russia through SRAS and some other programs, and fell in love with the area. I was also interested in following up on a few possible dissertation themes that required further investigation in Ukraine. I have a very good Ukrainian friend in Kiev too. Not to mention that joining the Peace Corps has been a personal goal of mine for a very long time.
SRAS: How did your interest in Russia begin?
Marshelle: I went on a senior seminar trip with fellow collegiate scholars to St. Petersburg and Moscow. What can I say? I fell in love with the country and couldn’t get enough. I knew from then on that I had to return someday and, as a linguist, master the language.
SRAS: How many times have you traveled to Russia and the former CIS? What were your first impressions and how have they changed?
Marshelle: I haven’t traveled extensively to Russia or the CIS, but I spend more time there each time I go. For example, at present I will be in Ukraine for 2 years. Before in 2000 I was in Moscow for 3 months. Before that in 1999 I was there for 2 weeks. My first impressions were of the stark communist architecture, which I love, but also of the immediate environment, where even 10 years post-Soviet Union, the effects of the era remained quite prominently visible. I have seen monuments of Lenin (there’s rumored to be one in every city, town, and village). Additionally, there is perhaps signs of the old economy, but I see it more in a positive light, where the economy has indeed made only progress since the Soviet era. Its not necessarily perfect, but that is to be expected. It simply takes time.
In a way, my travels to Russia could be explained as an adept curiosity finally quenched. Growing up in the 1980s, actually visiting the country was unheard of, to an extent even considered “un-American.” Now suddenly it has become more of an acceptable norm and less of a political issue. My impressions haven’t changed outside of seeing economic and political change over time. Right now Ukraine is at a very interesting apex in its political development. The financial system is rumored to be on shaky grounds, but like the election, the actual outcome is unknown. Personally the romance of the East remains for me. The people, the culture, the history, the language, everything encompasses a fascinating tale. I’ve only been here for 3 months, but I already know it will be difficult to leave, as two-years stay will not be enough. Indeed, Ukrainians are as curious about us as we are of them, and I’ve found we quickly become the best of friends.
SRAS: We’ve also found that there are many here who a fascinated by foreigners and willing to talk about just about anything. So what did you think about the Russia in the 21st Century program you participated in here?
Marshelle: The program was great, just overall wonderful. It served as a model introduction to Russian economics, politics, law and language. I think I benefited most from the language, as I am now continuing to study it in Ukraine (there are two language groups, one learning Ukainian, the other learning Russian). I would recommend the SRAS program to anyone willing to spend a summer in Russia. It was a personalized program and we were taught by some of the best in the field. I met so many interesting people staying in the dorm, and venturing around Moscow guaranteed some wonderful moments to remember. It of course also served as a prelude to the Peace Corps. It further spurred my interest in living in the East for a longer period of time. I commend you on such a good program.
SRAS: Thanks! What did you learn by coming to Russia to take a course that you couldn’t have learned at home?
Marshelle: The language and cultural immersion is always the biggest pay off. You learn in 3 months what students at home might learn in 2 years of study. I think one person said it best: You wouldn’t go to France to learn Italian, so why be in the States to learn Russian? Personal experience is just incomparable with classroom study. It’s like in-your-face reality verses generic advertisements you drive by on your way to work. They’re just not the same.
SRAS: What was your experience in Moscow?
Marshelle: I must have visited Red Square every day, sometimes twice. I loved shopping for food, and window-shopping at the Goom. Night life introduced me to some nice restaurants, theater productions, and of course some dives. I think the strangest was a place that topped the night off with a chicken fight. But wherever I went, I always had a buddy. For safety sake!
SRAS: And what has been your impression of the recent events in Ukraine? How have the people there reacted?
Marshelle: The general atmosphere here is suspenseful, but very proud on the part of Ukrainians. All protests have been peaceful. Since the November 21 election the Youshenko camp on Kreshatic Main Street in Kiev has been set up and proved to last with die-hard supporters. My young Ukrainian students associate the color orange with revolution, as peaceful as it nevertheless remains. It’s amazing to see so many people from both camps out on the street and talking to each other about the election. From my young 15-year-old students to my retired babooshka host mom, they’re enraptured with the whole ordeal but remain positive, hopeful, and patient. The general impression is that Ukrainians weren’t necessarily upset by who might have won the presidency, but rather the fact that the election results may have been falsified. So in essence, all they want is a fair election, and no strings attached. At the same time, the potential repercussions after this next election can only be speculative. It’s just simply unknown what might and will happen. One thing is for sure though, with such strong Youshenko supporters in the North and West, and strong Yanakovich supporters in the South and East, the final word on who becomes president will disappoint some people.
SRAS: How will your experience with SRAS’s Millennium Program fit into your future plans?
Marshelle: Of course, presently serving in the Peace Corps, and hopefully in the future writing a dissertation on Ukrainian military transition as well as applying it to my future profession.
SRAS: What advice would you offer students who are contemplating participating in the Millennium (Russia in the 21st Century) Program?
Marshelle: Just do it. You will be glad you did. It will open doors and your eyes to so many new and fascinating things!