By Kurtis Yan
On February 23rd, Russian Flagship students from across the country tuned into a live online panel discussion, led by five alumni. More than 25 students attended the meeting, and Flagship faculty from various universities were present as well. The five former students were Stephany Kim, UCLA; Jessica Rhee, Portland State; Kyle Farrell, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Zachary Hollis, Indiana University; and Sarah Devin Kaufman, Bryn Mawr College. Each alumnus lead a Q&A session in their own breakout rooms. Flagship faculty also attended and contributed their own advice. Faculty were given the chance to reconnect with their students, who they hadn’t seen since completing the Flagship program.
Flagship students asked alumni for advice on topics including how to coordinate the Flagship capstone year with graduation plans. Alumni discussed their undergraduate majors and in what ways their career goals have shifted or stayed the same in the years since. Stephany Kim, who graduated from UCLA in 2017 with majors in Russian and physiological science, is currently a fourth-year medical student at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, TX. Due to her interests in healthcare, she interned at the Almaty Cardiology Center during her capstone year in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Moreover, Dr. Susan Kresin, UCLA’s Russian Flagship Program student coordinator, joined Kim’s breakout room to reconnect with her.
In his breakout room, Kyle Farrell was asked about the frequency of his Russian language usage in his profession. Farrell works as a desk officer for Central Asia for USAID and explained that Russian language usage has varied during the careers of his former flagship peers. However, he noted that he is usually asked to translate Russian texts “once every week or so.” Farrell also discussed the importance of learning Kazakh language, given changing language preferences in Kazakhstan. Farrell studied in Kazakhstan in 2014, during the year in which the Flagship program relocated from St. Petersburg to Almaty. There, Farrell enrolled in Kazakh language courses and would occasionally utilize his Kazakh language knowledge during conversations with his host family and other locals. Furthermore, Farrell discussed the rising political importance of Central Asia and the unique character of its history, cultures, and political developments.
All of the alumni agreed that the Flagship capstone year was a unique and highly valuable experience to utilize and test their Russian language skills, with the goal of reaching superior proficiency. As the panel was wrapping up, they provided their email addresses, in the case that current Flagship students think of more questions or need academic and career advice.