RUSLAN's Alternative Spring Break Winter '10

February 25 - March 7, 2010


What is RUSLAN's alternative spring break program?

This spring break, the Slavic Department and the RC have organized a service learning program that will take students to Russia, to spend the first two days exploring the old magnificent capital city of St. Petersburg, rightfully called the Venice of the North, before heading to the provincial North, to work for a week in the small town of Vytegra (Vologda Oblast', approximately 450 km northeast of St. Petersburg, population of 13,000) as volunteers in the local history museums and K-12 schools. View a photo gallery of Vytegra from March 2009 here and a gallery of the sites and museums of Vytegra here.

A rich cultural and educational program is planned. First, we will explore St. Petersburg on foot and by bus, seeing famous historical sites and visiting the world-renowned Hermitage museum. On the way to Vytegra we will stop at a 15th century monastery, and while in Vytegra we will visit three nearby Russian villages, get private tours of the town itself and its museums, climb the cathedral bell tower for a spectacular view, explore an atomic submarine, learn traditional local crafts and make our own souvenirs, visit a pottery studio, and attend a concert of a children's folk group.

We will have a chance to meet with the Vytegra administration, have personal contact with town and village residents, as well as observe, discuss, and reflect on the workings of small provincial towns, explore the history of the Russian North, examine Russian provincial life (and compare it to the life in the capitals and big cities), identify the social issues and problems facing the town's residents and examine the Russian educational system.

All Russian proficiency levels are welcome and accomodated; however, to function better in the Russian environment we recommend that you have completed at least 101/193 and/or are enrolled in RUSSIAN 102/293 in the Winter term 2010 (or equivalents). All applicants are required to have completed at least one course in Russian literature, culture, or history.

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Course Component and Credit Information

Students can sign up for an independent study (RUSSIAN 315) for 1-4 credits that will involve several pre-trip meetings, reflection journals or blog entries throughout the trip and a final reflection essay analyzing your trip, service, and learning experiences. All participants will be required to attend a pre-trip orientation meeting and participate in daily debriefings during the trip. The number of credit hours you sign up for will determine the nature and extent of the required assignments. To get more information about the course component please contact Alina Makin (

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Volunteer service component

In the local history museum, we will be helping the severely underfunded (but very enthusiastic) staff to digitize their audio archives, to create an English version of the museum’s website, to make the History section of the museum accessible to occasional Anglophone river-boat tourists, and to provide technical assistance in ordering their computer databases and creating catalogs of items. In local schools (2 town K-12 schools, 2 village schools, and a vocational forestry school), also very underfunded, we will be working as conversational partners and teacher assistants to provide real contact with the English language for schools that have struggled to hire English teachers for the last two years and for the children who want to practice their new English skills. We will also be giving presentations about American culture to Russian children. There will be many chances to find a Russian pen-pal and explore summer/semester-long internship opportunities.

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Trip itinerary

In brief, our itinerary will be as follows:

Day 1
2/25, Thu
pm: fly to St. Petersburg
Day 2
2/26, Fri
pm: arrive in SPb, transfer to hotel, check-in, dinner, orientation
Day 3
2/27, Sat
am: breakfast, guided bus tour of Petersburg, souvenir shopping
pm: lunch at Shtolle restaurant, guided tour of the Hermitage Art museum, free time downtown
evening: dinner, debrief, free time, free skate for the brave!
Day 4
2/28, Sun
am: breakfast, checkout, bus to Vytegra
pm: stop in Svirstroy, lunch, tour of Aleksandro-Svirsky Monastery, continue to Vytegra
evening: arrive in Vytegra, hotel check-in
Day 5
3/1, Mon
am: breakfast, interview with town administration, private tour of the Vytegra Local History Museum, on-site orientation
pm: cafe lunch, visit the Sretensky cathedral, climb the bell tower for the aerial view of the town, volunteer work at the museum, tour of N. Klyuev Museum
Day 6
3/2, Tue
am: breakfast, work at School #1 (English lessons, cultural presentations)
pm: lunch at school, tour of school museum of local folklore, WWII history museum, concert of the school's folk-ethnographic group "Olonia", tea part/socialization with school children/teachers, meeting with teachers (internship program)
evening: free time, dinner, debrief, study time
Day 7
3/3, Wed
am: breakfast, work at School #2 (English lessons, cultural presentations)
pm: lunch at school, tour of the school's museum, meeting with the school's literary group, tea/socialization, meeting with the teachers
Day 8
3/4, Thu
am: breakfast, board a van for a tour of the villages and Klyuev sites, visit a pottery site in Tudozero, walking tour of the village of Makachevo, meet the staff/children at the Makachevo village school, volunteer work (English lessons, presentations)
pm: packed lunch, trip to the village of Devyatiny, tour of the village school, volunteer work (presentations), socialization, return to Vytegra
Day 9
3/5, Fri
am: breakfast, volunteer work at the forestry vocational school
pm: tour of the children's craft museum, learn to make your own local traditional crafts, cafe lunch, tour of the "Northern waterways" museum, tour of an atomic submarine, souvenir shopping at a souvenir exhibition/"Wonderful world" store
evening: free time, farewell restaurant dinner, debrief, packing
Day 10
3/6, Sat
am: breakfast, hotel checkout, board the bus, departure for SPb, stop in Oshta, visit the WWII memorial, cafe lunch
evening: arrive in SPb, hotel checkin, dinner, early lights out
Day 11
3/7, Sun
3am: rise, checkout, early bus to airport, packed breakfast, catch a red-eye flight to DTW
evening: arrive in Detroit, transfer to AA
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St. Petersburg: We will be staying at the recently built and very comfortable Center for Physical Education, Sports and Fitness of the Vasileostrovksy Area (66, Maly Prospekt) for young athletes. The Center has a small inn for visiting teams (we will be staying in double rooms with shared bathrooms in the hallway), a very good and affordable cafe (which offers excellent home-style meals and where we will eat our breakfasts and dinners), and a number of sports facilities (a fitness center, a skating rink, available for free skate and skates rental, soccer fields, and tennis courts). It is within an easy reach (even a walk) to downtown and is located in an old residential area with many places to eat, shop at, and visit. There is a subway station nearby and a multitude of public transportation options. For group tours around town and airport transfers we will have the Center's comfortable brand new coach for our private use.

Vytegra: We will be staying at Vytegra Hotel (4, Lunacharskogo str.), conveniently located in a quiet residential area within walking distance of all of our service sites in town and with several shops, cafes, a post office, and an internet cafe just around the corner. The hotel is currently being remodeled and should be completely overhauled by our arrival. We will be staying in double rooms with private bathrooms and using one of their suites for group meetings.

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Petersburg: We will eat mostly at the Center's Stolletka cafe and will have one lunch at the Shtolle restaurant near the Hermitage (6/1, Konushennyi Lane). The cafe and restaurant both belong to the same cafe/restaurant chain in Petersburg that specializes in grandmother's style pies and provides high quality food at affordable prices. They have an excellent website where you can view their menu here.

Vytegra: We will eat our breakfasts and dinners at the hotel's cafe, lunches at school cafeterias and the three local cafes ("Mariinka", "Izumrud", and "Nostalgie") and lunches at school cafeterias. All venues chosen have vegetarian options and provided balanced, home-style traditional Russian meals. We will get our daily menus in advance. At Svirstroi we will eat at the Palomnik (Pilgrim) cafe right next to the Aleksandro-Svirsky Monastery founded in the 15th century. The cafe adjoins the hotel under the same name and offers healthy regular and Lenten-appropriate (vegetarian) meals to the visitors. All lunches and dinners are 3 course meals (appetizer, soup, entree) with juice/tea, breakfasts include yogurt, buterbrod, cereal, tea, coffee, fruit. We will also have a simple 3-course lunch at a small village cafe in Oshta on the way back to St. Petersburg. All cafes chosen have been "tested" several times by the RUSLAN director. We work very hard to accommodate all dietary restrictions and food allergies, just make sure to list them in your health form.

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Disability Access

Russia still has only very limited disability access facilities (for the blind, hearing-impaired, or people in wheelchairs) in big cities and almost no disability access in provincial towns. With our reliance on walking, using public transportation and long bus trips, and a very busy volunteering schedule, we recommend that anyone who might be concerned about access issues consult the program director for advice before committing to the program.

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Our visas will be processed together as a group through UNISEL Travel in NY. Obtaining visas through this agency is slightly more expensive than through other group agencies, but Unisel is very reliable, pain- and glitch-free, and their visas come with a migration card and a voucher (that saves us from the hassle of dealing with Russian agencies).

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Health and Travel Insurance

The University requires that all travelling students (and accompanying faculty) obtain HTH World Wide Student Travel Abroad health insurance that (for $1/day +$5 registration fee) provides extensive coverage and pays all upfront costs, eliminating the need for reimbursements. We will obtain group coverage a week before departure. Each student will also be asked to get ISIC student travel cards (cost $22) for travel insurance coverage in case of trip delays, cancellations, lost luggage, etc. As an added benefit, ISIC cards provide card-holders with discounts to museums and attractions in St. Petersburg and on public transportation. Health care in St. Petersburg will be provided through the "Euromed" clinic (with English-speaking staff; located at 50, Suvorovsky Pr.), in Vytegra - through the Rayonnyi Hospital #1. To increase the safety of all participants, each student will be provided with a cell phone (with basic air-time coverage) for easy contact with the group members and the faculty supervisor.

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Airline Tickets

According to the University's rules, you must make your own air-line reservations (individual reservations are also cheaper than group reservations). You will need to plan to get to St. Petersburg no later than 5 p.m. on February 26th and leave St. Petersburg no earlier than March 7th. You will join the rest of the group at the Pulkovo 2 Airport and will be transferred to the hotel. Ideally, we suggest that you try to make a reservation for the Lufthansa flight 443, DTW-Frankfurt leaving 2/25 6:59 p.m. and arriving in Frankfurt 2/26 at 9:05 a.m.; Lufthansa flight 3217 Frankfurt-St. Petersburg leaving at 1:40 p.m. on 2/26 and arriving at 6:25 p.m. On the way back to the US, it would be ideal if you could make your reservation for the 6:05 a.m. flight to Frankfurt from Petersburg by Lufthansa. That way we could travel together and we will have an easier time coordinating airport transfers. In each case, plan to submit your itinerary as soon as it is finalized. Currently, these return flights are estimated to cost $950 through Orbitz.

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Estimated Trip Cost

Program fee: $1,136, payable in 2 installments: $350 at the time of application, refundable to applicants who have not been accepted, and $786 by February 1. Program fee includes all group expenses: visa, health insurance, all accomodation, all listed group meals, airport transfers, group ground transportation (SPb-Vytegra-SPb coach and van to the villages), admission to the guided tours, and cell phone rental. Not included in the program fee are only the items you either already have or will need to obtain for yourself: your passport (we assume you have one already), your airline ticket (estimated $950), your ISIC card ($22), available at the International Center, extra visa costs (for dual Russian/US citizens), and out-of-pocket expenses.

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Financial Aid

RC students can apply for the Dan Brown Scholarship for Global Engagement (deadline is mid-January) that can offset up to 50% of the trip's cost.

Project RUSLAN and Alternative Spring Break Program organization has been funded through the generous support of the Ginsburg Center Faculty Iniative Grant.

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How to enroll

**APPLICATION DEADLINE: December 14, 2009**

Below is the necessary paperwork:

Health form
Paperwork checklist
Participation Agreement
Russian Visa Application

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All current and future participants are encouraged to download and read the program handbook for further information.

Download the handbook

Program Staff

Group leader/trip organizer/faculty supervisor: Alina Makin, RUSLAN Coordinator, Head of the Intensive Russian Program in the RC, Lecturer IV (; (734) 647-4376).

A native Muscovite, she was educated at the Moscow Linguistics University and the University of Leicester, England, where she studied applied linguistics and language acquisition. In Moscow, she worked as a language teacher, translator and interpreter. At the University of Michigan, where she has worked for over 17 years, she teaches all levels of Russian in the Intensive Russian language program and at the Slavic Department, as well as advanced Russian readings seminars in the RC. In WT’09 she created and taught a Russian service learning course entitled “Russian people, language and culture in the United States," which places students to work in the AA Russophone community and local K-12 schools. She has produced a four-part video series (in Russian) on Russian Food (Russian food shopping in Detroit, Russian cooking, entertaining guests Russian-style and Russian peasant cooking). Her research interests include several areas of applied linguistics, second-language acquisition and pedagogy, and the history and culture of Russian food and cooking. Alina Makin travels regularly to St.Petersburg and Vytegra for research, business and pleasure.

Vytegra on-site director: Tamara Pavlovna Makarova, Director of the Vytegra Museum of Local History and its affiliates. Born and brought up in Vytegra, she has headed the museum since 1983 and works very closely with the town’s administration, merchants, and educators on promoting the town as a tourist and research destination. She is the person behind planning out all Vytegra logistics and programming.

Program assistant: Bryn Hauk -

If you have any further questions, concerns, comments, etc., please contact us. We are always glad to help!