Celebrating 50 Years of Study Abroad in St. Petersburg

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Fifty years ago, the world was an uncertain place. Cold War tensions were heating up, and U.S.-Russian relations were strained at best, with mistrust and misunderstandings on both sides. For many, it was a time to hunker down and cling to the people, places, and institutions they knew best. But it’s at times like these that it’s most important to reach across the divide – to learn about others’ beliefs, hopes, and challenges in an effort to better understand one another and, perhaps one day, build the trust needed to collaborate and cooperate on the world’s stage.

Strengthening U.S.-Russia Ties
This idea – that by bringing people together we can increase global harmony and nurture peace – is the foundation on which CIEE was built. That’s why in 1967 CIEE established the Cooperative Russian Language Program in St. Petersburg (then called Leningrad). Its purpose: to immerse U.S. students in Russian culture in the hopes that we could strengthen ties between the two nations and build back some of the trust that had been lost.

“Going to St. Petersburg made me critically think about how the western media portrays Russia. While I feel that I'm fairly open-minded, I know I can get caught in the stereotypical tropes that are often portrayed online and in the news. However living in Russia for 4 months and spending the majority of that time talking to locals, helped me realize that there is more to the story.”   - Ella B., 2014

By 1969, the program – the oldest and most comprehensive educational exchange program in Russia – had gained in popularity, leading to the opening of a CIEE Study Center in Leningrad and the offering of both summer and semester Russian Area Studies and Russian Language programs. Throughout the decades to come, as more Americans sought to explore Russian culture, politics, and people, CIEE added new options including Semester and Summer Business and International Relations programs. 

Today, more than 5,000 students from universities and colleges across the U.S. have taken part in a CIEE program in Russia. Regardless of the sometimes tumultuous relationship between the U.S. and Russia, the CIEE Study Center has remained open, inviting students to immerse themselves in the beauty and elegance of Russian culture and helping to build connections between the two, perhaps not so different, peoples.

“After a semester in St. Petersburg, I realized the many similarities between Russians and Americans – that we are more alike than different. I also came to understand the differences among Russians – that Russian people and culture are not singular or monolithic. I began to break down my own preconceived notions about Russia, and I left St. Petersburg knowing that I would return to learn and explore more.” - Annie H., 2014

50th Anniversary Celebration

To celebrate 50 years of opening the doors of connection, conversation, and understanding between the U.S. and Russia, CIEE welcomed alumni back to Petersburg on September 21-24 for four days of reminiscing, discussions (of the history of U.S.-Russian relations, politics, and more), and plenty of traditional food and drink.

Highlights included activities showcasing the spirit of Russia’s cultural and arts’ scenes – including a Russian-themed Costume Ball (a CIEE St. Petersburg tradition) and a performance by Russian jazz virtuoso Dmitri Guyvoronski – as well as presentations from many notable CIEE alumni. 

Friday featured a keynote presentation by John R. Beyrle ’76, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, as well as panel presentations with Britta Bjornlund ’88, branch chief, U.S. Department of State; Jill Dougherty ’69 ’71, former CNN correspondent and Moscow Bureau Chief; Mark Teeter, columnist at “The Moscow Times”; among many others.

Learn more about studying abroad with CIEE in Russia


And check out more CIEE St. Petersburg alumni stories