Alumni Profile: Lawrence Olliffe

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St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg

Lawrence Olliffe

Summer 1989

Michigan State University


Why did you choose to study abroad in St. Petersburg? What were your expectations? Did they match the reality?

I chose Leningrad because my school, Michigan State University, was one of the application schools and promoted the program.  My expectations were somewhat fearful.  It was 1989, and alumni from previous trips had outdated views about Soviet life.  The reality was different. Although still the USSR, the country was in a different period.  People were more open to approaching Americans. My perception of Russia changed, but Russia also changed my perceptions of the US.  Travel, and experience of another country/culture, makes me examine the differences between the two countries, whether they're positive, or negative.  For example, why doesn't my country give more importance to the arts, and make them more available to more people?  At one dinner that I went to, two young children were so talented: one recited a poem, and the other played a violin, for us.  And everyone was so giving and welcoming.

What is the best/funniest/strangest memory from your study abroad with CIEE?

My best and strangest memories are of our visit to Moscow.  The best was walking to Red Square the evening we arrived, and standing in the middle of it, and thinking, "As an American, I shouldn't be here, but here I am."  We all laughed, and hugged one another, unable to believe we were actually there.  It was so beautiful.  The strangest was the visit to the Lenin mausoleum, a surprisingly religious experience.  We went down, down, down, into the cold darkness, and then suddenly turned the corner, and stepped up into his light.  It was impressively symbolic.  The funniest memory, which my group still jokes about, was our last meal at the Dvorets Molodozhi (Palace of Youth).  Some very strange, and VERY bright green, creamy sauce was put on the table along with bread and soup.  We could not imagine what it was, or how to use it with what was on the table, so we asked our waiter, "Извините, пожалуйста, но что это такое?" ("Excuse me, what is this?"), and the waiter looked at us as if we were from another planet, and said, "Это соууус." (It's sauuuce.) followed by a look that seemed to say, "How do you not know that?"  Sauce with soup???  It was so absurd to us that we couldn't stop laughing.

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