Grinnell College and the Russian Department have a long and rich tradition of engaging educational exchange with Russia and the nations of the NIS. Student and faculty from both sides have enjoyed more than two decades of learning from and teaching each other. A database of the names of all Grinnellians who have studied in Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as of Russian visitors can be found here: Grinnellians in Russia and Eastern Europe, 1975-2000. Please consult the list below for approved off-campus study programs.

For some general history of the department and its many interesting connections with Russia over the years. readers will be interested in "Russia and Grinnell," an article written by John Mohan of the Russian Department in the Summer 1995 issue of the Grinnell Magazine.

 

Links to Off-Campus Study Programs in Russia and Eastern Europe:

American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR/ACCELS)

American Colleges of the Midwest (ACM):

ACM in Krasnodar, Russia

ACM in Olomouc, Czech Republic

Middlebury College Language Schools Abroad

Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE)


Russia and Grinnell

Whither Russia? Considerable urgency attends the question. The collapse or remilitarization of a state covering a large part of the earth's land surface could have grave consequences for the world community. On the other hand, the emergence in Russia of a civil society and healthy economy would have the happiest consequences for global stability in the 21st century. Yet another outcome—tolerable, but frustrating to those who like neat schemes—might be decades of "muddling through" in the political, economic and social spheres.

Whatever the future may be, though, we can use the past and the present to predict a continuing involvement by Grinnell College in Russia's unfolding drama.

The current fall semester marks the eighth [now thirteenth--eds.] consecutive year in which Grinnell, working with the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR), has hosted students and teachers from the Russian State Pedagogical University (RSPU) in St. Petersburg. Fifty young people and seven teachers from the RSPU have spent semesters at the College in this period, greatly enriching our lives both culturally and linguistically. As Russia charts its difficult course, Grinnell joins ACTR and the RSPU in a venture that Newsweek characterizes, however crudely, as the best guarantee of positive changes in Russia: "There is. . .an array of exchange programs that bring individual Russians into contact with American values and ideas—these have long been the most effective sort of Yankee propaganda."

In keeping with their intellectual curiosity and love of adventure, our students go to Russia in impressive numbers. Records kept by the Russian Department since 1975 show that 154 Grinnellians have studied in Russia on fall, spring and summer programs over the past twenty years. The seventh offering of the staff-led Study Tour of Russia, scheduled for the coming spring, will bring the number of participants in that program to some 120 students. In the last two decades, another 66 students have participated in study programs in the former socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Further, a recent informal study of alumni reveals that the postgraduate lives of 150 Grinnell students have been involved, in one way or another, with the Commonwealth of Independent States and other countries east of the vanished Berlin Wall. (Eager to correct omissions, I will gladly send a copy of this study to all those who request it.)

Mere numbers cannot, of course, convey the breadth, depth and intensity of the experiences which Grinnellians have had in Russia and its environment. For an article of this length and in harmony with the College's sesquicentennial celebration of its history, brief tales of three individuals--a teacher, a student, and a trustee--might convey the spirit of Grinnell's many links with that large, uncertain land.

Edward Steiner, professor of religious studies at Grinnell in the early years of the 20th century, forged a personal bond with Leo Tolstoy, a hugely generous contributor to the artistic and spiritual wealth that Russia has given the world. Having read War and Peace as a student in Berlin in the 1880s, Steiner walked (!) to Moscow to meet the author, and meet him he did--in a reception warm enough to bring the Grinnell professor back to Russia on three later visits to Tolstoy. In his book Tolstoy the Man (New York: The Outlook Company, 1904), Steiner describes the Tolstoyan influence on the philosophy of religious studies for which Grinnell College became famous—religion as a guide to progressive social action. We must frown on writing in Burling Library books, but we can be grateful to one student of that era for using a page of the Tolstoy book to record the infectiousness with which Steiner taught Tolstoy's art and vision: "Dr. Steiner, you make me love Tolstoy, and more yet his way of thinking and doing and teaching; and, in your own great, humble life and example, methinks I see Tolstoy at his best, living still."

This ethos flourished on campus at precisely the time when the generation of New Deal activists was studying at the College. Harry Hopkins, Class of 1912, gave vast geopolitical dimensions to the links between Grinnell and Russia. After a distinguished career as a social worker and then as a principal architect of Franklin D. Roosevelt's domestic agenda in the 1930s, Hopkins served as Roosevelt's most trusted aide in the American, British and Russian alliance against Nazi Germany. Like Steiner, Hopkins traveled to Russia on several occasions--twice for Kremlin consultations with Stalin and once for the momentous Yalta Conference, occasions that did much to shape the next four or five decades of world politics. Stalin little resembled, needless to say, the holy sage to whom Steiner had made reverent pilgrimages, but Hopkins carried out these missions with almost epic heroism--in failing health, under hazardous wartime conditions, and with an awareness that the fates of millions hung in the balance. In overseeing Lend-Lease aid to an embattled ally and in negotiations on the Soviet role in the postwar world, Hopkins never lost sight of the centrality of Russia in the war against Hitler. It is very appropriate that the town of Grinnell, where Hopkins grew up and is buried, should be so active today in citizen diplomacy between the United States and Russia, humming with the activities of the Grinnell Sister City Association, the International Center for Community Journalism, the Iowa Peace Institute, and the State Department Visitors Program.

While Hopkins's hopes for a cooperative Russian-American relationship after the war were crushed in the immediate postwar years, Stalin's death in 1953 ushered in an era of peaceful coexistence, a detente which, filled with zigzagging moments of chill and warmth, led decades later to the conciliatory policies of Mikhail Gorbachev and the end of the Cold War. John Chrystal, trustee of the College since 1978, was present at the birth of this era, and in subsequent years he has vigorously promoted closer relations between Russia and the United States When Nikita Khrushchev came to Coon Rapids, Iowa in 1959 during the first visit of a Soviet leader to the United States, the media focused world attention on the farm of Roswell Garst, Chrystal's uncle and a champion of using American methods of food production to achieve peace among nations. Garst became a household name in the Soviet Union, and Chrystal has made dozens of trips to Russia over the years, preaching his belief in "productivity as a benign force," as one writer on Chrystal puts it, and using his friendships with Khrushchev and Gorbachev to argue for proteins over missiles. Chrystal represents a combination of Steiner's ethical fervor and Hopkins's pragmatism, a blend of intelligent impulses sorely needed at all times and in all places.

The alert literary analyst will note recurrent motifs here--links, bonds, and journeys. Allow me to conclude with a motif borrowed from Tolstoy, one most suitable to Iowa--turning the earth, the furrow. A member of the highest Russian gentry and the author of War and Peace, Anna Karenina and a body of writings that would fill 90 volumes after his death, Tolstoy in his old age still regretted that he had not spent his life tilling the soil, creating nutrients. When he confided this regret to Steiner, the latter protested: "Count, you have done your plowing; you have drawn a straighter furrow and a longer one right across Russia and into the heart of Europe and the New World." All the way from Russia to Grinnell.

John M. Mohan

19 July 1995

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