Newsletter 2002
Russian: A Vacation Choice...

Kevin poses on the Crimean coast
I finished my undergraduate studies long ago, and I am not currently enrolled in any graduate program. And yet, I find myself studying elementary Russian in Dr. Iskold's class here at Muhlenberg. So what inspired me at the age of 33 to begin learning a language whose alphabet I could barely read?

I am no stranger to foreign languages and cultures. Eight years of French study, a year of German, a student exchange experience, and a Bachelor's degree in French and business at Penn State (PSU) gave me a solid foundation. I had other cultural influences as well. In the 1970's my family hosted Soviet scientists visiting PSU. I have a Ukrainian ancestor and an ex-girlfriend is from a family that emigrated from Ukraine to Pennsylvania in the early 1960's. But I never considered studying Russian.

Ultimately motivation to learn Russian came in the form of an unusual vacation choice. In the spring of 2001 I joined a vacation tour along the southern coast of Crimea, Ukraine. On the flight there my generous Russian neighbor became my tutor and I earned the smiles of the stewardesses with well-timed "pazhalsta" (please) and "spasiba" (thank you). During my visit I became enchanted by the beauty of this Black Sea peninsula, and charmed by the generous nature of the people I met there. When arrangements one day fell through, an interpreter offered her services as guide. A six-hour tour of Sevastopol, including the Greek ruins at Chersonesus led to friendship we maintain to this day. I also met other new friends, some who speak English, and some who don't. My decision to learn Russian thus came from a desire to return the generosity of these lovely people by learning their language. After all, I will return to Crimea. This time, however, as a guest of friends, rather than as tourist!

Has learning the Cyrillic alphabet been a challenge? Yes. But, in just two semesters, I can proudly say that I can write and type in Russian, I can count, and I can even carry a conversation. Of course, I will not achieve fluency in just one year, but my pursuit of Russian has reignited my desire to continue learning and it has opened doors to an area of the world once considered out of reach.

Kevin Pfoertsch, Evening College