Languages, Literatures, & Cultures

Languages, Literatures, & Cultures

Melissa Walters '97
Majors: Philosophy/International Studies
Minor: Russian Studies

Dear Friends,

I just finished looking through the new Russian Studies Homepage - how far the program has come since I last was at Muhlenberg! I am also pleased to note the number of members in the Russian club. I am happy to hear the program has grown so successfully. Congratulations!

(1) Are you currently employed in the work force or continuing your education?

After Muhlenberg, I moved to Washington, DC to pursue my Master's Degree of Arts in International Economic Affairs at the Elliot School of George Washington University. I received my MA in 3 years, 2000, working full time, while taking classes in the evening. I was required to pass exit exams in a foreign language as part of my program - thus, I opted to continue my studies of the Russian language throughout graduate school. In addition to several courses at GWU, I participated in Middlebury College's Summer Language Immersion program for Russian during the summer of 1999 in Middlebury, Vermont.

Throughout graduate school, I worked for a small import-export consultancy, concentrating on Central Europe - my primary focus was on Poland and the Czech Republic. Following graduation, I wanted to refocus my career on the CIS. Subsequently, I applied to and was offered a position as a trade specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce's Business Information Service for the Newly Independent States (BISNIS). BISNIS is a program designed to assist U.S. exports and investment into the NIS. BISNIS provides U.S. companies with the market reports and tips on developments, export and investment opportunities, and strategies for doing business in the NIS. I have been with BISNIS now for a little over a year and am thoroughly enjoying my experience. There is no end to the amount of surprises one comes across when dealing with the CIS!

(2) Are you happy with what you're doing?

Yes, extremely. I enjoy the constant challenge and diversity my job offers. I wish my job afforded more travel to the regions, but perhaps now that is a blessing in disguise (I was in Moldova during the September 11th events and got to experience first-hand how difficult travel and communications can be under such pressure!).

(3) What are your plans for the future?

At this point, I am quite happy in my job and will most likely stay here for the next 1-2 years. Of course, government funding is never constant, so anything is possible, I suppose...Also, I would be most interested in obtaining work abroad in the future, should the right opportunity present itself.

(4)Have you ever been able to use your knowledge of Russian language/culture?

I use my knowledge of Russian language and culture on a daily basis. I would not be able to perform my job duties without such knowledge.

(5) Do you find that the understanding of cultural differences that you've developed as a Russian major plays a role in your life?

Absolutely. Most especially in my career since it is heavily focused on this region. My knowledge of Russian culture helps me to assist US businessmen lacking in such knowledge who might otherwise choose not to pursue business opoortunities in the NIS. Personally, speaking, my time spent in Russia and the NIS - though limited - has helped to expand my horizons, moreover I believe these experiences have helped me to better prioritize my life and refocus my efforts on those things that are truly important for my continued personal growth and happiness.

(6) Are you ever on campus for Homecoming or Alumni in the Classroom? Would you like to meet current students? Talk in class? Talk at the Russian Club meeting?

Sadly, I have not been back to the Allentown area in several years - most of my family and friends have moved away from the area, thus I really haven't made any recent trips. I would be happy to meet students, talk in class, and/or at a Russian Club meeting some time in the future. Keep me posted of any upcoming events!

Please take a look at the BISNIS website,, to gain a better understanding of what we do - your students might find some of our resources useful - we have a Russian language website, too. Also, we offer internships year-round [unpaid] for those students who may be here on the Washington DC Semester program, or during summers. Also, we are hiring for two new positions if you know of any alum who may be interested in the position, you can find the job announcement at: U.S. Department of Commerce: Commerce Opportunities On-Line (COOL)

I am happy to help Muhlenberg's Russia Studies program as much as I can! Please keep me posted on upcoming events.

- Melissa Walters