University Scholar Wins Scholarship to Study in Russia

International relations major Helen Zincavage will study in St. Petersburg on a Boren Scholarship.

<p>Helen Zincavage stands in Moscow's Red Square, in front of St. Basil's Cathedral.</p>
Helen Zincavage stands in Moscow's Red Square, in front of St. Basil's Cathedral. Photo provided by Helen Zincavage

Helen Zincavage, a University Scholar with an individualized major in international relations, will study in St. Petersburg, Russia during the 2010-2011 academic year as the recipient of a National Security Education Program (NSEP) David L. Boren Scholarship.

Zincavage got a taste of what it will be like to live in Russia when she traveled there last summer. She spent five weeks at Moscow State University as part of a Russian and East European Summer Language Institute sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh. The experience of living among the Russian people heightened her interest in the culture that is critical to her primary academic focus.

“The trip reaffirmed my knowledge of Russia’s rich and unique cultural tradition – from its art and literature to its religious institutions,” she says. “I also thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the Russian people. It was always a treat to mingle with students my own age, navigating conversations in a remarkably understandable mixture of broken Russian and typically less-broken English.”

Her honors project focuses on national identity as a factor in Russian leaders’ foreign policy decision-making processes. It involves analysis of the speeches of Joseph Stalin, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin.

The Boren Scholarship rewards both Zincavage’s interest in international relations and her affinity for foreign languages.

These scholarships provide up to $20,000 to American undergraduate students to study in areas of the world that are critical to U.S. interests yet are underrepresented in study abroad programs. Scholarship recipients represent a variety of academic backgrounds, but all are interested in studying less commonly taught languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Swahili.

“At one time I thought that maybe I would study abroad for a semester in my junior year,” she says, “but after spending time in Moscow last year, I knew that I wanted the total immersion that the Boren Scholarship program provides. This [scholarship] gives me exactly what I’m looking for. I’ll be able to travel in Russia, and I hope to do some volunteer work when I’m there, as well.”

While in St. Petersburg she will study at Smolny College, the first institution of higher learning in Russia founded on the principles of a liberal arts education. There, as part of the Bard-Smolny Study Abroad Program, she will participate in academically rigorous seminar-style classes alongside her Russian peers. In addition, she will receive intensive training in the Russian language.

“I’m excited about going,” she says, “and I’ve been teaching my parents how to use Skype so that we can stay in touch while I’m gone.”

Stephen Dyson, assistant professor of political science, and one of Zincavage’s advisors, says, “I’ll never forget her performance as a sophomore in my graduate class, which she aced with room to spare. With her interest in diplomacy and great power relations, Helen is well on the way to being the next Henry Kissinger!”

With graduate work a more likely scenario in the near term, Zincavage will complete requirements for her undergraduate degree in August 2011. She will then fulfill a 12-month NSEP service commitment working for the federal government in an area relevant to her field of study.