“Russia has become my vocation,” says Rebecca Perkins ’11, who has been selected to receive a Fulbright Teaching Assistant grant to Russia. This highly competitive program selects just 20 students each year to receive a position in Russia.
The Fulbright Program is the U.S. Government’s flagship international exchange program. Created in 1949, the program is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and numerous nations around the world. Participants are chosen for their academic merit and leadership qualities, and are given the opportunity to study, live, teach and conduct research abroad for one year in order to exchange ideas and seek solutions to shared global concerns.
Perkins, a women’s studies and Russian language and culture double major, plans to take full advantage of her time instructing English as part of the Teaching Assistant program. Having traveled to Russia two times while at the Colleges – spending time in St. Petersburg and Novgorod – Perkins is familiar with the land and culture; more importantly, she is familiar with the power of words.
“In order to be exhaustive in my research and push my understanding past the vernacular and into full command of nuance and slang, fluency in Russian will be essential,” explains Perkins. “The importance of my grasp on Russian will continue to be central to my educational and life path when I return to the U.S.”
However, Perkins most looks forward to the culture exchange and feeling of mutual education she received during her previous trips to the vast country. “In each of my experiences working with Russians, I delighted in the dual experience I was receiving: the give and take between teaching and learning,” says Perkins. “Each step of the way, I became more and more a part of the culture that I was studying and learning to love: a culture that, like my understanding of it, is constantly evolving.”
During her time in St. Petersburg, Perkins acted as an English tutor to Russian students at the Smolny Institute, where she was able to study twice – once during the course of a summer, and again for an intensive semester-long program. Following her semester in Russia, Perkins also received an endowed scholarship grant to stay in Russia, where she studied the life of women in the city of Novgorod, examining their day-to- day challenges and access to resources.
With the assistance of the Fulbright grant, Perkins hopes to continue her research of women in Russia when she is not acting as an English instructor. “With my research, I was challenged to peer into society, to create a feeling of mutual trust, and allow for the exchange to remain open and frank in our sharing of experiences to better understand the other,” explains Perkins.
Upon completion of the English Teaching Assistant program, Perkins plans to return to the U.S. to attend graduate school, where she will continue her studies in Russian. She hopes to focus on women’s issues in Russia, with the ambition of aiding the understanding between Americans and Russians for the purpose of effective collaboration.
On campus, Perkins has served as president of Russian Society, as well as president and vice president of William Smith Congress. She is also a member of Three Miles Lost, the women’s a cappella group, and serves as a mentor for Learn to Lead. Perkins has served as co-editor-in-chief for the Public Affairs Journal, and has been a member of the Colleges’ Chorale.