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I started at UNC Chapel Hill last fall with a few years of Russian-learning experience, and I spent my first year working hard to improve my skills through classes, Flagship tutoring, organized events, extracurricular opportunities, and friendly conversations. Over the course of the year, my ability to speak, read, and write in Russian improved dramatically.

Nevertheless, I worried that my comfort with the language would diminish while I was away from campus for the summer. Though I could read Russian books, listen to podcasts, or watch television (Professor McGarry recommended an entertaining reality/talk show), I did not have a way to truly engage with the language and culture. Thus began my search for a summer job – in Russian – in rural Connecticut. Not easy!

As a double major in English and Russian, I hoped to find a way to combine my interests in both writing and Russian culture. I found Russian Life Magazine, a news source and cultural hub for stories about Russian lifestyle that is based in Vermont.

Though their internship program was full, I reached out to the digital editor and asked for any opportunity to learn from him and work with the Russian Life Magazine team. He took me on as a writer and, since our initial correspondence, has become a mentor with regard to my writing and a role model for my future engagement with Russian language and culture.

This image is from Russian Life Magazine’s article on Nadya Karpova.

With the support of the Russian Flagship Program’s Student Professional Development resources, I have spent the summer remotely writing news briefings for Russian Life Magazine’s digital publication “The Russia File.”  The intention of this section of the magazine is to offer “under-the-radar” news that has not been published in mainstream media or covered by English-language news sources. The majority of my work involved researching stories, which, as I came to realize, can be quite challenging. As the events I write about must not have been previously discussed in other American magazines or newspapers, all of my research had to be done in Russian (or Ukrainian, which has been very interesting to read). I spend hours reading Russian and Ukrainian Twitter posts, news articles, interviews, etc. I looked for information about literature, sports, music, economics, and dissent rather than recent bombings or other war updates. Given the current political climate, I had to be deliberate and discerning about what I read and found several sources to back up a single fact. After I collected all of the information, I found photographs and quotes, and I composed short briefings about the cultural event or news-worthy individual. Conveying the enormity of an event in just a few hundred words was often the hardest part. When one article was finished, I sent it to the editor for feedback, and I began to read more Russian news headlines in search of another story.

I think that one of the most interesting articles I researched and wrote was about Nadya Karpova, the first professional Russian athlete to come out as a lesbian woman and the only one to consistently speak out against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. I read several interviews with the soccer player, looked through her social media, and wrote an in-depth article about her bravery in speaking out. Though I know a bit about Russian sports, LGBTQ+ rights in Russia, and public objections to the war, I was able to learn about these aspects of Russia in a deeper way.

This image is from Russian Life Magazine’s article on the Platonov Arts Festival.

In another article, I wrote about the annual International Platonov Arts Festival in Voronezh, which was recently canceled due to the progression of the war in Ukraine. Aside from research, I spent an entire day watching videos from past festivals, and I am now determined to go to Voronezh one day. I would never have known about this aspect of Russian arts if I had not written the article.

Sometimes, there are things I read and learned about that I wish I could cover in a story, like Dmitry Muratov, the editor-in-chief of Новая Газета (Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper) and the Nobel Prize winner who sold his gold medal at auction for 103.5 million dollars to raise funds for child refugees in Ukraine. I wrote an article about him, only to find out that the story was published by a major news source the next morning. Still, I gained important knowledge about Russian current events.

This internship has helped me tremendously to bolster my skills as a concise English writer and, more importantly, as a Russian reader and thinker. It has enhanced my learning with regard not only the Russian language, but also culture and lifestyle. Hopefully, I will keep working with Russian Life Magazine through the school year, and I will continue to grow in my writing, research, and Russian abilities.

Thank you to the Russian Flagship Program for supporting me in this endeavor. I am looking forward to bringing what I learned about Russian language and culture back to the classroom in the fall!

Emma Kaplon is a sophomore, double majoring in English & Comparative Literature and Russian with a minor in Medicine, Literature & Culture. 

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