STARTALK Immersion Program

Cohort 2017 - Students

Bryant Belcher

My name is Bryant Belcher. I am from Missouri. I study Political Science and Russian at the University of Iowa. I am studying Russian because I want to become the US ambassador to Russia. I enjoy the language and feel like knowing it and the culture will help with US Russian relations.

Jake Bernstein

Jake BernsteinI'm from Saint Louis, Missouri. I'm twenty years old. I study computer science at Saint Louis University, with a minor in Russian Studies. I've been learning Russian for about two years. Before Russian, the only foreign language I had ever learned was German, which is much closer to English in terms of grammar and spelling. I decided to switch to Russian instead of continuing with German because of the exchange students that I met while I was in high school. Because of them, I have friends in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and several other Russian-speaking countries. I have no friends in Germany. The choice was an easy one, and I have never looked back.


Rosa Fernandez

Привет! My name is Rosa Fernandez .It never crossed my mind to learn a foreign language until I started college. I chose Russian because I had first been exposed to it as a child and because I thought it would be an enjoyable challenge. Currently, I am a student at Santa Monica College and Pasadena City College, and I am majoring in History and Russian. As of right now, I do not have any specific career plans; however I am certain that government work is in my future. Immersing myself in the Russian language and culture with Tatiana Chapman and Dina Mokhnatkin at PCC and STARTALK has been a wonderful experience that I will treasure always.

Adrian Licon

Adrian LiconUpon completion of this program I plan to obtain a minor in Russian at Pasadena City College. I plan to transfer to the University of Southern California after my second year of Pasadena City College and study abroad for a semester in Russia. After university I plan to obtain a commission and serve as an officer in the United States Army and utilize my knowledge of the Russian and Spanish languages to help protect America and her interests.



Zijad Mahmutovic

Zijad MahmutovicHello, my name is Zijad Mahmutovic.  I was born in Bosnia but I have spent most of my life in the United States. I currently live in Waterloo, Iowa. I am a graduate student at the University of Northern Iowa. My desire to learn Russian is two-fold. I speak Bosnian (Serbo-Croatian) a Slavic language, so I have always had a desire to expand and reach out to other Slavic languages. Moreover, given my background as a student of history and my fascination with the Russian culture it made complete sense to pursue Russian.

I have such a burning desire to learn the Russian language that I willingly drove 75 miles a day in one direction to take Russian at the University of Iowa, while concurrently attending Northern Iowa. Much later, I realized that the commitment to the language was too much; I had to focus my time, finances and energy to completing my studies as a graduate students. Unfortunately, I had to stop attending the University of Iowa and that is where I ceased learning the Russian language.

Fast forward a few months, I was fortunate to select into the Startalk Immersion Program at California State, Northridge. What a wonderful experience. It has been. In weeks, my vocabulary has expanded, my reading comprehension has increased significantly, my ability to pick up Russian conjugation vastly improved, and my overall knowledge of the language and culture has increased. The professors have made an extraordinary effort to help me grow as a upcoming Russian speaker. These last few weeks have created the foundation for me to develop my Russian skills. I owe everything to this program and the wonderful individuals that make it operate.

My experience here has been exceptional.

C удовольствием и с наилучшими пожеланиями.

Royce Montgomery

Royce MontgomeryMy name is Royce Montgomery. I am currently a student at Pasadena City College here in Southern California. I plan on transferring to USC in the fall of 2018. My major is political science and I will pursue a minor in the Russian language.  I have been interested in the Russian language for some time. I spent 4 years in the Marines and tried to attend Defense Language Institute (DLI) up in Monterey, CA. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend due to the limited available spaces in the program. After I got off active duty and began school at PCC and was thrilled to learn that they offered Russian Classes. I took one semester of Russian with Tatiana Ivanovna who also teaches at STARTALK. I learned about the program through her and was fortunate enough to be able to attend. There was a large gap between the semester I took and this STARTALK program so I was worried about my proficiency however, the instructors and TA’s are outstanding and they have helped me tremendously. I am very grateful for their patients and dedication

I plan on using what I have learned as a foundation to expand my knowledge of the Russian language and would like to utilize these skills in my future employment.

Marshall Roe

Marshall RoeWinston Churchill once said Russia was a “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” and I have long been fascinated by Russia’s history and culture.  This was first kindled by learning about family members who fled into the USSR after the Third Reich’s invasion of Poland.  My fascination was burnished by reading Herge’s “TinTin in the land of the Soviets,” as well as my love of classical music and opera, which introduced me to the works of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Prokofiev.

I am currently a student at Pasadena City College, where the passion of my professors, Tatiana Ivanova and Dina Alexandrovna, has inspired me to pursue to an Associate's degree in Russian language.  Before returning to education, I served for six years in the United States Navy, in the field of Ballistic Missile Defense, by developing my Russian language skills, I will have the privilege of serving my country once again in the diplomatic sphere.   

The STARTALK Russian Language and Immersion program has greatly enhanced my command of the Russian language.  I cannot suggest it enough.

Nate Richie

My name is Nate Riche. I study at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky. I study chiefly physics there, but plan a minor in math and Russian. My primary interest in Russian is Russian literature and culture, with language being a critical element to both. Furthermore, I enjoy learning foreign languages and even linguistics in general. The biggest draw to Russian language for me in particular, though, is it’s unique grammar, construction, vocabulary, etc. (all of which seemed almost magical to me at the start), the prospect of becoming fluent to some degree, and definitely the possible professional use I may have with Russian later in my career. 

Like I say, I study Russian because I believe it could open professional doors for me. Russia has historically made significant contributions to physics and science as a whole, so the opportunity to study there abroad is incredibly exciting. Not only is it a means to experience a different culture, but it’s also a means to learn in a drastically different environment and, should I go there, hopefully receive a totally different sort of education. Admittedly, the idea of going to any foreign country and being able to speak it’s language is exciting. But, through Startalk, I’ve been given the means to do that in Russia and in Russian.

Nate Sendelbach

Nate SendelbachHello, my name is Nate Sendelbach. I was born in Raleigh, North Carolina and I grew up in Rochester, Minnesota. When I graduated high school I joined United States Army as an Infantryman. I was in the Army for just under five years. Throughout my time in the military I deployed two times, once to Iraq, and once to Djibouti, Africa. Once I left the Army I enrolled into the University of Iowa where I am currently a senior. I am majoring in human physiology and Russian language. I plan on going to medical school once I graduate.

I have always wanted to become fluent in in a second language and I’ve always been interested in the Russian language. After my first two years at the University of Iowa I discovered that there were Russian language courses. I immediately jumped on the opportunity and I’ve never regretted it. When my Russian Professor told me about the STARTALK program at CSUN I knew I had to go. My time at the program has been outstanding. I have learn so much more than just the Russian Language. Getting a taste of the Russian culture was such a privilege and an experience will not forget.

In the future I hope to be able to use knowledge in a meaningful way throughout both my personal life and my professional life. As a doctor I would love to be able to communicate and collaborate with doctors in Russia. I plan to continue studying the language my whole life.

Eric Wagner

I am currently a student of Russian at Pasadena City College. For me, it was not entirely prima facie the reason I initiated the study of Russian or its culture, though, it could be said- ‘Res ipsa loquitur.’ Rachmaninov the outcast, Dostoevsky the engineer, and naturally, the beloved: Pushkin. Within their shared mother tongue does exist a feather and a hammer; with which grace souls by their endearment.

The Feather of Melody Rachmaninov was first to brush across these strings of me, then that immense edgeless object struck.  And now doubt is surrendered, as a new tongue is forged unto this tellurian shell- all aquiver, and yet adroit in its youth. I journey on.

These are my thoughts when their music is transposed into English. Hitherto the homecoming of this passion of Language, my faculty sat within a state ratiocinate- though this memory did break through the surface once more. Were it not for the many projects of seemingly banal nature, this melody would have remained desiring, but incapable of transmutation.

English has been the machine, which has propelled me here, but I know Russian will transport me beyond.

I am sincerely grateful to all they who have helped me in learning more of such a beautiful language.

I recommend this program emphatically.

Samantha Wiedner

Samantha Wiedner

My interest in Russian began during my junior year in high school when my family decided to become a host family for a Russian foreign exchange student. I had been exposed to the language before, however, my exchange sister made me fall in love with the culture of Russia.  

I am currently a student at the University of Iowa majoring in International Studies and Russian. I am hoping to become involved in the Peace Corps following my undergraduate studies and will later apply to graduate school. At the University of Iowa I have been fortunate to complete two semesters of Russian with an amazing professor. 

This STARTALK program has enhanced my speaking and reading abilities drastically. Prior to this program, I struggled to form spoken sentences and was unable to respond in Russian when asked a question. Now, I am able to not only respond, but actually carry a conversation. I am much more confident while speaking, and I have this program to thank for that.

Jacob Wilson

Jacob WilsonMy Name is Jacob Wilson. I am majoring in computer science and minoring in Russian at the University of Indiana, Bloomington. Since I was a kid, I’ve been infatuated with the Russian language. The more of the language I learn, the more I learn about Russian culture, the more I desire to travel there. I want to visit Russia as soon as possible, so the STARTALK Immersion Program was a wonderful experience to prepare me for that. I definitely feel that this program was necessary in preparing me for my travels to Russia


 Hugh Zimmerbaum

I am a student of English and Russian literature at Bard College. My interests include poetry, rock climbing, and meeting new people. I plan to continue developing my knowledge of and appreciation for the Russian language after having received a strong foundation in conversational Russian from the Immersive STARTALK experience.