STARTALK Immersion Program

Cohort 2014 - Students

Kaitlyn Alfaro 

Kaitlyn Alfaro

I am currently a Junior in California State University, Northridge, in the College of Humanities. My major is Linguistics and I have a minor in Russian. I studied Russian for two semesters and enrolled in the STARTALK Russian Immersion Program this summer. I was interested in learning Russian because I hope to work for security and intelligence, such as the CIA. I want to be able to acquire the Russian language and use it in the workforce as a translator or an interpreter. For example, I am interested in becoming a language officer in the NCS (National Clandestine Service) in the CIA because it offers foreign travel opportunities and integrated training. A language officer must possess and provide advanced foreign language skills and experience such as translation, interpretation, and any other language related support for the NCS. One of the critical languages needed in the NCS was Russian, so I decided to learn and study Russian because it was unique, and I wanted to challenge myself. In the STARTALK Program, I find that it has been challenging for me to speak in full sentences and hold conversations in Russian because I am not a good speaker, but with help and time, I will improve my Russian speech and listening skills. Although this program proved to be challenging, I have enjoyed it so much and made new friends from different states and around southern California who share the same passion for learning the Russian language and culture as I do. 

Christina Baker

I am a junior political science major with a minor in Russian Studies. I was first interested in Russian as a unusual class to fill my language requirement. After just a couple classes, I fell in love with the language. The Startalk program at California State University, Northridge, has significantly improved my vocabulary and grammar. I loved my time here learning the Russian language! I would like to eventually study abroad in Russia to further my knowledge of the language. While I am currently unsure of what I would like to do in the future, I would like to utilize my language skills in my career. 

Pamela Castro

My name is Pamela Castro and I attend California State University, Northridge where I major in Political Science, French, and Russian. Since I was a child, I have been passionate about Russia, its literature, language, and traditions. I became interested in learning the language through the Russian program at CSUN. After this program, I look forward to a minor in Russian. I also plan to study abroad in St. Petersburg. In addition, I want to use the language to explore the intriguing complexities of Russia’s past and present and read Russian works by Russian poets in the original text. My career goal is to represent the United States in the international community. I want to be an American diplomat working in Western and Eastern Europe. I also look forward to negotiating treaties, expanding US business in the region, and researching Russian nationalism and ethnic conflict in contemporary Russia.

Pharohl Charles

I am absolutely proud and continuously excited about my interest in the Russian language and the culture, history, and affairs of Russia and the former Soviet domain. This interest started roughly in 2007 when I was in high school. Before entering the energy industry, my father was a propulsion engineer in the U.S. Air Force. Since an early age, I have always had an interest in aviation, but my vision limitations ruled out a career in the skies. Russian aircraft always intrigued me, specifically MIG’s and Sukhoi’s, and after upon research, one thing led to another and I was deep into Cold War politics. I plan on visiting Kazakhstan and a few former Soviet states, including Russia, this upcoming semester to complete a study abroad requirement and do independent research on the dynamics and relationships between Russia, the United States, and Central Asia. If fortunate, under continued dedication and commitment, I hope to enter public service in a diplomatic role to encourage greater dialogue and partnership between Russia, the U.S., and the Central Asian states. STARTALK is an absolutely great program and has greatly prepared me for my upcoming travels and I’m greatly satisfied to have successfully completed the program with great staff and classmates! 

Albert Chung 

Albert Chung

My name is Albert Chung and I attend Pasadena City College where I am majoring in Russian and Accounting. I started learning Russian because I needed something to do during the summer of 2013.  Little did I know that this experience would change my life!  I made so many friends on this wonderful journey and most importantly, my future wife.  Learning Russian for me is no longer just a career opportunity, it's necessary for my family.  I will be going to Omsk in the winter to meet my wife's family (yes, I'll be in Siberia during winter as part of my first trip to Russia).  It's my hope to also use Russian for accounting, but regardless of how that path on my life's journey plays out, the Russian language, culture, and even their superstitions are now deeply rooted within me. The STARTALK Language Immersion program has really helped me to push through all the uncertainty of speaking and just do it.  Of course we all make mistakes when speaking, sometimes even in our native language, and worrying about it all the time makes learning a foreign language almost crippling.  But the support we received from the teachers and assistants, and just being together with like-minded students who also wish to learn, really helped me get past that.  The schedule was intense, and the homework sometimes overwhelming, but the progress I have seen within myself made it all the more worthwhile.  The most important thing I will take away from this program (aside from the friendship with the wonderful teachers and students) is my improvement in reading.  Reading helped me so much with English back in middle school and high school, and I know that it will similarly improve my Russian drastically.  And of course, it will allow me to further explore the wonders of Russian literature in its original form. 

Faith Clay

Faith Clay

My name is Faith Elise Clay and I am majoring in Russian and History at the University of Georgia. I became interested in learning Russian because I wanted a challenge, and to learn a language completely different from the ones that I know; and I happen to have family in Kazakhstan, so it was the obvious choice. For now, I am going to keep practicing Russian often, and attain my Bachelor’s in Russian in 2016, and then hopefully my Master’s at Middlebury College in Vermont. I would like to work in Atlanta at the Department of Justice’s Immigration Court as an interpreter at first, and then eventually start a career in a Russian speaking country as an English teacher or interpreter. As a result of the STARTALK Program, I think my comfort level in speaking Russian has greatly increased, and I have learned how to utilize words and grammar I already knew from my year of Russian language learning in Georgia. In addition, I learned plenty of new words, grammar, and cultural nuances. 

Zachary Clouse

My name is Zachary Clouse and I am majoring in International Relations at the University of Southern California. Having come from a relatively isolated area of the country, I have a natural curiosity about the Russian culture and language that, for most of my life, has been completely alien. Ideally, I will be able to use Russian in my professional career, but until such a solid setting is established, I plan to continue Russian language classes at USC and to travel to Russia as soon as possible. With a strong interest in International Affairs, unfamiliar cultures, traveling, as well as international politics, I hope to put my Russian and other languages to good use. STARTALK is a great program and very close to home. It has been a great opportunity to improve and practice my Russian skills, as well as a chance to meet and befriend students from around the country with similar interests. 

Artur Galstyan

Artur Galstyan

My name is Artur Galstyan and I am a graduate student at the University of Southern California. I received my undergraduate degree in International Relations and Russian Language and am continuing my graduate studies in Public Diplomacy. I started learning Russian in high school in Armenia and liked the language and decided to continue developing my proficiency. I am hoping to get a Rotary or Fulbright scholarship and spend a year in Russia to improve my skills. After graduation I hope I will have the opportunity to work in the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer. The STARTALK program is amazing and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning or improving their Russian language skills.

Zachary Goldman

Zachary Goldman

I began taking Russian in my last year of high school when I was hopelessly infatuated with one of my Russian speaking friends. When we both graduated, I went off to Indonesia and she to San Francisco. Eventually I made my way to the former Soviet Republics of Georgia and Armenia where I was able to use my modest Russian to help my friends and to negotiate taxi rides. When I returned several months later, I figured it would be a good idea to continue learning the language as I wouldn’t have to start from square one. I took Russian 1-4 at Pasadena City College. Through those classes I learned about STARTALK. While I never used the language for the express purpose of asking my friend out, the uses I find for it are far more valuable.

When I arrived at CSUN on the first day, I was many weeks out of practice with Russian and was a little worried that I’d be playing catch-up for most of my time here. I was nervous about the people, and about the workload.  I was surprised, quite the contrary of what I expected, that the whole program engendered a feeling of ease, that instead of working you to death the professors said,  “Let’s just talk”, and I attribute what I’ve learned through this program to that stress-free environment. Obviously, that’s not to say that there’s no work, there is; so maybe it would be more accurate to say “low-stress.” Anyway, now I can say that I can hold a conversation in Russian, can talk about various topics and give presentations and do all these things I was not able to do before.

My four-year plan is to get my Bachelorette of Arts in Anthropology and apply for a Fulbright to any of the Former Soviet Republics or even to Russia herself. That’s a long ways off, and there’s still a lot to do in between. For example, I’m still finishing a class on Russian Civilization and I’ve just joined a group in L.A that meets up specifically to speak in Russian. Once the class is over, I plan on getting a TESL degree and some medical training so I can widen my employment options even further. 

Obviously, the Fulbright is only a year abroad, life goes on for a bit longer after that and what will I do? Well, I’ve got a plan for that too, and it sings to the tune of using that TESL certificate to teach and work in various places around the world while doing anthropology, and save enough money to return to graduate school and get a Ph.D. in Anthropology. Essentially, I’d be an Anthropologist masquerading as an English teacher. 

Thus I find myself once again at another nerve-wracking point in my life, the fields of opportunity stretch out before me and I’m obliged to go this way or that. Some quack once said something about the road less travelled, but I don’t know if that’s the way to do it. I’m thinking something along the lines of forging one’s own road. Will it work? Maybe. Am I going to end up with a mansion, fast cars, and everything an up-and-coming oligarch wants? No, probably not. Yet here I am, a bit out of practice, a bit nervous, but I’m starting to find that the doors open themselves, all I have to do is walk through them. It’s all very exciting. 

Kadamia Hubbard

Kadamia Hubbard

My name is Kadamia Hubbard and I am majoring in Linguistics at California State University, Long Beach. With foreign language requirements for the linguistics program, Russian seemed to be the most challenging and exciting to learn. I plan to use the Russian language in future research within language development, and to discover more cultural aspects that contribute to the language development from a linguist’s perspective. I would love to explore language and culture within different regions of the world as well as assist in world events that need to be brought to attention. STARTALK is a great program to explore not only full Russian immersion, but exploring yourself. You meet so many different people and visit various places you probably have never seen in another light. 

Anna Irvine

Anna Irvine

I am currently a senior at Ohio State University double-majoring in German and International Studies with a specialization in Security and Intelligence and a minor in Russian. 

I first became interested in learning Russian after taking a comparative politics class, which included Russia as one of the countries of focus. Hearing about Russian culture and government sparked my curiosity of the language. Studying Russian as a Security and Intelligence major has been especially beneficial because of its status as a critical language and its prominence as one of the six official languages of the United Nations. The CSUN STARTALK program has helped me continue working toward my goal of becoming conversationally fluent in Russian. I plan to work for the US Intelligence Community or State Department, and would love to work at the US Embassy in Moscow.

Julie Jenkins

Julie Jenkins

My name is Julie Jenkins and I am a Theatre major here at California State University, Northridge. I would like to travel to Russia to see the theatre. I would like to work with the American government in the Cultural Department and bring Russian theatre to the American people. My career goals include finishing my MA in Theatre and traveling to Russia to study theatre there and one day work for the American government in the Cultural Department. I really enjoyed my time with the program. It is a great way to meet new people with similar interests.

Jordan Letteri 

My name is Jordan Letteri and I am majoring in Political Science with a minor in Russian Studies at the University of Maryland College Park. About three years ago, I watched a Russian rock video on Youtube. I was absolutely fascinated by the power and beauty of the language. I felt a spark of excitement and passion, which led me to not only study the language, but understand the rich history borne of this language. I deeply admire the resolve, authenticity, and richness of Russian people, their culture, and history. I am aspiring to travel to Russia in the future simply to see and experience its people and culture firsthand. I also want to work in some kind of international capacity for the U.S or Russian government to help international collaboration between the two nations. I have considered being a Foreign Service Officer, translator, or language teacher. This program has helped me significantly. The constant immersion in Russian music, videos, reading, dialogues, and homework assignments has helped me internalize and retain the language to a degree that basic understanding is almost subconscious. It takes less effort and thinking to express my thoughts and respond in a two-way conversation. I give my thanks to Oleg, Dina, and Tatiana, as well as the TAs. 

Jerry Lin

Jerry LinMy name is Jerry Lin and I plan to attend UC Berkeley, though my major is undeclared. I became interested in Russian because of my interest in Russian literature as well as contemporary Russian history. I want to join the Russian club at Berkeley (or create one if it doesn’t already exist), and I want to be able to contribute what I’ve learned from NSLI-Y, STARTALK, Russian classes at PCC, etc. so as to make a positive impact in that respect. STARTALK is an amazing program—I learned more Russian during the time I’ve been here than I did while I was studying abroad in Russia. Our year was full of amazing people with amazing personalities, and I could not have asked for a better group.

Cynthia Luján

Cynthia LujanI am a student at California State University, Long Beach. At the end of 2014, I will have completed my Bachelor’s in Fine Arts with a concentration in Drawing & Painting and also a Minor in Russian Language. When I was 17, I started to learn how to paint. My teacher was an artist from Russia; I found her techniques in painting to be very inspiring, and I wanted to learn more about Russian Art. I soon found that it was quite difficult to discover more about Russian Art because most of what I sought out was written in Russian. Then I realized it was difficult to find people who knew much about Russian Art History. This series of events propelled me to learn more about Russian Art and Culture. I knew if I really wanted to learn more, I would have to apprehend the language. I am an aspiring artist who is interested in the Art world’s multi-levels. For my Master’s degree, I would like to attend a school that has both Russian Language and Fine Art in their curriculum, and perhaps even to study Fine Art in Russia at some point.  I’d like to be able to utilize my multi-lingual abilities to meet more artists from all over the world. For my career goals, I will be looking for job or internship opportunities at galleries or museums that will encourage me to continue using my skills as an artist and multi-linguist. The STARTALK program has reassured me that I am going the right direction, career-wise and socially. It has taught me that there are many of us that want to learn more about the Russian Language and Culture. I am excited to see where my Russian studies will take me. I believe studying another language has broadened my outlook on life. 

The CSUN STARTALK program has helped me continue working toward my goal of becoming conversationally fluent in Russian. I plan to work for the US Intelligence Community or State Department, and would love to work at the US Embassy in Moscow.

Ebrain Mirambeau

Ebrain MirambeauMy name is Ebrain “Abram” Mirambeau and I am pursuing my Master’s degree in Computational Linguistics at the University of Washington, Seattle. My interest in Russian and Soviet culture began as I witnessed the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The beautiful images of Russia that I was constantly presented with galvanized me to develop a curiosity about Russian culture and music.  It was not until after I began my life as a graduate student that I was finally able to begin learning the language of my dreams. As a computational linguist, I am interested in learning languages, researching many of the psychological phenomena that underlie their utility, and developing computational models to test theories regarding such phenomena. Aside from my academic endeavors, I would like to travel to Russia and other former Soviet republics to both experience everyday life and put my Russian language skills to use. In addition, since I currently work in the catering industry and provide services to Russian-speaking clients, the STARTALK Russian Language and Culture Immersion Program has helped me to improve my Russian conversational acumen. I plan to continue studying Russian, along with a few other languages, with the goal of realizing my other career aspiration of becoming an interpreter.

Uyanga Munkhdavaa

My name is Uyanga and I am majoring in Health Administration. I first took Russian to fulfill a general education class requirement. Along the way, I decided to become fluent because knowledge in a second language is important and helpful not just for career reasons but also in life overall. I plan to travel to Russia after I graduate. I'm really happy I knew about this program and applied because I learned a lot about Russian culture, my Russian improved and I made lots of amazing, driven friends.

Zachary Nelson

Zachary NelsonMy name is Zachary Nelson and I am majoring in Russian at Ohio State University. I became interested in Russian because my best friend my freshman year of high school was a Russian girl from Chita. She convinced me to host exchange students, and then to become an exchange student myself. I then won the NSLI-Y scholarship, and studied in Cheboksary, Chuvashia for one year. I plan to be a translator or a negotiator for relations between the United States and Russia. We are the first generation with no Soviet Union, and it is a chance for our two countries to become closer, and shed the competition of the past. Since I will be returning to Russia next semester, the STARTALK program was a perfect way to refresh my mind, and iron out some Russian grammar rules. 

Noah Nguyen

Noah NguyenI am currently a sophomore at the Ohio State University, Columbus. I moved to Ohio after living in the Carolinas for 18 years, and I am currently majoring in International Studies and Russian Language. After reading Crime and Punishment in the 11th grade, I decided to start studying Russian in the hope that I would eventually be able to read the original text. I quickly fell in love with the language, psyche, and spirit of Russia. I also found out how difficult it can be to appreciate interesting people, until you must surmount a language barrier to learn about them. I plan to continue using my Russian skills after this program hopefully with the government, possibly with the private sector, in order to help others more opaquely separated by language understand each other better.

Ariel Patton

My name is Ariel Patton and I am a History major at California State University, Long Beach. I became interested in learning Russian through learning about Russian history. I want to know as much as I can about Russian history. It’s important to be able to speak the language so I can read original documents and Russian history by Russians. I plan to use the Russian language as a historian. I would also like to visit Russia and possibly live there and would like to teach English in Russia for a period of time. I think Russian will be useful as a historian. I’m not completely sure about my path in life at this point, but I would definitely like to do something requiring Russian linguistic skills in some capacity. STARTALK has been an unforgettable experience. I feel like STARTALK has helped me reinforce my previous Russian knowledge as well as learn quite a bit more than I knew before.

Brandon Roberts

Brandon RobertsMy name is Brandon Roberts and I am currently majoring in Russian Language at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Many factors prompted my interest in learning Russian, one being my paternal grandfather was born in Kiev, and the other being that Russian is an extremely valuable and useful language in our world today.  There is a burgeoning Russian émigré population in the United States and all across North America. There is even a growing Russian population in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I can easily see myself using the language in a hospital or any setting where I can be of maximum service. There are many bi-lingual job opportunities in America, and Russian is one of them. I could be a translator in an embassy/consulate, hospital, school, airport, etc. My ultimate career goal would be working as a diplomat helping to bring aid to Jews living in the Former Soviet Union. STARTALK is an excellent program! I cannot think of a better way to hone my language skills than being in an environment with 25 people who are all working towards the same linguistic goal, let alone the staff who are all dedicated to ensuring that we meet these goals in an unintimidating environment! My Russian conversation skills have increased drastically, it is like a domestic study-abroad program that I would recommend to anyone. It exceeded all of my expectations!

Chasen Schmidt

Before entering the STARTALK program, I only took two quarters of Russian at California State University, San Bernardino where I am currently pursuing a MA in National Security Studies.  I have learned a tremendous amount in the seemingly brief time that I have been here.  I initially decided to learn Russian because I am fascinated with Russian history and Russian international relations.  Upon completion of the program, I will continue to aspire to be fluent in Russian.  My overall goal is to find a career where I will be able to fuse together my knowledge of politics and the Russian language.

Benjamin Wallsten

Benjamin WallstenMy name is Benjamin Wallsten and I majored in Mathematics at Crafton Hills College and Psychology and Russian at Pasadena City College. I've always been interested in learning Russian. The sound of the language and its characteristically foreign alphabet have always been attractive to me. However, it was not until I started attending Pasadena City College that I finally had an opportunity to take my first Russian class. I've been hooked ever since. I intend to become the President of the United States, and I've always known that real cooperation between the U.S. and Russia could provide countless benefits for both countries. I want to understand the Russian mindset and culture, and I want to use the knowledge I gain through study of the language to be the medium of that understanding. Ultimately, I will use my Russian language skills to help make sense of the Russian identity, and hopefully, help me convey my seriousness about engaging the Russians as partners on the world stage.

On a more personal note, I would like to be able to read the works of Anton Chekhov (my favorite author) in Russian. I also write poetry, and it would be nice to be able to both read the works of great Russian poets in their own language, as well as contribute my own work to the genre. The more I study Russian, the more I realize how uniquely suited to poetic expression it is. Along with becoming Governor of the state of California, and eventually President, I also have plans to start my own robotics and tech company and to finish writing and get produced a play that I am working on. Currently, I'm training for the Olympic Race Walking Qualifiers. If all goes according to plan, I'll be representing the United States in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. I'm most interested in transferring either to Sarah Lawrence College to design a major focused on consciousness and emotion and their application to the design of synthetic intelligences - i.e. sentient machines that have emotional experiences - or to Bard College to study Computer Science or Mathematics with concentrations in Mind, Brain, and Behavior and Russian and Eurasian Studies. I will be applying for transfer this fall.

Overall, I think the program is immensely helpful to anyone truly serious about becoming fluent in a foreign language. It has made the language more a part of my life than I think I could have ever gotten outside of the program (except maybe if I moved to Russia). That intimacy has helped me come to see Russian as a necessary element in my life and future. The immersive aspect of the program has made me far more comfortable with reading, writing, and listening to Russian. Speaking is still difficult for me, but I think with time and further confidence-building activities, that will change. Being around people who are as interested in Russian as I am and having the good fortune to have instructors who genuinely care about their students, and whose energy and enthusiasm for their subject is palpable, has made my STARTALK experience something I will never forget. Being part of this program has engendered in me a deep desire to find another Russian immersion program (hopefully in Russia) as soon as possible.