Jackson Emanuel (’15) on learning Russian

Jackson Emanuel ’15, a biochemistry major from Lakewood, Colorado, was awarded a 2015-16 Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship for Poland. (Photo: Josh Kuckens/Bates College)

Of all the enjoyable courses I took at Bates, Russian was my favorite. Although I didn’t begin Russian until senior year, it remains a defining aspect of my time at Bates and one of the things I miss most about college. I started taking Russian without any Russian language background whatsoever. However, thanks to small class sizes and excellent teaching, I managed to read, write, and speak Russian at a basic level after a single year of study. The Russian program at Bates is truly a hidden gem that I wish more students knew about.

After graduating Bates, I completed a Fulbright grant to teach at an engineering university in Kraków, Poland. While I was living abroad, having a background in Russian language paved the way for many additional opportunities. First of all, it enabled me to quickly learn Polish, another Slavic language with a similar grammatical structure. But I found many opportunities to speak Russian itself. Thanks to classes at Bates, I had the opportunity to speak with eyewitnesses of the Maidan Revolution and the ongoing War in Donbass, gaining a nuanced perspective of an important global conflict. Moreover, speaking Russian helped me to befriend native Russian speakers with whom I still keep in contact. Looking beyond its practical applications, the language is a joy to learn and has helped open the door to many life-altering artistic works. Whether it comes to poets like Marina Tsvetaeva or filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky, so many artistic giants hail from Russia, after years of exploration I am still only beginning to draw from the deep well that Russian culture has to offer.

The profit in learning a foreign language cannot be measured in words alone, it gives you the chance to reevaluate your assumptions about communication and humanity. I strongly recommend taking Russian to all Bates students, regardless of their academic background. It’s an experience you won’t easily forget.