College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Russian language students in national contest

One dreams about working as a foreign diplomat; another’s career interests range from immigration law to theater arts; and a third has zeroed in on the field of management information systems.

While the two University of Mississippi students and a recent graduate plan varied careers, they all have studied Russian at UM and plan to incorporate the language in their chosen professions.

Indeed, their academic excellence in what may seem to be a difficult study area recently brought them recognition in the ACTR National Post-Secondary Russian Essay Contest for the second consecutive year.

Arpi Grigoryan of Armenia, a senior international studies and German major, placed first in the Heritage Learners, Level 3 contest division; spring graduate Timur Brodskiy of Memphis, who majored in management information systems and psychology, placed second in Heritage Learners, Level 2; and Caroline Lyell of Mobile, a junior majoring in liberal studies and theater arts, received an honorable mention in Non-Heritage Learners, Level 2.

In this year’s contest, 946 essays were submitted from 57 universities, colleges and other institutions across the nation. The essays were based on the topic: “Compare yourself to who you were four years ago. What has changed? What has stayed the same?”  Each contest entry was ranked by three judges in Russia.

Donald Dyer, chair of modern languages, applauds his faculty and students for their excellence.

“Dr. Valentina Iepuri, assistant professor of Russian, and Ms. Tamar Karakozova, her teaching assistant, have done extraordinary things with our Russian program over the past decade,” Dyer said. “Every year in the ACTR competition, our students score among the top students in the country, typically placing next to — and on occasion besting — students from the likes of Yale and Harvard, as well as the University of Chicago, to name just a few of our nation’s universities with elite Russian programs. As a department we are tremendously proud of the students and faculty who work so hard to achieve this success.”

Grigoryan has studied Russian since 2005, first in her home country, and placed second in last year’s contest. She said this latest win makes her “extremely happy.”

“The victory reassures me one more time that the decision I made a very long time ago to study and know the language perfectly was correct and may someday play a crucial role in my academic or professional life,” said Grigoryan, who is a member of the Croft Institute for International Studies. Brodskiy, who received two bachelor’s degrees from the university in May, said he looks forward to using the Russian language in his career.

“The fact that I placed in this competition for two consecutive years means to me that I have rekindled my familiarity with the Russian language, at least to the point of being able to use it for my ultimate purposes,” he said. “My tentative plans are to move to Seattle, Wash., and continue doing business in the field of information systems project management, but with the addition of Russian-speaking clients.”

Lyell, who also placed in last year’s contest, said she is “excited and honored” to be recognized again this year, making her more confident in her language proficiency skills. She credits her professors for her success.

“I think it shows how wonderful the Russian language department is here at Ole Miss. I don’t think I would have won this award without the amazing instruction I’ve received from my teachers.”      Lyell plans to graduate in 2015 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater arts with an acting emphasis, along with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies with three minors: Russian, intelligence and security studies, and French. Following graduation, she is considering either a master’s degree in theater arts or a law degree. She is putting a lot of thought into how language proficiency will complement either career.

“If I choose to receive a law degree, I would like to practice immigration law. Also, if I pursue a career in theater, the Russian language will be invaluable. Many fundamental aspects of acting were created by Stanislavski, a Russian actor who revolutionized the dramatic process and brought his ideas to America, shaping theater as we know it today. A proficiency in Russian would allow me to study acting in Russia without the hindrance of a language barrier.”

Grigoryan is slated to graduate in December 2014 with her double major and minors in both Russian and German. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in international conflict or conflict resolution.

“I think my language skills will be very useful, because I’m planning to work with people from different countries. My native language is Armenian, and I speak Russian and English, and now I am studying German,” said Grigoryan, who came to Oxford in 2009, on a scholarship from the U.S. Department of State, to live with an American host family and attend high school.

“My high school year was simply fascinating, and after I went back to Armenia, my American host family invited me to come and study at the University of Mississippi. They told me about the Croft Institute and encouraged me to apply.

“Being a member of Croft has taught me confidence, and my professors and the staff helped me decide what I truly was interested in. In short, they made me interested in my future profession, which I really appreciate. They always push me to do more and more, to achieve bigger things. I love studying and I love being a student.”

Focusing on the future, Grigoryan said she can envision herself being a diplomat with the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and having to communicate with international partners, including the United States. She has completed one internship at the ministry in Armenia, working at the migration desk, and is doing another one there this summer, in connection with the U.N.

As a graduate of Oxford High School and a three-year UM student, Grigoryan has adjusted socially to life in America. Her campus experiences have included interning at the University Museum and working as a Croft receptionist. Croft Director Kees Gispen knows her well.

“Arpi is a wonderful addition to Croft,” he said. “She has a great sense of personal style and has developed a version of her American-Armenian identity that is both unique and very appealing. From my conversations with her, I have learned that she wants to become a diplomat like her father in Armenia. She also wants to graduate (from UM) a semester early. I am confident that she can do it. She has her eyes on the prize and is determined to succeed. I have no doubt that she will do very well in whatever she undertakes.

By Elaine Pugh