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Classroom success at PCC results in Russia trip

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Three Portland Community College Russian language students have been chosen to participate in a summer language program in Russia.

Evan Schott, Darrian Bowen and Jason Junkkarinen are recipients of the Critical Language Scholarships through the State Department, which will take them to Vladimir, Russia (east of Moscow) from mid June to August.

The Russian language experts – (left to right) Evan Schott, Darrian Bowen and Jason Junkkarinen in the Russia-friendly confines of their classroom.

They are three of 80 students chosen nationwide out of a pool of 500 applicants and will have all of their expenses paid. Many of the 80 are students are working on graduate degrees and possess advanced Russian language skills.

The students’ instructor and Sylvania Campus Russian Department Chair Kristine Shmakov, encouraged them to apply for the scholarship last fall after they showed success in Alla Grigoryan’s accelerated Russian class. Shmakov gave them a language evaluation to make sure they will be at intermediate level or better. The State Department program can be daunting and thus may discourage many students from applying.

“I have had only one other person apply,” Shmakov said. “In the past, people haven’t wanted to do it because they are too intimidated by it. It’s probably the most prestigious scholarship in the U.S. for Russian. But if you don’t throw your hat into the ring you can’t even be considered so I encouraged them to do that. We were very lucky.”

The program consists of intensive language training with 20 hours per week of classes and a full slate of cultural events, home stays with a family and side trips to St. Petersburg and elsewhere.

“They will keep them extremely busy and they won’t have much free time,” said Shmakov, who was a reader for the national scholarships. “The applicants were over-the-moon stellar, which means these guys are among those caliber of students. I’m extremely proud of these guys and it’s a big honor for them.”

Although PCC does not offer a degree in Russian, the classes are lower division collegiate courses that transfer to a four-year college or university. There are more than 140,000 Russian-speaking immigrants in Oregon and Washington. The U.S. Census indicates that the Pacific Northwest has had the greatest influx of Russian-speaking immigrants anywhere in the nation during the last 10 years, making Russian one of the most commonly spoken languages in the region and designated a language of critical need by the U.S. government.

Evan Schott, 32, plans to use his Russian language skills to learn more about the culture and to appreciate its films and literature. He plans to transfer to Portland State University with a focus on computer science.

Instructor Kristine Shmakov encouraged them to apply for the Russia language scholarship last fall after they showed success in Alla Grigoryan’s accelerated Russian class.

“I really hadn’t expected to do so well (in Russian) and I definitely like the challenge that it provides,” Schott said. “I was surprised and very happy (to get this honor).”

Darrian Bowen, who is co-enrolled at PCC and PSU, said he isn’t intimidated by the challenge of being immersed in Russian culture and language. Bowen, 25, was the last to know over that eventful weekend a few weeks ago that he had been selected.

“They both found out over the weekend through e-mail and I didn’t check it so Kristine told me to go log in when I got to class on Monday,” he said. “So I left class and I didn’t want to come back after reading it because I wanted to call my dad instead, I was so excited.”

Jason Junkkarinen, a 24-year-old Forest Grove resident, is a returning student who found Russian after researching his Finnish heritage. He said he will be co-enrolled at PSU and PCC next year and wants to earn an economics and Russian language degrees. He plans to be a teacher or work in government.

“I know it’s going to be very hard and a lot of work, but it will be worth it,” said Junkkarinen of the Russia trip.

To learn more, visit the PCC Russian language program on the web at: http://www.pcc.edu/programs/russian/

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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