Post Undergrad Interviews

Michael Anderson Class of 2017

mike anderson

Law student, Columbia University Law School

1.Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
I majored in Slavic Languages and Literatures because I loved the subject matter and the members of the Department. Specifically, I was drawn to 18th and 19th century Russian literature and history, and had very positive classroom experiences and interactions with professors and other students. I also appreciated the flexibility of my professors and of the departmental requirements, which allowed me to continue taking classes outside of my major throughout my junior and senior years. 
2.What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
The people. I made some lifelong friends during college and loved the collegiality of the Department, where you would often find yourself taking the same classes as other students sharing your passion for Russian literature and culture. 
3.Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as a key to Russian culture?
I would recommend reading anything by Pushkin! I think a lot of people know about Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but reading Pushkin in a pre-1860 Russian literature class is ultimately what drove me to becoming a Russian major. 
4.What career path did you choose, and why?
I worked in the business world for four years after graduation, and have just started law school. I have appreciated the opportunity to explore different career paths to see what my likes and dislikes are, and I anticipate more career changes down the road. 
5.What are you working on now?
I am a first-year law student at Columbia Law School and my plan as of now is to work in corporate law after finishing school.
6.Are there any thoughts that you'd like to add?
Majoring in Slavic Languages and Literatures was one of the best decisions I made while at Princeton. It was such a joy to genuinely love my classes and there are lots of benefits to choosing a less common major, such as the individual attention you will receive from your professors and research advisors. I would also highly recommend the Princeton in St. Petersburg program, which was an incredible experience to live and study in one of the world’s most interesting cities! 

Fiona Bell Class of 2018

Fiona Bell

PhD student in Russian Literature, Yale University

1. Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
I read a lot of translated Russian novels in high school (Turgenev was my “first love”!). I started learning the language as a first-year in college and then spent the summer doing Princeton in Petersburg. I loved being in Russia, and I knew I wanted to spend my college years learning as much as possible about it.  
2. What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
Once, in a seminar on the history of emotions, a mouse ran into the room. One student caught the mouse in a yogurt container and released it outside. Since we were studying Russian sentimentalism and court poetry, Professor Vinitsky asked us to write a sentimentalist tale about the poor mouse and, in addition, a Pindaric ode to student who saved us from it. 
3. Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as a key to Russian culture?
I would recommend the short prose of Andrei Platonov. It’s beautiful and spare and, if not a key to Russian culture, at least an elliptical look into the Stalinist period. 
4. Which career path did you choose, and why?I’m pursuing a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale, where I study Russian theater and performance. I wanted to spend more time thinking about Russian culture and art, and this was the best way for me. I’m also a literary translator from Russian to English. 
5.What are you currently working on?
I’m working on an article in which I read Dostoevsky’s intellectually preoccupied protagonists (like Raskolnikov) within the tradition of slapstick comedy. Like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, these characters fall, hit one another, groan, and overreact—so why don’t we laugh at them? In tandem with the article, I’m leading workshops with Yale undergraduates where we use Lecoq clown exercises to physically explore the vaudevillian aspect of Dostoevsky’s work, bringing to life as performers what we so often pass over as readers.
6. Are there any thoughts that you'd like to add?
There’s a lot to be said for being in a small department with intellectually generous faculty and graduate students. The concentration is less about specializing in a particular field and more about learning how to think, and learning how to think with others. In my experience, the Slavic Department community is excited to think with you.

Molly Brean Class of 2013

Molly Brean

Strategies & Business Operations team at Duolingo, the language learning application

1. Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
There were a few pivotal choices in my first year at Princeton that brought me to majoring in Russian culture: signing up for Russian 101, taking Deborah Kaple's Soviet Gulag freshman seminar and Stephen Kotkin's Soviet Empire course, and completing the Princeton in Petersburg program. I challenge anyone not to major in Russian culture after spending a summer reading Crime and Punishment by the Fontanka and going to the Mariinsky every other night! 
 2. What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
​I'll never forget my go-to order from Chancellor Green cafe in the East Pyne basement: a large Small World cappuccino and a chocolate chip muffin (I have yet to find a baked good I love more!)
3.Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as one of the keys to Russian culture?
Without a doubt, Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. It's a puzzle I'm still figuring out (even after reading it seven times), and it's the most divine journey through every emotion and genre one can imagine.
4.Which career path did you choose, and why?
After doing a Fulbright grant in Moscow (studying contemporary stage productions of Bulgakov's dramatic and adapted fiction works!), I wound up in management consulting with Bain & Company for four years in both the U.S. and Russia. I chose this career path because I hadn't the faintest idea what I wanted to do next, and word on the street was that consulting was a way to (start to) figure that piece out. I got a ton of exposure to different companies, industries, and kinds of work. 
5.What are you currently working on?
Now, I am using the skills that I picked up in consulting and working on the strategy and business operations team at Duolingo, the language learning app. I love that I get to marry my head and my heart at work by making language learning--the foundation of my personal development since choosing to major in Slavic at Princeton--accessible and fun for anyone on the planet. 
6.Are there any other comments that you'd like to add?
Majoring in Slavic has given me a kind of intellectual home where the door is always open (and there's a pot of shchi on the stove!). Whether it's finding other lovers of Russian literature with whom to connect or discovering new layers of meaning and resonance in rereading a known and loved book, having a hearth of ideas to continue to stoke and draw from has been a continuous source of joy for me in my years since Princeton. 

Barbara Cates Class of 1980

barbara cates

Retired Foreign Service Officer

1. Why did you choose Russian culture as your major? 
I'd like to say it was a carefully considered decision, but it was not.  I'd come to Princeton intending to major in math, and quickly discovered that theoretical math was not for me.  I loved numbers, and the only numbers I saw were the numbers of the questions on the problem set or test, and I was lost.  Meanwhile I'd started studying Russian, and found that it was taking up most of my time, so I might as well major in it.  And the Russian Department threw the best parties; more importantly, it was like a family.  My fellow Russian students were among my best friends at Princeton.  Our classes were small, our professors knew us.  We occasionally had dinners together, babysat one professor's small (Russian speaking) children, and those relationships continued after graduation.  
2. What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
My memories are mostly more warm and fuzzy than vivid, and it's difficult to pick one out, but this one is fun:  at the end of our first year of Russian 101-102, which featured week after week of afternoon drill/torture sessions with our very demanding instructors, Veronika Nikolayevna and Yevgeniya Konstantinovna, we had a party  David Remnick played "Back in the USSR" on his guitar, in full rock star mode, turning flirtatiously to Veronika Nikolayevna, who was from Moscow, as he sang "And Moscow girls make me sing and shout" and we were all laughing and singing along.
3. Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as one of the keys to Russian culture?
Well, I'd thought maybe War and Peace, which first got me hooked on Russian literature even before Princeton, and which is the only full-length novel I've read entirely in Russian - with the aid of an excellent audiobook narration to keep me moving along.  Or Anna Akhmatova's Requiem for the Stalin terror of the 1930s, which I quoted in a Russian radio interview about September 11:  "No, not under a foreign sky, nor under the protection of foreign wings, I was there with my people, there, where, alas, my people were."
But I've settled on the songs of Bulat Okudzhava, perhaps the foremost of the Russian bard singer-songwriters.  His songs reference Chekhov and Pushkin, and in their minor key they express the pain and longing of the Russian soul.  He explores public transportation, from the midnight trolley on which broken people find community in their loneliness to the metro that is never crowded because of the holy eternal order in which people stand on the right and walk on the left.  His songs about war are sung on Victory Day, but they convey the brokenness:  "Grab your coat, let's go home."  And his song about the Arbat is all the more heartbreaking as the soul of the Arbat has given way to commercialism.
4. Which career path did you choose, and why?
Graduating with a Russian degree, officially Slavic Languages and Literature, in 1980, with the Cold War in full force, there weren't a lot of options. There were minimal opportunities in business or culture; I wasn't cut out for the secrecy of CIA or NSA; the State Department seemed way too "establishment" for me; and I couldn't begin to think about academia.  But a few years later I took an internship on the Soviet Desk at State and discovered that it was interesting work being done by people I respected.  By the time I joined the Foreign Service in 1989, glasnost' was in full swing and the Iron Curtain was crumbling, and I was lucky enough to be posted to Moscow as my first assignment, June 1990-December 1991, where I had a front seat for the unraveling of the USSR.  I had two more assignments in that part of the world:  Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1998-2001, jand Yekaterinburg, Russia 2002-2004, before I retired from the Foreign Service late in 2010.
5. What are you currently working on?
In retirement I've mostly been a free-lance volunteer.  I've continued to use Russian, probably just about every day.  I visit Tashkent regularly to keep up with friends, usually for a month of mostly Russian immersion.  Even as my Russian has gotten more fluent and conversational, I continue to struggle with the random grammatical curve balls the language throws; learning Russian is definitely a lifelong process.  I also volunteer as an OSCE elections observer in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.
6. Are there any comments that you'd like to add?
Majoring in Russian was not a well-thought-out decision on my part, but it's one of the best I've ever made.  The Russian language has opened for me a world of friendships and experiences and adventures that I couldn't begin to dream of when I was an undergraduate.

Stephanie Colello Class of 2013

stephanie colello

Resident Physician in Combined Internal Medicine & Pediatrics Program, Hospital of U Penn; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

1. Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
My first exposure to the Russian language was as a child taking piano lessons from my fabulous piano teacher, Svetlana Seifer, who emigrated from Belarus in the early 90s to my hometown of North Andover, MA. I took lessons from her for many, many years – slowly (possibly) tuning my ears to the Russian language when she would speak to her family members during our lessons. I transferred to a new high school during my sophomore year, where Russian was offered as a course by Victor Svec – a beloved and revered teacher, even by those who did not take his classes. Out of curiosity, and desire for a new challenge, I decided to give Russian a try. I quickly became enamored with the grammatical nuances and quirks of the language. It wasn’t long before Svetlana and I started having our piano lessons in Russian as well – a double lesson for me! Freshman year at Princeton I continued my studies in Russian as a foreign language, and also started to delve into Russian literature and cultural studies. This is what really got me hooked. I loved the drama – the life and death – the spiritual and philosophical questions probed by the works of Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy. The summer after freshman year I studied in Ufa, Russia under the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) offered by the US Dept of State. Once I had finally found myself in the land I had grown to love from a distance, I knew that I wanted to commit my studies to Slavic Languages and Literatures during my time at Princeton.
2. What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
A difficult question – vivid is a specific word! I would say that some of my most joyful memories are late-night study parties in Studio 54, and in the booths in Frist, with some of my best friends. These individually were not momentous occasions, but collectively made up 4 years of shared laughter, frustration, exhaustion, and unhealthy snacks. Another truly stand-out experience from my college years was my senior thesis research, when I studied childbirth practices and their depiction in Russian literature. I was able to travel to Moscow and live with a midwife for several weeks. I will always be grateful my thesis advisor Olga Hasty and to the Slavic dept for supporting me in this exciting, life-changing opportunity!
3. Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as one of the keys to Russian culture?
The classic answers are classic for a reason – Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina are easy answers for their glimpse into Russian history, and examinations of despair and redemption. One of my favorite Soviet era poets (and also poets in general) is Anna Akhmatova – in particular her Requiem. Then, as a doctor, I must also recommend A Country Doctor’s Notebook by Bulgakov; and if you want less preaching than Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, check out really any short story by Chekhov.
4. What career path did you choose, and why?
I have always known that I wanted to go into medicine – even from childhood. Throughout my time at Princeton I was taking my pre-med requirements along with my Russian, linguistics, and sculpture courses – making for a delightful, eclectic, and rich experience. After Princeton I attended medical school at Columbia and am now a resident physician the in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics program at the Hospital of UPenn and CHOP. I am currently in my fourth and final year of residency, and am applying to fellowship in cardiology. My career goals within cardiology are to study adult congenital heart disease, particularly during pregnancy and delivery. I attribute my interest in the peripartum period to my senior thesis, way back when!
5. What are you working on now?
I am currently working on completing my residency program and applying to cardiology fellowship! In addition to reading (when I can!) I have continued to work in the wood and metal shop on small projects to keep things interesting.
6. Are there any other comments that you'd like to add?
My time at Princeton was deeply enriched by my studies in the Slavic department. I am so grateful for the platform our program provided for both my language and cultural studies, which inform my medical practice and worldview to this day. The mental gymnastics I practiced learning the language, and the philosophical and spiritual gymnastics practiced while reading the literature, have changed the way I learn, and even the way I think. Although I don’t use my Russian as regularly as I might like, when I am able to speak to a scared patient in the hospital, or bond over shared love of Russian literature, I am reminded of my time in East Pyne!

Boris Fishman Class of 2011

 Boris Fishman

Novelist, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing, University of Montana

1.Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
Is that what it’s called now? It was Slavic Languages and Literatures when I was there. I was born in the former Soviet Union, but had really neglected this part of myself until I got to Princeton. I wanted to understand it better.
 2.What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
Oddly, I don’t have one. I had mixed feelings about attending Princeton. Academically, I thought it was magnificent. Socially, less so.
 3.Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as a key to Russian culture?
This is such a hard one to answer, because different writers give you such different things. I have been a late comer to Chekhov, but now revere him. A short story by him is life itself, no more and no less.
 4.What career path did you choose, and why?
I wanted to be a nonfiction writer, in the voice-heavy and highly narrative style of The New Yorker of the 1980s and 1990s. The Slavic major was actually pivotal in my getting a position there, after Princeton, as a fact-checker. Language is the most useful skill someone in this position can have.
 5. What are you working on now?
Having published two novels and a memoir, I teach creative writing in the MFA program at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana. I am still adjusting to all the ways teaching can be a roadblock to regular writing, but I managed to start a new novel this summer. For the first time in four books, there are no Russians in it.
 6. Are there any other thoughts that you'd like to add?
I would highly recommend the Slavic L+L major. The faculty is brilliant, the attention is extremely personal – it’s just you and a couple of other students – and (apart from the value of acquainting oneself more closely with one of the great literatures of the world), you’re hardly disadvantaging your professional chances when you graduate. As in any major, what you’re ultimately developing are skills of criticism and inquiry, and Russian literature is merely the tool. Any wise employer will understand that.

Judith Kalb Class of 1987

Judith Kalb

Associate Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature, University of South Carolina

1. Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
I chose to study Russian because of the amazing qualities of Russian literature, first and foremost, and because of my incredible professors. Russian literature made me ask questions, think critically, and seek out exposure to differing viewpoints. My professors provided examples of scholarly and pedagogical excellence that continue to inspire me to this day.
2. What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
One memory that has stayed with me is the way I could simply wander into a professor's office to discuss life, often without an appointment; I felt that my education mattered, and that I mattered--and that welcoming and affirming attitude is something I try to impart to my own students now.
3. Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as one of the keys to Russian culture?
Anyone who knew me in college or graduate school will know that I will always recommend the modernist masterpiece Petersburg, by Andrei Bely, subject of my undergraduate thesis! 🙂
4.Which career path did you choose, and why?
I went to graduate school at Stanford, where I did a joint Ph.D. program in Slavic Languages and Literatures and Humanities. I am currently a professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina.

5.What are you currently working on?
My research focuses on the interactions between Russian culture and the Greco-Roman classical tradition; my current project deals with Russia's reception of Homer.
6. Are there any other comments that you'd like to add?
I am grateful always to have the opportunity to introduce my students to the incredible world of Russian literature and the larger European literary tradition of which it forms a part--and to encourage them to draw connections between the literature we read and what matters to them in their own lives.

Alan Kashdan Class of 1975

Alan Kashdan

International Trade Lawyer

1. Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
I had been in interested in things Russian since the 6th grade, when my teacher (staunchly conservative and a supporter of Barry Goldwater) urged us to take Russian, which was offered in my junior high school.  I followed her suggestion, and through exposure to Russian culture through my high school Russian teacher (whose parents escaped Russia in the 1930s), a summer trip to Russia before starting at Princeton, and a freshman year course on Russian culture with James Billington, the choice was easy.
2. What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
Perhaps my junior year fall semester in 1973, which I spent at what was then Leningrad State University.  Studying abroad was not nearly as common then, and the Soviet Union was about as exotic and different an experience from life in the United States as one could imagine.
3. Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as one of the keys to Russian culture?
Without a doubt, James Billington's The Icon and the Axe.
4.Which career path did you choose, and why?
I went into law, because someone had mentioned something to me called international trade law.  I had no  idea what that actually meant, but I assumed that because it must involve something international I might be able to make a career out of it -- which I have been happily doing for over 40 years now.
5.What are you currently working on?
A mix of trade regulatory matters, including representing the Government of Canada in disputes with the United States over Canadian exports to the U.S. of a number of products, U.S. economic sanctions that apply to trade with countries such as Russia, U.S. export controls, and U.S Government review of foreign investments in the United States.
6. Are there any other comments that you'd like to add?
Nothing else, thanks.

Teresa Redd Class of 1976

teresa redd

Professor Emerita, Department of English; Founding Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning & Assessment, Howard University

1. Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
I chose Russian culture as my major because it was so different from my own.  Since I am an African American, the difference could not be more stark.  At the time I had heard of only one other African American who had studied Russian (Condoleeza Rice), so studying Russian made me different too.  Indeed, that difference led me to investigate lesser-known subjects, for instance, the Soviet scheme to establish a Black nation in the U.S. South as well as the cultural identity development of Uzbek children in Soviet Central Asia.  As a member of a racial minority in the U.S., I believed I could bring a unique perspective to such research.
As my research suggests, I not only majored in Slavic Languages & Literatures, but also earned an interdisciplinary Certificate in Russian Studies because I was fascinated by the difference between the U.S. and Soviet societies in the midst of the Cold War. I also believed that people-to-people relationships could bridge the divide. 

2. What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
        What I remember best is the semester I spent at the University of Leningrad in 1974:
  • gazing across the Neva River at the Hermitage from my dorm window
  • cowering as “babushki” admonished me for not wearing a hat in the winter cold
  • admiring the gold cupolas of Orthodox churches and the ornate rooms of tsarist palaces
  • seeing EVERYWHERE bright red banners and posters with Communist party slogans and images
  • collecting decorative pins (“znachki”) given in a gesture of friendship by Young Pioneers
  • delighting in the ballet at the Kirov Theatre, where two Russians mistook me for Angela Davis!

3. Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as one of the keys to Russian culture?
Although I loved reading Dostoyevsky’s soul-stirring novels, I would recommend Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard to a newcomer.  Chekhov was a master of capturing both the humor and pathos in the lives of ordinary Russians. “Life must be exactly as it is, and people as they are—not on stilts,” Chekhov explained.  “Let everything on the stage be just as complicated, and at the same time just as simple as it is in life.”
4. Which career path did you choose, and why?
When I arrived at Princeton, I planned to pursue a career in the Foreign Service.  However, after spending a semester abroad, I realized that I did not want to be stationed abroad for a year or more, so I decided to work as a writer-editor for Time-Life Books.  Working for a corporation did not fulfill me, though: I wanted to do something that would directly benefit people, especially the African American community, so I decided to teach writing at a historically Black university.  To do so, I enrolled in graduate school, where I studied literature, linguistics, rhetoric, and education.  Eventually, I launched my career at Howard University, first, as an English professor and, later, as the founding director of a center for faculty development.  Yet I never abandoned my first love: language.  
5. What are you currently working on?
After nearly 33 years at Howard, I retired, but I did not stop working. I set up a small consulting business in Annapolis so that I could work part-time teaching faculty workshops, developing writing-intensive curricula, and advising directors of faculty development or writing programs.  I also work as a volunteer for my church and for a local shelter, where I teach or tutor in a job skills program.  I have even found a way to put my knowledge of Russian to good use:  After discovering that Leningrad Oblast was a sister-state of Maryland, I joined a committee that hosts visiting Leningrad delegates who come to learn about local leadership via COIL (formerly known as “Open World”), a program sponsored by the Library of Congress.  My delegate was so relieved when she discovered that I could speak Russian that her gratitude alone made my years of study worthwhile. 
6. Are there any other comments that you’d like to add?
You never know when your Russian studies will come in handy.  Although I earned my M.A. in English and my Ph.D. in Education, I have used my knowledge of Russian off and on over the years, first, as a writer-editor for Time-Life Books when the Books division was working on its WWII series: I not only wrote essays about Russia’s role in WWII, but also translated photo captions and excerpts from Russian memoirs.  Later, as an English professor and faculty development director at Howard, I greeted Russian-speaking visitors a few times.  Surprisingly, since retiring, I have used my Russian more often since I have started hosting delegates from Leningrad.  So you never know!

Jake Robertson Class of 2015

Jake Robertson

Actor, PhD student, Writer, Oxford University

1. Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
As a nerdy ten-year-old who always chose history books over YA novels, I stumbled upon Russia: A Concise History by Ronald Hingley and was hooked on Russian history, language and culture. When I arrived at Princeton, I knew that I had two passions: Theater and Russia. I initially planned to major in Politics, but it soon became apparent to me that my deep love of stories, and the people in them, which drew me to both Russia and Theater, would take center stage within the intimate community of the Slavic Department. Slavic was endlessly supportive of my dive into the world of Gulag Theater, and fostered both my academic and creative passions. The close-knit nature of the department and it’s devoted faculty offered me a family that both nurtured and intellectually challenged me during my time at Princeton and beyond.
2. What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
I’ve got a kaleidoscope of happy and rewarding memories from my college years, but the most indelible was my PIIRS-sponsored thesis research trip to Russia’s Subarctic Komi Republic. It was truly the adventure of a lifetime, and I came away with a trove of thrilling memories, incredible primary resources, and academic and personal relationships that still thrive today. 
3. Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as one of the keys to Russian culture?
How to choose?! I suppose the piece that affected me most deeply was Nikolai Gogol’s Diary of a Madman, a thrilling look into the mind of a man losing his sense of reality in mid-19th century Russia. It offers a hilarious and disturbing critique of the arbitrary strictures and divisions holding up the Russian Imperial caste system. I later adapted this work, colliding the madman’s tale with my own biography to create my one-man theater thesis MADMAN, which I later revised and performed Off-Broadway in New York City.
4. Which career path did you choose, and why?
 My career path has proven to be a winding road that I would not trade for the world. After finishing undergrad, I went off to get my MA in Acting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, after which I moved to NYC, where I began life as an actor, writer, Russian teacher, translator, researcher, cat sitter and an array of other odd-jobs, all the while continuing my own research into theater in the Soviet Gulag. After 5 years in the city, I am now heading to Oxford with the Clarendon Scholarship for a 3yr research PhD, wherein I plan to explore Gulag theater even further, with the hope of using that research to create theatrical, literary and cinematic expressions of the stories and the people of that mysterious world. 
5. What are you currently working on?
I am currently neck-deep in the extensive editing process of my translation of a Gulag Theater memoir. With the help of a native-Russian-speaking editor, I plan to publish this resource and hopefully spur more interest in this fascinating world of theatermakers.
6. Are there any comments that you would like to add?
The only wisdom I would share with my younger self, though I doubt I would have listened, is this: the world will insist that you define yourself as much as possible, as soon as possible, and at the end of this road of definition lies success or failure. Instead of defining yourself for others, explore your world inside and out, and notice what makes you feel most yourself, what lights you up inside, and do whatever you can to fill your life with as much of that light as possible, definitions be damned!   

Stephanie Sandler Class of 1975

Stephanie Sandler

Professor of Russian Literature, Harvard University

1. Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
I took Russian to start with simply because I wanted to read Russian novels in the original, but I thought I would major in politics or history. But I ended up taking Soviet Politics and Russian history, and the more Russian courses I took, the more I loved what I was doing. So it sort of just happened.
2. What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
I can’t choose one, so here are a few. Joining in an overnight sit-in in Nassau Hall in 1972 to protest the war in Vietnam. Walking back from the Princeton Inn from having seen my first Bergman film and seeing snow fall on that incredibly beautiful campus. Going into New York City with friends to ride the Staten Island Ferry, and thinking it was the coolest thing ever.
3. Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as one of the keys to Russian culture?
War and Peace, without question. But if film is a better gateway, then Tarkovsky’s great film Andrei Rublev. And if it’s poetry, read Mandelstam or Brodsky or Tsvetaeva.
4. Which career path did you choose, and why?
I became a professor of Russian literature and culture. No one in my family could believe it when I went to graduate school. I am first-generation college educated, and it’s a testimony to my parents’ wisdom and love that they supported my decision to do this unimaginable thing.

5. What are you currently working on?
I am writing about contemporary Russian poetry.
6. Are there any other comments that you'd like to add?
My remarkable teachers – Evgenia Tucker, Veronika Dolenko, and later Charles Townsend -- would be the first to tell you that I wasn’t very good at Russian at first. Russian didn’t come easy to me, and it might just be my stubbornness that kept me at it. But I loved the puzzles of the language from the start, the lightbulb moments when I “got it,” and I love the literature that it opened out before me.

Ivy Truong Class of 2021

Ivy Truong

Law student, University of Chicago Law School

1. Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
I chose Russian culture as my major after studying abroad in Russia through Princeton-in-Petersburg. I realized then that I wanted to learn more about a culture so outside of my own and so distinct in what I could learn through my studies in Soviet history and literature, in particular.
2. What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
My most vivid memory of my college years (pre-COVID, of course) would have to be the time spent in The Daily Princetonian newsroom. The company and conversations there gave me some of my best friends and were formative in shaping who I am.
3. Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as one of the keys to Russian culture?
Anna Akhmatova’s “Requiem” 
4. Which career path did you choose, and why?
I am pursuing a career in law. Although I spent a good bit of time debating on a journalism career, I recognized the ability of the law to orchestrate change on both a micro- and macro- level, impacting individual citizens as well as institutions at large.
5. What are you currently working on?
I’m in law school at The University of Chicago Law School! I can proudly say that the reading, writing, and research skills I gained as a Slavic major has more than prepared me for the rigors of law school. I was fortunate that law schools recognized the unique perspective that a Slavic major could bring and was accepted to some top-notch law schools, including Stanford and Harvard.
6. Are there any other comments that you'd like to add?
Additional comments: Along with the close-knit feel of the department and opportunity to develop relationships with professors, I’ve made long-lasting friends through the Slavic department. Those relationships alone have made being a Slavic major worth it.