Stephanie Colello, Class of 2013


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!