Katherine Jacobsen (Moscow 2011-12)
After a meaningful internship with The Moscow Times during her academic year abroad, Katherine Jacobsen leveraged her overseas journalism experience to get into graduate school and later become a Kiev-based freelance journalist. She was recently interviewed by American Councils:
American Councils (AC): You've actually been on two separate American Councils Programs to Russia. Tell us where and when you went?
Katherine Jacobsen (KJ): I studied abroad in Summer 2010 in Moscow and then I did ACTR's year-long program for the 2011-2012 academic year.
AC: How did you first become interested in Russian language and culture?
KJ: It's hard to say, but I think in high school during my European History class. We really dug into the Communist Revolution and I was absolutely fascinated by the former Soviet Union. I gave up on the thought of learning Russian in college until I started working for Professor Irwin Weil. The semester I started working for him, I signed up for a beginner Russian class. For the rest of the year, I would meet with Prof. Weil for work, and then he would help me with Russian grammar, or tell me stories about Soviet Russia. Professor Weil's help is really the reason I stuck with the language.
AC: His help was obviously intrumental as you decided to study abroad on two separate occasions. What were your impressions of Russia when you finally arrived for the first time?
KJ: I was overwhelmed and excited. I was shocked that there were so many Western products in Moscow: my host mother was entirely nonplussed by the popcorn I bought her. I also fell in love with the metro: so efficient in comparison to the Chicago El!
AC: Tell us about your experience in the academic program.
KJ: It was wonderful. The professors really put in the extra effort and made sure that we had the tools we needed to succeed. I still have Galina Mikhailovna's voice inside my head when I go to ask people questions: am I putting the proper stress on the verbs? And Irina Petrovna's turns of phrases: "изменить мужу очень легко, а изменить мужа- это очень трудно ребята!" in my head.
My RD, Jon Smith, was also an invaluable part of my time in Moscow. His understanding of Russian v. American perspectives really helped me to better understand my surroundings and interactions with Russia.
AC: You had an interesting internship during your academic-year abroad, too. Tell us a little bit about the internship and what effect it had on you.
KJ: Yes, I had an internship with The Moscow Times. I wrote for their "Arts and Ideas" section, which was a really great experience. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go into journalism and I also wasn't entirely sure how to get around Moscow and find the "cool" places. The internship really forced me to try out writing and to venture outside of my comfort zone. I also got free passes to museum openings all over the city and got to go on press tours to Russian banyas and old Soviet parks, among other things.
AC: What doors have been opened as a result of your time abroad and your internship?
KJ: It's hard to say exactly. My time abroad helped me build the foundation of my career. The internship at The Moscow Times helped me get into journalism grad school, which helped me get to where I am right now.
AC: And what about Russian? How important has your knowledge of the language been in your career?
KJ: My Russian language instruction has helped me everyday that I've been abroad in the FSU. I really can't imagine where I would be without ACTR. I'm currently a Kiev-based freelancer and without the Russian instruction, I would be floundering right now.
AC: How did your experiences, both inside and outside the classroom, expand your view of Russia and the world? How did it change you?
KJ: Every time I go abroad, my perspectives change a bit. Every time I go to Russia, or the FSU, my world view is shaken. I cannot emphasize enough how important the ACTR experience was for both for my personal and professional development. The program helped me connect to Russian society. During my year in Moscow, I became both a participant in, and an observer of Russian society. I was passed a free cup of tea at a pro-Putin rally, I listened to my landlady's harangues about muckrakers who were trying to ruin Russia, and then went to metal concerts with friends who donned white protest ribbons.
AC: So, tell us about some of the interesting work that you are engaged in now?
KJ: The last few weeks, I've been Instagraming everything that I see and trying to find stories that would be interesting for different news organizations. I'm really just getting started—freelancing is a bit more difficult than I thought it would be. My knowledge of Russian language has really allowed me to venture off the beaten path. Before the protests got violent, I went to Donetsk by myself and met with local activists and journalists there. I also interviewed pro-Yanukovych people, in Russian. I'm now in Simferopol, chasing the conflict here. Again, without Russian, I would never, ever have been able to do this.