Photo provided by Lisa Vetyuhova
After many semesters of talk about creating a Russian Club, a few students have finally taken the initiative to put the idea into effect.
Brian Holmes — senior English and Russian double major — reached out to Lisa Vetyuhova last semester hoping to get the ball rolling.
“I took the initiative last semester to finally start it since people kept saying they would start it but no one ever did it,” Holmes said. “It was my senior year, and I thought, ‘Might as well start it.’ ”
Vetyuhova is a sophomore political science major who was born in Ukraine and speaks Russian and Ukrainian.
“It’s a pretty small club with members that usually have some sort of related family background. But I think that for culture clubs, it doesn’t matter if you belong to that culture or not because you can come and experience it and learn more,” Vetyuhova said. “A lot of the culture clubs I’ve talked to and learn from try to strike at a medium, providing a safe space with people who understand where you’re coming from and also people who want to know more.”
Masha Holl, professor of Russian, is glad to see increasing interest in Russian classes at Trinity.
“There have been Russian Clubs before at Trinity,” Masha Holl said. “In fact I have a small collection of T-shirts made over the years by the Russian Clubs. Interest had waned for a while, and enrollments in Russian classes had fallen, but now they’re up again. And it took quite a bit of effort and organization to get it restarted.”
Holmes sees the club as an opportunity to challenge stereotypes about Russian culture.
“I think that having culture clubs that are explicitly about offering students some insights into a culture that maybe they misunderstand or have misconceptions about,” Holmes said. “Such as people seeing Russians as hard, very abrasive, not communicative, not happy.”
There are no requirements for students to join the club, whether they have Slavic background or simply want to learn more about Russian culture and language.
For example, though Holmes is not Russian, he has developed a deep passion for Russian culture.
“I came to Trinity, and they had a language requirement. I grew up speaking Spanish and I’ve always loved languages … so I selected Russian from the beginning. I never expected it to be one of my majors, but I just fell in love with it. I love the grammar more than anything. I found it so interesting,” Holmes said, “I think it’s a beautiful language.”
Holmes also had summer experiences that reinforced his love and learning as he was certified as fluent in the Middlebury Language Schools Russian program — an intensive 8-week summer program of language immersion — as well as studying last summer in Russia on the Critical Language Scholarship.
According to Holmes, Russian Club is also a way for students to maintain their language skills outside of classes.
“My goal is to have a bi-weekly or weekly meeting going where it alternates between Russian dinner and Russian tea. Students can congregate and speak Russian with more fluent speakers or ask questions,” Holmes said.
Vetyuhova described the importance of these traditions, which apply to a diverse array of cultures.
“It’s a huge staple of any Slavic culture to just sit down and have tea for hours, to talk and discuss,” Vetyuhova said. “We’ve been trying to give little shadows of Russian or Slavic culture. There are a lot of overlaps with Slavic cultures, but it’s very important to distinguish that they’re very individual.”
The two professors of Russian at Trinity, Bruce Holl and Masha Holl, will also likely attend and participate in these get-togethers.
“I am here to support and advise, and really, the students are more than able to find resources and come up with ideas for activities,” Masha Holl said. “However, I look forward to sharing what I can — whether it’s to teach how to cook Russian dishes, talk about customs or to serve tea, I’ll be happy to be a part of the life of the Russian Club.”
Students may have noticed the Russian Club tabling at Chocolate Fest or earlier this month giving away pancakes on the Coates Esplanade. The latter event was a celebration of Maslenitsa, an Eastern Slavic religious and folk holiday celebrated the week before Great Lent, the fasting period before Eastern Orthodox Easter.
The pancakes they gave out are called blini. Making the blini took 13 hours and a lot of work from a group of club members.
Melissa Woodul, sophomore Russian major and Russian Club member, described the preparations for this event.
“I went to the cooking class with Masha Holl where she taught us to make these Russian pancakes, crêpe-like things called blini,” Woodul said. “So we made them with her on Friday afternoon and then in preparation for Maslenitsa we made nine more batches on Saturday [March 2]. They take longer than you think they’re going to because you have to let the dough rise twice. It’s made with actual yeast, which I had never used before. It smelled really good in the kitchen.”
On the day of the event, the club gave out free blini with jam and other traditional toppings. According to Holmes, the Russian Club distributed a couple hundred blini and had a great turnout despite the cold, windy weather that day.
Though Russian Club is new and still finding its bearings, its members have aspirations and see a lot potential for it.
“I think it would be cool to have cooking classes like this, [other events like Maslenitsa] or just meeting up and eating Russian food and watching Russian movies. Just fun things to sort of get to know Russian culture and experience that a little bit,” Woodul said.
“We want to do more modern culture-based events that are relevant to what people our age are consuming in Russia, for example movie sessions, playing music … There are so many possibilities,” Vetyuhova said. “In the future, I would want to have more outdoor events, have something more picnic-y, because picnics are a huge staple.”
Vetyuhova said she would also like to get people involved outdoors and socially, where it is more casual and comfortable to introduce them to things that may be foreign to them.
With both Holmes and Vetyuhova as co-heads, the club hopes for a smooth transition after Holmes graduates this spring.
Holmes added that while the process of making this idea into an official club as well as planning and funding events has been tedious and time-consuming, it is now up and running and will hopefully continue to grow.