INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF
ISSUE NO. 5 ( 2012/2 )
RUSSIAN STUDENTS IN THE UNITED STATES
HISTORIC DYNAMIC OF THE STUDY ABROAD TRENDS. ANALYSIS OF THE LAST TWENTY YEARS
paper is focusing on evaluating how the changes that took place in
In greater details the paper is researching how specific historic movements and events, such as demands of the Communist ideology, the demise of the Communist Party, the collapse of the Soviet Union, a struggle for democracy and pluralism, economic chaos in Russia, the raise of autocracy, growing nationalism, xenophobic foreign policies, and strained US-Russia relations, influenced the enrollment of students from Russia into Higher Education Institutions in the United States.
many decades, the United States (US) has been attracting international students
from all over the world. Scientists
describe factors that motivate foreigners to study overseas as “push-pull”
model. The “push” factors are forces
that encourage students to leave their country of origin. Among them are political repressions,
economic instability, corruption, inadequate financial rewards associated with
obtaining a higher level of education, low quality of education, inadequate
educational opportunities, and low priority placed on education by the
country’s government. “Pull” factors are
forces within the host country; they include higher quality of life, social
stability, safety, wider opportunities for research and professional growth,
and more lucrative economic rewards associated with obtaining education in this
specific place (Altbach, 2004; Mazzarol & Soutar, 2002; McMahon,
1992). This model contains political,
economic, and social components that might shape the flow of international students
The purpose of this study is to
research the connections of political, cultural, and economic dynamic in one
of Students from
Open Doors report, which is issued
annually by the Institute of International Education (IIE), published its first
set of data about Russian students in the US HEIs in the time between 1994 and
1995. Two years after the collapse of
the Soviet Union and the emergence of
These peculiar fluctuations in students’ enrollment didn’t happen suddenly or in a vacuum. This paper is the journey into the history of the cultural, political, and economic realities of the Union of the Soviet Social Republics (USSR) and later the Federal Republic of Russia; the journey that, I hope, should help in understanding some of the educational processes in Russia.
Part 1. The
The Social Construction of Reality theory explains how media
changes and influences people’ attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions of
reality, particularly in a situation when the exposure to the “reality” is
curtailed (Severin, & Tankard, 1997).
The overwhelming majority of the population in the
the time of the Cold War, the Soviet propaganda machine had been methodically
and successfully creating an image of the
description provided by American journalist Keith Gessen (2011) in the latest
New Yorker, probably offers the most emotional and exciting account of the
feeling Soviets had toward
For members of that Soviet generation,
The appeal of the unknown was so exhilarating, it even caused creation of a fashion movement among the Soviet youth of the 1950’s and 1960’s called “stilyagi” (stylish people or hipsters). Stilyagy admired “American music, dances, and dress style. Channels of this “infection” were “trophy films, seized during the war, music records and journals, brought by those few of the elite who could travel abroad, and, importantly, jazz broadcasts on shortwave radio” (Karpova, 2009, p.1). Admiration of the American culture and desire to go against mainstream made these youngsters ideological enemies. Soviet journalist Kruzhkov wrote in the February 1957 issue of “Komsomolskaja Pravda” (Komsomol Truth)- newspaper of the Russian youth.
Stilyagi … utterly repulsive young men, with their ultra-modish jackets, their ultra-tight and ultra –short trousers and their eccentric neckties in all colors of the rainbow, and with an air of self-stupidity in their faces… Our people… have nicknamed these wretched creatures’ stilyagi and scum, but the wretched creatures turn their noses and show little concern. They imagine themselves to be bearer of and-mind you- apologists for “Western culture”. (Kruzhkov, 1957, p.2)
Despite officially imposed ridicule, the stilyagi’s style and the freedom associated with it were attracting large masses, overriding the danger of prosecution. In the Viktor Slavkin’s (1979) play “A Grown up Daughter of a Young Man”, a protagonist is expelled from a university for having his band play an American song “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”.
Stilyagi’s thirst for difference, despite the
ideological blockade, brought American culture into the lives of Russian youth
making youngsters fear, but, at the same time, dream about experiencing this
unique, dangerous, colorful, and intoxicatingly different country. Boris Grushin (2001), one of the first
eighties marked the dramatic shift in Soviet media coverage of the
The cinema critique Alexander Fedorov (1999), describing the movie market of the nineties, asserted
Only ten years ago Russian audiences generally watched
Russian movies. Now the repertoire of
Many TV shows and sitcoms were adapted from the
If you get
a chance to go to
Silly, because I know everyone there.
Additionally, Russians were experiencing a “publishing
bust”, an unprecedented increase in the availability of foreign literature of
all genres, as well as uncensored coverage of the world news from the
increasing number of newspapers, private broadcasting companies, and
magazines. Richter (1991) and Lukosiunas
(1991) have researched the content of two Russian newspapers Izvestija (The News) and Novoe Vremya (The New Time) published in
1989. They concluded that in that year
media had mostly showed fascination by the
The cultural and political isolation of the fifties,
sixties, and seventies followed by the overabundance of the tantalizing videos
and audios of the eighties made the Russian population ripe for different
possibilities. The “pull” factors of the American lifestyle and culture were
attracting millions of young minds. On
one hand, the generation of “fathers”-former “stilyagi”- that had viewed US as a forbidden and exciting land now
could fulfill their dreams of experiencing it at least through their
children. Furthermore, the youth
indoctrinated by the attractive images of the
Part 2. Demise of the
the early morning of December 8th,
The radical economic policies, that were immediately implemented, made a profound impact on the Russian citizenry, among other things, eliminating financial equality or as the underground jokes used to say “a great Soviet opportunity of being equally poor”. According to Andres Aslund (1995), an economic advisor to the Russian government from November 1991 to January of 1994, as the result of the economic reforms “fixed arbitrary prices as well as wage controls have disappeared altogether. With few exceptions… prices have been liberalized. Foreign trading rights have been liberalized… Money became active instantly after the decontrol of prices in January 1992. All kinds of markets have emerged” (pp.4-5).
analyzing the full range of implications associated with economic reforms in
The underground humor presented these changes in its own way.
Two former classmates
bump into each other at the Visa Department of the
The first one
replies: “You see, I was a professor at
the university, but the government stopped paying my salary and the inflation
skyrocketed. I was literary starving, so
I contacted some colleagues in the
The second says: “I
was working at the factory. The
government stopped paying my salary as well.
I started going to
The first comments: “Oh, my! You had always been horrible at math.”
The second one
agrees: “Yes, I know. However, I’ve been to
However, financial ability to afford studying abroad, even the out-of-state tuition of the US universities, would have provided no access to studying abroad without an ability to leave Russia, and that required major changes in the internal immigration law and mobility policies.
Internal changes: immigration law and citizens’ mobility.
citizens within the impenetrable walls of the Soviet Union had always been a
priority of a communist government, therefore, just a few years after the
establishments of the
In May 1991, the
said that “every citizen of the Russian Federation can freely circulate outside
of the borders of the Russian Federation and freely return to the Russian
Federation” (“Federal Law of the Russian
Federation”, 1991, p.1). The doors from
External changes: western presence.
external factors had also influenced the development of the study- in- the-US
options for the Russian citizens. In the
early 1990’s, western non-government organizations (NGOs) and government
agencies, among them US organizations such as MacArthur Foundation,
International Research and Exchange Board (IREX), the Ford Foundation, the Open
Society Institute, United States Agency for International Development (USAID),
and the American Council for International Education, have entered Russia
aiming to contribute financially and intellectually to the advancement of human
rights, citizens’ opportunities, information sharing, social activism and
engagement. Some of the US NGOs have
focused on building and supporting intellectual strength and capacity in
American Councils had begun overseeing exchange and training programs for
Russian youth. One of the American
Councils programs, Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), has been providing US
government sponsored scholarships for high school students from Russia to
“travel to the United States, attend a US high school for a full academic year
and live with a US host family” (American Councils, n.d., para 1). Upon return from the
another organization, IREX, opened its first office in Moscow and in 1991
initiated “the Modems for Democracy program providing free Internet and e-mail
access in Russia and Ukraine” (IREX, n.d., para 1), which gave Russians a free
entry to the variety of international information sources. In 1994, IREX started administering the
USAID-funded institutional Partnership Project, “connecting US universities and
NGOs with counterparts in
In 1992 the US Congress established the Edmund
S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program and a year later a FREEDOM Support Act
Graduate Fellowship Program (FSA) to support democracy and economic development
in the former
the Soros Fund, founded by the American billionaire George Soros, launched an
Open Society Institute in
starting in early 1990’s, the Fulbright program had sponsored 45-46 Russian
scientists annually for their research work in US HEIs. Comparable number of US scholars were
teaching and doing research in the variety of universities in the
there were other
Turbulent 90th had evoked
a plethora of responses from country’s citizens. Some rejected the change, as many people
often reject it; some hated it, because these revolutionary transformations
deprived millions of everything they believed in; some rejoiced in hope of a
better future; some manipulated the moment for their own immediate benefits;
some sank to the depth of poverty, alcoholism, and despair, yet others decided
to enrich their lives and hopefully the lives of others through the
unprecedented historic opportunity to study in the US. Whatever it was, Russian realities of the
1990’s were “pushing” these young men and women out of the country and the
doors were opened. The youth learned
English, mastered computers, found financial resources, reached out to
international NGOs, and made thousands of other steps. In
Part 3. Putin’s Russia
(Russian underground humor)
understand the dynamic of the Study Abroad enrollment in US HEIs in
Russia-US relationship started deteriorating in 2002. After the events of 9/11,
response to the unfavorably changing geopolitical landscape and
April 15, 2006, the
2006, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) interviewed Barry Lowenkron, a
former Vice President of International Programs of the MacArthur Foundation and
the US State Department Assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human
Rights and Labor, about how the NGO crackdown might affect
statement was supported by other political leaders, which, contrary to the
expected reaction, has caused the official Putin’s rhetoric to turn “explicitly
anti-American. Putin has accused the
The speech was immediately posted on the website “www.youtube.com”. More than 41,400 people saw this clip, 158 left comments, of which 114 were complimentary of Putin: “V. Putin puts Russia back to full health” (HanChineze, 2009), and hateful towards the US: “Al Qaeda and Chechens terrorists were driven/financed/created (Al Qaeda) by USA to destroy USSR and Russia” (Thun4er, 2009).
approach, strongly supported by the national media- the main source of
information for the majority of the population in
today, although young Russians have embraced lattes, iPods, and other consumer goods enjoyed by youth in Western countries, their political views tend to be neither pro-Western nor pro-democratic. Young Russians are not, however, monolithic. Although majorities largely embrace Putin’s anti-American message (p.134).
This opinion was supported by research and observations of other scientists. Shiraev and Marhovskaja (2007) provided their detailed account of the “Americanization” of Russian life
They watched re-runs of “Sex and the
City” on Russian television, checked their TV guides for the next NHL and NBA
games, and downloaded (often illegally) the music files of the latest American
hip-hop or rock sensations. Jack Daniels
was served in
They also noted that “Russian cared less
economic aspirations” (Shiraev & Marhovskaja, 2007, p.119). This last observation was particularly
oxymoronic. While the
It seems that for the Russians of the 21st century, all attributes of the American culture stopped being associated with the US, and instead they became part of the daily routine and convenience, while America as a country and a superpower, in the eyes of the population, has been gradually morphing into an omnipotent and treacherous enemy, “a boa constrictor who ate a half of the world” (Shiraev & Marhovskaya, 2007, p.120). Really, what sane person would want his or her children to learn anything from such a monster?!
Additionally, the Kremlin has cultivated quasi-patriotism and xenophobia among the Russian youth, successfully forming a “Putin generation”-young people, born between 1976 and 1991- who “favor the restoration of a hypersovereign Russia that remains outside of the Euro-Atlantic community and resists or rejects international legal norms” (Mendelson & Gerber, 2008, p.131). The Russian nationalist idea was an easy sell in the framework of the country’s economic growth that fed the national pride. Indeed, “during the eight years of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, Russia’s economy grew by 70%” (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2010, p.15), fuelled by the rising prices of the raw materials and oil that Russia has been exporting to the world markets (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2010).
That nationalism campaign also exploited a concept of Soviet nostalgia, which helped in filling a void left after the ideological chaos of the nineties and eventually, in addressing a growing population’s disappointment with loosing Russia’s supremacy and empirical status in many areas of international politics. Shiraev and Marhovskaya (2007) describing that situation emphasized
to millions of Russians, the fall of the
triangulation of growing anti-Americanism, expanding nationalism and
diminishing, tightly controlled influence of the international NGOs had caused decrease
in the interest of studying abroad among Russian youth, particularly to the
educational opportunities in the
The slow descent in the number of students from Russia studying in the United States had started in 2002 and continued throughout the first decade of the 21st century finally coming down to 4,827 people or five people less than it was in 1994.
the 70 years of the Soviet regime, there were two times when the State High
School Graduation Examination in History was cancelled. The first time it happened was in 1956, after
Khrushchev’s speech at the XXII Meeting of the Communist Party, where he
denounced Stalin. The second time took
place in1992, after the collapse of the
is hard to predict the long-term impact that the contemporary Russian dynamic
will have on its citizens’ education.
Will the history textbooks be re-written again? Will the Russians
voluntarily curtail their own educational choices? The answers are unclear, but, as it is
Russian radio announcement: Putin’s daughter is graduating from high school and is thinking about to what university she should apply. The competition is high: 50 universities are competing for her admission. Putin is recommending US; he wants to secure her future.
President Putin is having dinner with the representatives of Ministry of Education.
Server: Have you made your choice, Mr. Putin?
Putin: Yes, I’ll have a steak, well done.
Server: What about vegetables?
Putin: Vegetables? Putin looks around his table. They’ll have steaks as well.
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*Natalia Rekhter - Adjunct Lecturer at the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures in Indiana University Natalia Rekhter is also Assistant Professor and Director of the Health Services Administration Program in Lincoln College
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