Union cancels spring term abroad to Russia

Kyle Tevlin ’15 poses for the camera on Olkhon Island in the middle of Lake Baikal. Tevlin visited Olkhon Island as part of the Russia term abroad in 2014. This year’s term abroad to Russia was canceled due to issues with the host university in Irkutsk. (Courtesy of Kristin Peterson-Bidoshi)

The spring term abroad to Irkutsk, Russia, was canceled last week due to issues with the host school in Russia, according to one of the students signed up for the term abroad. The International Programs Office declined to comment on the cancellation of the trip at this time.

In an email to the students that were affected by this cancellation, Director of International Programs Lara Atkins said, “Our partner, the School of Russian and Asian Studies, has informed us that due to new regulatory issues in Russia related to the recent acquisition of our partner university Irkutsk State Linguistic University in Irkutsk by Moscow State University, we are unable to attain the necessary invitations for our students to study at IGLU this spring.”

Atkins’ email stated that she and Associate Professor of Russian Kristin Peterson-Bidoshi had “investigated other options for this spring in Irkutsk,” but time limitations prevented them from finding “a suitable option” to replace IGLU.

Atkins acknowledged in her email that the cancellation was “extremely disappointing news” and encouraged the students to participate in one of the two options, rather than withdrawing completely from the program.

Students are now being offered alternatives to the spring term abroad. They can choose between taking a mini-term trip to Russia during the summer or spending the full term abroad in the fall of 2016.

If students opt to spend the fall in Russia, the School of Russian and Asian Studies would arrange all of the logistical details of the term, and there would be no faculty advisor accompanying the group. This option is also not limited to Irkutsk — the term could be located in any number of locations within Russia where SRAS has representatives.

For the mini-term option, Bidoshi would serve as the faculty leader of a three-week term in Russia, and the typical $3,500 cost would be covered by Union. A minimum of six students would have to agree to participate in order for this to run.

Students were also given the option to withdraw from the program and be refunded their deposit fees. The students were given a week to consider the options.

The term abroad in Irkutsk, Russia, runs only during even years. Irkutsk, one of the largest cities in Siberia, has a population of around 600,000. The School of Russian and Asian Studies sponsors the program, and students take classes at Irkutsk State University.

Students applied to this program early during fall term of 2015 and were accepted a few short weeks later. Up until last week, the term abroad was set to go as usual. Bidoshi led the term during its first year in 2014 and was set to lead it again this year.

Bidoshi stated that the invitations were necessary in order to obtain visas. “I am especially disappointed at this turn of events. In my 26 years of traveling to Russia I’ve never seen anything like this. I had been planning for this term since I got back from the last one in 2014,” Bidoshi said.

She continued, “The hardest part was having to tell my students that we would not be able to go this spring. It was heartbreaking. Every one of the students has been studying Russian and is so excited to go to Russia. The group is fantastic; I couldn’t have asked for a better group of students.”

“It was really disappointing to hear that the trip got canceled, but I am excited to take a closer look at the offers that the study abroad office has worked out for us,” said Erin Lyons ’16, one of the students who was signed up for the term abroad.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It may not be very clear as to why those invitations were not issued, but what is clear is that that now more than ever, our country needs citizens exactly like my students,” Bidoshi stated. She is confident that, one way or another, the students will not miss out on the chance to travel and experience Russia, despite the cancellation.

She continued, “I’m very happy that Union will be able to provide them with the opportunity to live in Russia, even if it is only for three weeks, so that they can better understand another language, culture and people and think critically about our position in the world. It is a fantastic time to be going to Russia!”

There is no indication that the cancellation was connected to anything other than issues coordinating with the partner school.

The students set to travel to Russia at the end of March were informed of the cancellation by email on Wednesday, Jan. 20. While the term is environmentally focused, the participants were from a variety of majors.

Bidoshi remains hopeful for the future terms abroad in Russia. She said, “The Irkutsk program will run as planned in spring term 2018. We have already begun working with SRAS to find a suitable university partner, if they are unable to continue their relationship with our current partner university, Irkutsk State Linguistic University. I’m looking forward to the program and can’t wait to get back to Russia myself!”

The cancellation of this program comes after the Paris mini-term was canceled this past winter break due to safety concerns following the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, 2015.



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