Student stories


Why am I learning Russian?

Alicia Bradley

          When I was a little girl, I looked through my mother’s Russian textbooks from high school, and was amazed and wanted to learn a foreign language. Fast forward to junior high school where I signed up for the only foreign language offered: Spanish. Much later, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Croatia, and I listened to recordings for months prior so that I could speak a few words in the country, which actually came in handy a few times. Then in 2019 my family booked a Baltic Sea cruise and I mentioned to my son that I wished I could understand the Cyrillic alphabet and be able to say a few words when we got to St. Petersburg. He challenged me to take a Russian language class. I found Jane and Russian Heritage Society online and signed up for my first class, which started two weeks later. Six months later my family spent two days in St. Petersburg and fell in love with the country and our own Russian Heritage. We hope to return one day soon and be able to speak and understand the language enough to travel independently. 












Hannah Turley


It all started because I wanted to write a fan letter.

I wish that I could state a great and noble intention, like a great love of Pushkin and Dostoyevsky, an appreciation for fine art and opera–but honestly, I started studying Russian because I have a crush on a singer. His name is Denis Dmitriev, and he’s the star of a viral Youtube video in which he and the rest of a small military choir sing Adele’s “Skyfall.”

Writing a fan letter in English was out of the question. Hiring a translator was out of the question. Cheap moves. He learned English and sang beautifully in a language not his own, in front of the whole world, in front of an often cruel audience. Learning enough Russian to write a fan letter would be only a small tribute.

So I started studying–by every means available to me. And through some of my blundering comments on the choir’s videos, I even became acquainted with one of its members. I could easily send that fan letter to Denis Dmitriev, but I still haven’t done it.

It’s not because I’m shy or afraid of making mistakes. My Russian will never be perfect, although it improves every day. No, I think it’s because he is no longer my greatest reason for learning the language.

You see, I have encountered dozens of Russian speakers along my journey so far. Some of them I now have the honor of calling my friends. Each and every one of them has responded with such kindness, such a selfless desire to help, that I now live in a constant haze of stunned gratitude. My efforts to give back seem insufficient.

Even if the Russian language ceased to be so caressing to my ear, so intriguing to my brain, or to produce such inexplicable longing in my heart, I would continue learning. I’m now doing this for my current and future friends, for the warm and wonderful Russian speakers who have warmly greeted me and have never failed to lend a helping hand along my path.



Amenda Wong (Shapiro)


Мои родители приехали из Молдовы в 1973 году.  Они выросли на русском языке. Молдова находилась под контролем Советского Союза с 1940 по 1991 год. В детстве я говорила в основном по-английски и немного по-русски. Когда я стала старше, я увидела что теряю способность говорить и понимать по-русски. Поскольку у меня почти нет друзей с которыми я могу говорить по-русски я хотела сохранить эту часть меня. Я решила оставаться на связи со своей культурой и выучить русский язык. Я начала учиться с подкастов и использовать приложения. Сейчас я учу русский в этом классе. Мне очень нравится русский язык и культура.



Kevin B. Makel

 I grew up on a cattle ranch and went to small rural schools.  Halfway through high school my family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Being the transfer student at a new school meant I needed to make some friends quickly. The most interesting and intriguing people I met were the guys of Russian descent, their family stories of escaping the Soviet Union and immigrating to America through China were fascinating to me. Soon I had half a dozen Russian friends who spoke the language.

 I enjoyed their sense of humor and their pranks of slipping impolite Russian words into our school yearbook and newspaper.  One of my friends, Mike Viripaeff, was the nephew of the legendary Russian-American film actress Natalie Wood (Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, Наталья Николаевна Захаренко).

Unfortunately, Russian language courses were never offered in high school or the college which I attended. Many years later I was on duty in the Balkans and after some time, I was able to understand my Serbian friends’ conversations. It was not Russian but similar in many ways.    Finally, after discovering that I have some Russian ancestry myself, I’ve decided to learn the language, gain a unique skill and explore a very interesting culture. I enjoy the intellectual challenge and as my cousin Pete, a teacher, stated “If you’re not struggling, you’re not learning”. Thus I’m doing a lot of learning.             



Ariza  Nanji

I have always struggled learning languages. Russian was no exception. Originally I decided to start learning the language due to work. I was working remotely in Central Asia and I would need to travel in the near future. After taking classes, I have found an interest for the language. While I still have to work to learn the language, coming to class has been fun. Each week I leave class feeling stronger in my language skills and I gain a greater appreciation for the language and the culture.


Thanks to Jane, I feel confident in my skills to try and take Russian in college – something I have always been too scared to attempt.





Interview with Slava Korolenkov

Slava at his exhibition 

I’m an artist from Moscow, Vyacheslav Korolenkov, an impressionist. I paint oil paintings.I paint impressions of what I see and it’s most likely, the feeling, my feeling of the world, my feeling of the light what I paint. It reflects on objects in different ways and it completely inflames all of me. And I probably couldn’t help but express this state of ecstasy. Perhaps, spectators feel it, those who come to my exhibitions. One needs a lot of training to paint impressions. I graduated from Stroganov Academy in Moscow. It was a long time ago, it’s been approximately 30 years.But I have this feeling that I always keep learning.It’s not a bravado, and I’m in fact simply an apprentice of His Highness Nature, who gave birth to me, let me into this world, and I was eager to understand what for.I was not interested in living an ordinary life, when you have a family, have a job, go to the university and go to work, and then you retire and find peace. I’m not interested in it.I just saw that I’m surrounded by people, who kind of live together, but I couldn’t see happiness in their eyes.

And it frightened me, can it be indeed that I would spend my life reproducing well known pathways of many and many of my acquaintances, my parents. And I wanted to figure it out.It took me many years to understand that life is a joy, no matter what. And probably that’s why my paintings are bright, light and imbued with joy, which comes from inside. Actually Picasso said that painting is an artist’s diary. I like this thought because I live every day, I meet people, I see new landscapes, still lifes, they are everywhere, they are dissolved in everything. They are dissolved in light and I paint light. Imagine what it would have been like if there was darkness?  We couldn’t see anything. As soon as sun rays touch any objects, life starts to amaze me. And if I’m in this state of amazement, as my experience shows me, there certainly will be people on the same wavelength, who will be amazed by the world in the same way. And no matter what I paint – a person, a still life or a landscape, – this magical state of excitement, that I’m alive, that I can reflect it onto the canvas, is just captured, is crystallized in the paintings. And that’s it . Especially, of course, I like to paint humans, because it’s a soul, because a human being is in front of me. It doesn’t matter at all is he / she old or young, but a kind of excitement occurs. There is nothing more beautiful in nature than human. There is nothing more loving, more beautiful, more amazing – a human is the highest creature of nature. That’s what I’m interested in. And if I’m capable of capturing, catching this inner essence, then my task is accomplished. It means I haven’t lived this day in vain.  

Why do I paint? I was never asked this question before, and it’s completely amazing. But do you ask yourself why do you breath? Do you ask why does your hair grow? Or why does your heart beat? But probably the answer to this question is from the sphere of no answers. Why do I live, why do I die? There is no answer to it. Why do I get up? Why do I smile? It is all from the same sphere. If you are able not to paint, well, it’s fine then, don’t paint anything.  But if not painting is impossible for you, send it all to hell, do what you love, with all passion, with all love.And why would you spend your life doing things you don’t like or things the society don’t need? Earning money, all that stuff. You can just live your life in vain. It will just pass by and that’s it.