Class of 2017 - Eric Mitz
My journey through the Rascon program started out in high school, but not in a traditional sense. My interest in Russia started in books, not in a classroom. As I went through a phase of deep interest in World War II from the American side I left to explore the largest and most deadly area of the war, the Eastern Front. Reading about the devastation wrought by the Germans across the Russian Steppe, the brutality of the Russian winter, the violent battles of Stalingrad, Leningrad, and Moscow, I was I awe of the perseverance of the Russian people in the face of so much hardship. Finishing off high school I took a comparative politics course that covered the history and modern politics of Russia, and for some reason my younger self said “Russia is going to be important again”.
My freshman year here at Villanova I had the pleasure of continuing my desire for more things Russian by taking classes taught by the two biggest Russian junkies I know: Dr. Hartnett and Dr. Schrad. Their passion for the Russian history and politics respectively, and ability to teach that passion, was one of the most influential experiences of my Villanova career. What also didn’t hurt was that 17 year old high school kid being right about Russia so soon. As I learned about Russia the Maidan Revolution filled the news followed by videos of Russian Marines in Crimea and bitter fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk. No better perfect storm could have existed to pull me deeper into understanding what Russia is really like.
If I were asked to characterize my experience through the Rascon program it would be through Father Loya’s favorite phrase: the Russian Soul. Everything Russian can be explained through the “soul” whether it is history, politics, art, religion, food, language, or just pure interaction. Learning about the founding of Kievan Rus or the Napoleonic wars, or the Bolshevik Revolution, or even the language means nothing without understanding the Russian soul. I have never learned about something that embodies what an entire shared identity is before this. It tells me how the Russians were able to endure such hardship in World War II, but it also told a story that transcends all of Russian history and culture.
Villanova is not the end of the Russian story for me. Seeing Russia make a loud entrance back into international politics with the annexation of Crimea, support for the rebels in eastern Ukraine, and activity in Syria has only entrenched my belief that Russian Studies will be the new Arabic Studies, or old Soviet Studies as it used to be back in the day. As some of you may know my post graduate, now post masters, goal is to use this knowledge and participate in international relations, most likely through a government agency. I had the pleasure of interning at the State Department my junior year and loved the interaction with foreign parties and the diplomatic process. Understanding just a small portion helped me work better on Russian related issues including combatting Russian misinformation and propaganda as well as analyze the effectiveness of my office’s programs on Russians’ opinions of the US.
I will always be thankful for the enthusiastic professors I have studied under during my time at Villanova who have fueled the Russian fire that lives within me. The way each of you have approached teaching and the subject matter made this experience one of the best I could have hoped for at college. As I said before this program has shaped who I am as a student and thank you very much for the opportunities here at Villanova.