A new Russian language study abroad program in Kazakhstan will begin next semester, a decision made in July of this year as the Middlebury School in Russia remains suspended indefinitely. Russian is one of the two official languages in Kazakhstan.
The Middlebury School in Kazakhstan will partner with two local universities in Kazakhstan’s capital city, Astana, Narikbaev KAZGUU University and Nazarbayev University. The college has yet to finalize a contract with Nazarbayev University but expects to do so in the next few weeks, according to Director of Media Relations Sarah Ray.
“Our School in Russia staff will also temporarily move to Astana to assist students with their needs,” said Nana Tsikhelashvili, director and associate professor at the School in Russia.
After the School in Russia reopened after being closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a cohort of students arrived in Russia in January 2022. When Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, the U.S. and many European countries began canceling flights from Russia and ATMs began to run out of cash. Middlebury acted quickly to send students home.
“All students departed Russia in the beginning of March, and the program continued online, so students were able to complete their classes,” Tsikhelashvili said.
Students who had planned to study in Russia during the 2022–23 academic year have been working to change their plans.
“Students who wish to study through Middlebury’s program in Kazakhstan this spring, and who were already admitted to study at the School in Russia, could have their applications and acceptance transferred to the program in Kazakhstan,” said Susan Parsons, assistant director of International Programs.
Sylvie Shure ’24.5 had planned to study in Russia, but will now enroll in the School in Kazakhstan in the fall of 2023.
“From a personal perspective, it’s been stressful having everything up in the air. But I try to be really mindful of the fact that this is a horrible war and my study abroad experience is not a main issue,” Shure said. “I think it’s fascinating to get to go and learn about this country and this culture that is pretty overlooked in terms of the American awareness.”
Erin Chouinard ’24, a third year Russian language student and Russian major, planned to attend Middlebury’s school in Moscow this semester. With the suspension of the Middlebury School in Russia, however, she took the opportunity to study elsewhere.
“I ended up going to Armenia this summer. It’s somewhere I probably never would have thought about going, and having gone there I made so many new friends,” Chouinard said. “I maybe learned less about Russia but more about the small countries that the Soviet Union overtook, so it’s a different perspective on Russia itself and a change from the Russian-centric view.”
Chouinard also plans to study abroad at Middlebury’s Oxford program in the spring, and in Kazakhstan next fall.
At the Middlebury School in Kazakhstan, students will live in the dorms of Nazarbayev University alongside local students. Students will also have access to the university’s buildings such as sports facilities and the library.
“One of the main reasons we chose Kazakhstan as the location for the program was that the Russian language has an official status in the country and is widely spoken by the population,” Tsikhelashvili said.
At Narikbaev KAZGUU University, students will be able to enroll directly, along with Kazakh students, in classes taught in Russian. Similarly at Nazarbayev University, students will enroll in Russian language classes as well as courses in other subjects taught in Russian.
“Russia and Kazakhstan have a common history with strong economic, humanitarian and cultural ties. In this respect, the difference will not be tremendous, although certainly students will be experiencing the Kazakh national flavor and learn about the contemporary politics and economics of Kazakhstan,” Tsikhelashvili said.
Ella Bode ’24, an International and Global Studies, Global Security major with a focus in Russian and Eastern Europe, chose another study abroad program when her plans to study in Moscow this semester were canceled. She is studying at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) this semester.
“MIIS has a really good Russian program; right now I’m taking the highest-level 400 course, titled War and Peace in Russia, where we’re staying up to date on the situation and trying to understand Russian motivations,” Bode said.
It is still undecided whether the Middlebury School in Kazakhstan is a temporary option for Russian language learners or will be permanently added to Middlebury’s slate of schools abroad.
“We are going to start it as a temporary location. In the long-term, when the program in Russia resumes, we will consider whether Kazakhstan will become a permanent addition to Middlebury’s study abroad locations,” Tsikhelashvili said.
Tsikhelashvili told The Campus that for its inaugural semester, the Middlebury School in Kazakhstan will welcome three undergraduate applicants from Middlebury and other institutions. In addition, a few graduate students looking to complete a Master’s degree in Russian through Middlebury’s Language Schools are considering studying in Kazakhstan for the spring semester.
“I have some friends who are studying in Latvia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan right now and they all seem to be enjoying it. The war changed all of our plans, for sure, but it seems like we're all having good experiences anyway,” Bode said, referring to her Middlebury friends who chose to study abroad elsewhere.
Susanna Schatz ‘24 (she/her) is a local editor and visuals artist for The Campus. She is an English major and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies minor, and plans to study abroad in Madrid this spring.
Susanna is the social media and marketing intern for a small business started by Midd Alums, Treeline Terrains. In her free time you’ll find her taking in the Vermont outdoors hiking, swimming, skiing, or reading in an adirondack chair.