Celebrating the Peace Corps: Meet Christopher David Russell
'Peace Corps Week', February 23-March 1, 2014, came on the heels of a very exciting announcement. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has produced the highest number of current Peace Corps volunteers this year.
In this e-newsletter issue, we introduce you to Christopher David Russell, who volunteered in Ukraine from 2007 to 2010. Russell is a student of law and also the Robert La Follette School of Public Affairs.
How did you become interested in the Peace Corps and Ukraine?
My undergraduate program (Social Change & Development) examined international, social, political, and economic changes, and the extent of their influence on democracy and justice. That curriculum impacted me in two ways: it made me more conscious of the US image abroad and it convinced me that I had a duty as a citizen to serve my country. Peace Corps seemed like the obvious choice. Despite a lack of prior knowledge in Slavic languages, I couldn't turn down the opportunity to teach in Ukraine - the thought of immersing myself in a culture that had not so long ago undergone the greatest social and economic change of the 20th Century was very appealing.
Could you describe your experiences and share some highlights?
I lived in Bilovodsk, a small quaint, comfortable town near the Russian border. I was isolated from other volunteers and and had no internet, but I rarely left my site during my two-and-a-half years of service. In retrospect, teaching at a secondary school was a great avenue for experiencing Ukrainian culture. As the first American to ever live in that town, I stood out a bit, though most Ukrainians were extremely hospitable: offering me fresh produce, inquiring into American life, and inviting me into their homes for dinner and vodka. Many of the locals thought of me as 'our' Chris... that I was.
Any parting thoughts?
People are people; too often it's the politicians and media that shape our notions of Ukrainians, Russians, etc. For example, something as simple as my love for soccer became the universal language that connected me to many different Ukrainians whom I then befriended. A lasting perspective on privilege and inequality - even with our many problems, being born an American is kind of like winning the lottery.
In February, Russell wrote an opinion piece published in the Wisconsin State Journal, titled "The other side the protests in Kyiv."
(Photo above: Students at the Bilovodsk Secondary School.)
The UW-Madison Peace Corps will be holding an application workshop on March 28, 2014 from 2:00-3:30pm, on the 6th floor of the Helen C. White library.
More info: http://peacecorps.wisc.edu/events.html
Nancy Heingartner, CREECA Outreach Coordinator, organized CREECA’s most popular annual event for high school students, “Day in East & Central Europe,” on March 5th. “Day in East & Central Europe” is a mini-conference which brings together high school students and teachers from around the state to attend a keynote address, three break-out sessions, and a closing event all focused on this vast and rich region of the world. This year, around three hundred students and teachers took part in the program.
CREECA Outreach Event:
Day in East and Central Europe!
Kathryn Ciancia, assistant professor of history, delivered the keynote address, “Imaginative Rebels: Snapshots of Poland in the 1980s,” which used the Solidarity-era demonstrations in communist Poland as a lens through which to view various current protest movements, including that in Ukraine. The break-out sessions covered topics ranging from Roma rights in Europe to Czech glass, from Holocaust Education in Poland, to an interactive village dance demonstration, to name just a few. The wrap-up act was a village dance party featuring the music of Intemperance Collective, a local Balkan folk group.
A special thank you to this year's presenters!
Bill Baxter, Lika Balenovich, Amy Brabender, Eileen Dorfman, Charitie Hyman, Morgan Iddings, Michael Kuharski, Cecelia Leugers, Dijana Mitrovic, Courtney Olson, Irene Resenly, Chris Russell, Csanád Siklós, and Cherie Wolter.
Thank you to all the volunteers!
Photos from the event can be found at
(Photo above: Nancy Heingartner (L) kicks off this year's events. Michael Kuharski (R) teaches the students village folk dancing. Courtesy, Division of International Studies. All Rights Reserved)
4pm, 206 Ingraham Hall
Christopher D. Kolenda is a senior advisor with the Department of Defense. He has served four tours in Afghanistan. He led the team that produced the McChrystal assessment and has been instrumental in reforming U.S. and coalition strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Christopher Kolenda is an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, having received an MA in Modern European History here in 1996.
Spring Break is from March 15-23, during which time the Lecture Series will be on a short hiatus.
More from the CREECA
(All lectures are held at 4pm in 206 Ingraham Hall, unless otherwise noted)
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Diagramming the Nation: Socio-economic Differences on Language in Two Secondary Schools
Elizabeth Peacock, Assistant Professor of Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Building Plant Bodies: People, Trees, and Grafting in Kyrgyzstan's Walnut-Fruit Forest
Jake Fleming, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison
For a full list of events for each month, please visit:
Updates from the CREECA Community
Faculty and Academic Staff
Honorary fellow Heather Sonntag curated a photography exhibit, "Picturing Russian Colonial Central Asia (ca. 1888): Photography by Orden from the Anahita Gallery Collection," which will be shown at Carleton College from April 2-11 (Weitz Center for Creativity, Room 148). She will also deliver a lecture, titled "Historical Photography of Russian Colonial Central Asia, 1858-1918," on April 2nd, at Carleton College (venue TBD).
Athan Biss (History) won the George Washington University, Elliot School of International Affairs, Central Asia Program Graduate Student Essay Contest for his essay “Unexpected Frontiers in Black Internationalism: African Americans in Soviet Central Asia, 1930-1976.” The article will be published in the Central Asia Review.
Nicole Butkovich Kraus (Sociology) was invited to present her paper, "Labor Immigrant Experiences in Three Large Russian Cities" at Harvard's Davis Center's Symposium on Labor and Migration in the Caucasus.
July 26-August 8, 2014
Highlights of the trip include:
Three nights in Moscow
Specially arranged visits to the Kremlin
The colorful St. Basil's Cathedral
Three nights in St. Petersburg
More details on the destinations and the cruise package can be found here
(Image: St. Basil's Cathedral. Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Save the date!
Heading to the ASEEES or ACTFL conventions in San Antonio Texas in November 2014?
CREECA is hosting a reception for all UW-Madison faculty, students, alumni, friends, and supporters from 7:30-9:00 pm on Friday, November 21, 2014.
Come join us at the lovely Casa Rio restaurant on the San Antonio River Walk for food, drink, and camaraderie.
For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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