Saint Martin’s to welcome Karelian student delegation

July, 25 2011

LACEY, WASHINGTON — Every other summer since 1990, students from Karelian State Pedagogical University have traveled to Duluth, Minnesota, to study English language and culture at the College of St. Scholastica. This year, the students also will spend a week at Saint Martin’s University, a fellow Benedictine institution, where they will study Native American life and culture.

Many at Saint Martin’s hope the students’ inaugural visit, July 28-Aug. 3, will forge the beginning of a rich relationship with the Karelian school, a highly respected teacher-training institution in the Russian Federation.

Few Americans are familiar with the Republic of Karelia, but it shares some parallels with Washington state, including a geographic position in the northwest corner of the federation and heavily forested lands that have made Karelia a center for the timber and forest products industries. The republic shares a border with Finland and is neatly wedged between the White and Baltic seas. The pedagogical school is located in Petrozavodsk, Karelia’s capitol.

Jamie Olson, Ph.D., assistant professor of English at Saint Martin’s and one of the leaders of the University’s English Language Camp, says he thinks the next step will be shared participation by Saint Martin’s students and St. Scholastica students at the pedagogical school’s Russian Language Camp.

“Generally, Saint Martin’s has had many connections with Asia, and that’s very positive, but a connection with Russia is something new,“ he explains. “We hope this relationship will lead to faculty exchanges, study abroad programs and much more.”

A St. Scholastica alumnus, Olson is fluent in Russian and attended the Russian Language Camp twice in Petrozavodsk during his undergraduate years. Since joining the Saint Martin’s faculty in 2008, he has organized a Russian film series and taught Russian literature in translation. He and fellow English Language Camp co-director Jeff Birkenstein, Ph.D., also are members of a University committee exploring more study abroad opportunities for Saint Martin’s students.

“An undergraduate education isn’t quite complete without some experience outside the United States,” Olson says. “When students interact with people from other cultures, it broadens their understanding of the world, as well as their knowledge of who they are and how they fit into that world.”

Visits such as that of the Karelian delegation provide another avenue for cross-cultural experience and for Saint Martin’s Benedictine values, especially that of hospitality, he says.

The 14 Karelian students and their two faculty members will visit Mount Rainier and the Squaxin Island Museum, and will participate in a sightseeing excursion to Seattle. In class, they will study Native American fiction, poetry and culture. Guest lecturer will be Native American rights activist Billy Frank, Jr., who has chaired the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for most of the past 30 years. He will speak about his activism and leadership in the Native American community and on environmental issues.

Olson says the students’ visit includes a home-stay weekend with Washington families. They will conclude their time in Lacey with a farewell banquet on Wednesday, August 3, at 6 p.m. in Saint Martin’s Norman Worthington Conference Center.

“The Karelian students are excited about the opportunity to meet Americans and speak English with native speakers,” he says. “They’ve all heard of Seattle and are excited about that, as well. ‘Grunge’ still has a hold on Russian kids, and they also enjoy baseball, rock ‘n’ roll and American automobiles.”

Saint Martin’s University is an independent four-year, coeducational university located on a 380-acre wooded campus in Lacey, Washington. Established in 1895 by the Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, the University is one of 14 Benedictine colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains. Saint Martin’s University prepares students for successful lives through its 21 majors and six graduate programs spanning the liberal arts, business, education and engineering. Saint Martin’s welcomes 1,250 students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to its main campus, and 650 more to its extension campuses located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Everett College, Centralia College and Tacoma Community College. Visit the Saint Martin’s University website at

For more information:

Jamie Olson, Ph.D.
Assistant professor, department of English
Saint Martin’s University

Jeff Birkenstein, Ph.D.
Associate professor; chairman, department of English
Saint Martin’s University

Jennifer Fellinger
Vice president of marketing and communications
Saint Martin’s University