“Any time you can get away from what you’re used to and spend time in another culture, you come to see the world in a new way.”
Russian language and literature are more than academic pursuits for Jamie Olson, Ph.D., assistant professor of English. They’ve become part of the fabric of his life.
Olson’s interest in all things Russian springs from the time he twice attended a study abroad program in Petrozavodsk, a city in the small Russian Federation county of Karelia. Olson, who attended the College of St. Scholastica in Minnesota, was fascinated by the Russian language and culture during his studies at Petrozavodsk State University—enough to change the course of his future.
“My student experience abroad was the most important part of my education,” he says. “Basically, anytime you can get away from what you’re used to and spend time in another culture, you come to see the world in a new way. You learn that people elsewhere live their lives differently from us, and then you come back here and see how our own culture informs our lives.”
Olson’s study abroad experience not only led him to study Russian language and literature at the doctoral level, but also helped establish a cultural exchange program between Saint Martin’s University and Petrozavodsk State University.
Through the program, American students are hosted for Russian Language Camp every other year at Petrozavodsk State University in Karelia. On alternate years, students from that school come to the United States for English Language Camp.
“Petrozavodsk’s status as a capital city makes it a perfect place for a foreigner to study,” notes Olson. “It is small enough to be walkable, yet it still has the cultural amenities that one would expect in a larger, more cosmopolitan city.”
Cultural exchange programs not only expand language skills, but also forge understanding, friendships — and, sometimes, careers. In addition to teaching Russian language and literature courses, Olson takes a group of Saint Martin’s students to Russia every two years, introducing Saints to a culture that, for him, has become a lifelong fascination. A seasoned traveler, he encourages students to engage with languages and cultures around the world. In his words, “learning about other places is crucial to developing critical thinking skills. It helps students understand who they are and how they fit into the world.”