Students participate at Russian Olympiada

Marco Cicchino, Staff writer

Six Mercyhurst Russian-language students busted through a decaying iron — err, steel — curtain on April 7, but made quite the impact.

Under the direction of Kathryn Duda, Ph.D., instructor of Russian Studies, six members of her Intermediate Russian II class participated in the inaugural Western Pennsylvania Olympiada of Spoken Russian, occurring on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh and being hosted in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University and the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR).

A total of 74 students from the three universities and several Pittsburgh-area high schools competed in the daylong symposium, where students exercised their conversational Russian skills before a panel of judges that meticulously noted, among other things, the participants’ speech/language skills, knowledge of basic Russian culture and comprehension of vocabulary.

The event was the brainchild of Mark Trotter, National Co-Chair of the Olympiada and a professor at the University of Indiana, who from around 1988 had asked Olga Klimova, now the Western Pennsylvania Regional Chair and a Visitant Lecturer in Pitt’s Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, to start an event for the uncovered Western Pennsylvania region due to the high number of Russian students in the region and the opportunity to make connections between the regional universities. The event used to be an annual affair at Pitt before interest slowly disintegrated.

According to Klimova, preparations for the event began in December, when the Regional Chairs met and began asking instructors to register students for the event.

They blocked three classrooms on the second floor of David Lawrence Hall, one each where students recited lines of poetry and performed reading comprehension, tested their knowledge of basic Russian culture and geography, and conducted a 5-minute oral description on a topic of their selection to examine oral command of the language, for example about themselves or their family.

The event had been advertised as a competition, but it turned out to be a test against the Olympiada’s standards, with the participants evaluated and scored to determine winners of medals and honorable mention consideration.

Klimova said she was very impressed with the event’s turnout.

“Originally, we were only expecting to have 20 high school and 20 college students, but we ended up having more than 70 students overall instead of 40, so more than double (the numbers),” said Klimova. “Of course I’m excited. It means there is a true interest among college and high schools students in Russian and studying Russian history and culture, so of course this is a great feeling.”

Klimova noted that it was more difficult to organize the high school division since she had to cater to the interests of parents, but she replied in telling them not to worry since the event was intended to be enjoyable.

The event was capped with a luncheon featuring staples of Russian cuisine, along with a performance by a local Russian music quartet.