4 Ways IES Abroad Students Explored EU-Russian Geopolitics This Summer

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IES Abroad
August 9, 2018

At a time when Russian politics are regularly discussed in international news, students on the IES Abroad European Union Summer Program had the unique opportunity to learn about the current EU-Russian geopolitical climate on a course-related trip traveling to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Riga.

 “The journey was one of the first times the IES Abroad EU Center chose to take students to a state with a semi-authoritarian system of government,” said IES Abroad EU professor Iannis Carras, who helped organize and lead the trip. “As such, students had to confront a wholly different range of questions and emotions. But the after-taste was more sweet than bitter.”

With the majority of the time spent in the Russian Federation, the trip began in Moscow and continued on to St. Petersburg. The students spend the last two days of their trip in Riga, Latvia, which was previously part of the Russian Empire and later the USSR. Today the country is a member of both the EU and NATO.

The ten-day trip allowed students to immerse themselves in the academic content they were studying through a variety of activities, including:

students interacting with each other at a class

1. Interactive Diplomacy Simulations

What did diplomacy between Russia and the West look like in 1962? How do we project it will look like in the immediate future? In collaboration with Russian students, our students explored these questions during a visit to the Institute of Economic Strategies (INES) in Moscow.

Director General of INES, Professor Alexander Ageev, led a simulation of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the 2018 Helsinki Summit (that had yet to occur) with both IES Abroad and INES students. In completion of the simulation, the students each received a certificate.

students during a lecture standing in the street

2. A Variety of Interesting Lectures

Offering a variety of different viewpoints, diplomats, academics, and journalists gave lectures on relations between Russia and the West. Professor Carras said the guest lecturers spoke in a range of tones: “welcoming, cautious, calculating, bombastic, and accusatory.”

Lecturers included Alexander Baunov, Senior Fellow of Carnegie Moscow Center–who discussed smart authoritarianism–and Alexander Gusarov, Head of the EU Desk (Political Issues) at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who outlined the negative effects of the Eastwards expansion of NATO. Students also met with two professors from the Higher School of Economics: Professor Mihail Antonov, who spoke on the ideological bases of Russia’s system of government, and Professor Alexander Pogorletskii, who lectured on challenges facing Russia’s economy including sanctions.

students during a group photo in Moscow near the Kremlin

3. Guided Tours

While the students only spent a few days in each city, they were able to explore each location’s past, present, and expected future through guided tours of political and cultural landmarks. Guided by Higher School of Economics Professor Andrey Iserov, they learned about 20th Century Moscow. Other tours include a Kremlin Tour in Moscow; tours in St. Petersburg including visits to Peter-and-Paul Fortress, Yusupov Palace, Hermitage Museum, St. Isaak Cathedral, and the Monument of the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad; and a walking tour through Riga.

Professor Carras described the full picture that students gained from seeing contrasting aspects of the cities. “The classical and art-nouveau facades of St. Petersburg; and the constructivist, Stalinist, and brutalist buildings of parts of Moscow offered a spectrum of life in and after Russia’s Imperial and Soviet pasts,” Professor Carras said.

EU Students in St Petersburg - Swan Lake

4. Free Time!

We know that learning about a country and its culture extends beyond the lecture hall. In their down time, students had the opportunity to join the excitement of the World Cup that filled the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Visiting in the summer allowed students to enjoy the seasonal café culture that local residents cherish.

And, of course, what would a trip to Russia be without taking in a Russian ballet? While in St. Petersburg, our students had time to take in the iconic Tchaikovsky ballet, Swan Lake, at the Alexandrinsky Theatre.

Studying abroad opens doors to understand parts of the world different from your own. We were excited to offer our students a look into the politics and everyday life in Russia and Latvia.

Where in the world will your study abroad program take you? We can’t wait to find out.

See Russia, the Baltics, and more for yourself on our European Union Summer Program, or explore our other Political Science & International Relations programs.

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