A Little Bit of Russia Comes to U.Va. Language Students

February 10, 2010
February 10, 2010 — A group of Russian language students arrived at the University of Virginia Art Museum Thursday just as the museum was closing for the day. They were there for a special tour in Russian led by museum volunteer docent Daria Kolchugina.

The tour, which lasted a half hour, provided an opportunity for the students, who were from a number of different advanced language classes, to hear someone other than their teacher speak Russian.

"It's a chance for the students to test their language skills outside the classroom and see how they can handle conversations," said assistant professor Lilia Travisano, who heads the Russian language program in the College of Arts & Sciences. "It's is a rare chance to hear a native speaker. It's a little bit of Russia coming to our students."

Travisano added that in the classroom, whether consciously or subconsciously, the tendency is for the professor to gear the conversation to the students' comprehension level. Interacting with another native speaker in a non-classroom setting expands the students' comprehension and builds confidence in their fluency because the speaker doesn't adjust to the students' needs, she said.

Fourth-year student Laura Sprudzs, an East European studies and foreign affairs major, said, "It's rewarding to get out in the real world and be able to communicate in Russian."

Kolchugina, an art historian, usually gives tours in English. Before coming to U.Va., she conducted tours in Russian and English at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In the fall, Travisano attended a special tour at the U.Va. Art Museum that Kolchugina led in Russian. Many Russian-speaking members of the Charlottesville community attended and Travisano thought it would be a good experience for her students.

Kolchugina deftly led the students through a range of works, including 20th-century artist Willard Midgette's "The Lobby," 19th-century landscape painter Frederick Church's "Natural Bridge" and 14th-century Bartolo di Fredi's "Seven Saints in Adoration," as they discussed the human figure in art.

Fourth-year student Tyrssa Korduba said, "It was exciting and validating to be able to have a Russian-speaking docent and to understand the more technical Russian art terms and have them defined in Russian."

"The students were really involved and that's most important for the first visit," Kolchugina said.

At a reception following the tour, the students and Kolchugina continued to converse informally in Russian.

Second-year student Kiran Moghe appeared to have a proficient command of Russian as he spoke with Kolchugina. Moghe said he had participated in a two-month summer language immersion program in Russia through the State Department where they "visited more museums than I can count," for tours that lasted two hours or more. Familiar with the immersion experience, he found the U.Va. Art Museum tour "very comforting," he said.

"This is another example of our use of the U.Va. Art Museum as a classroom, connecting our collections and exhibitions with a variety of other units on Grounds," museum director Bruce Boucher said. "We would like to encourage more language departments to use our galleries for the purpose of expanding vocabulary and cognizance of art."

— By Jane Ford