Kenneth Cortum ’16

Before I ever came to Bowdoin, I knew that Russian was going to be my major. In high school, I studied 20th century Russian history, listened to Russian music, and even taught myself Cyrillic. However, I did not expect to what extent Bowdoin’s Russian department would allow me to explore my varied interests: languages, music, and culture. My professor and advisor summarized my experience in the Russian department well to my colleagues in the last few weeks of my senior year, “His work in the Russian program did not earn him a degree in Russian, but rather a degree in Slavic.” I think what is unique about Bowdoin’s Russian department is that the department allows you to explore your own unique interests pertaining to Russia and other Slavic cultures. Learning Russian is an experience that not only opens the door to travel to and understand past and contemporary Russia, but learning Russian opens the door to every other Slavic language. Because the Russian department allowed me to pursue my interests in other Slavic languages and cultures, I explored my interests in the former Yugoslavia during the summer and I received permission and funding to conduct honors research on the topic of folk music in post-war Poland. I am thankful for all the experiences the department was able to provide, but I am most thankful for their help in preparing me to apply for Fulbright. As a direct result of my experiences in Eastern Europe and the freedom to explore my own interests in the department, I was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Bulgaria. Having returned to the US and having begun my career, my job as a schoolteacher does not utilize my knowledge of Slavic languages and culture every day. However, Bowdoin’s Russian department fostered within me a truly unique liberal arts experience, inspiring me to become a passionate life-long learner.

My biggest piece of advice to those interested in studying Russian is to stick with it and keep an open mind. Your path in Russian does not put you on any one pre-determined career field. The Russian Department does an excellent job at giving you the chance to explore your interests and thus your career.