Nicholas Tonckens ’16

I came to the Russian language, as so many American college students do, by sheer serendipity. As high school drew to a close, I began casting about for a new language to learn, partly to bolster my internationally-oriented career ambitions but mainly out of a general desire to better understand the world. I found myself entranced by the sounds of Russian, so deeply strange to my Anglophone ears. I tried teaching myself Cyrillic and some rudimentary grammar and vocabulary, but it wasn’t until I arrived at Bowdoin that I had the opportunity to really sink my teeth into Russian; or rather, for the Russian bear to sink its teeth into me. Without question, I found it difficult, but the tight-knight Russian community at Bowdoin helped me persevere.

Things really got interesting in my sophomore year, as the events of the Maidan protests gave way to the annexation of Crimea and war in the Donbas. My nascent interest in Russian politics and foreign policy blossomed into a full-blown fascination. I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior years honing my language skills at Middlebury’s Davis School of Russian, and for the duration of my time at Bowdoin took as many Russian-related courses as I could. The summer after graduating as a dual Russian – Government & Legal Studies major, I finally traveled to Russia on a Critical Language Scholarship. My experience there was endlessly fascinating, enormously educational, and certainly long overdue; my advice to anyone who’s caught the Russia bug is that there is simply no substitute for being in-country.

Upon my return, I moved to Washington, DC, where I began working as the Russian Studies intern at the American Enterprise Institute. For nine months, I was able to completely immerse myself in Russia’s politics and foreign relations, writing daily news briefs and assisting with both editorials and research papers. I loved every minute of it. I have since moved on to a legal policy forum in Boston. I am now applying to law schools and International Relations programs, with the aim of completing a dual JD-MA in the next five years. I can’t say for sure where this path will lead me, but I know that my relationship with Russia and its language will continue to guide me along it.