Zackary Suhr ’14

The best part of studying Russian at Bowdoin was the community—a motley group of students and professors who coalesced around their shared interest in the language. Like scores of Bowdoin Russian students before me, I benefited from the benevolent intensity of Professor (now Emerita) Jane Knox. I still remember her proclaiming Mayakovsky and Blok between bites of salad during a dinner class, urging us to walk rhythmically in order to internalize iambic meter, and offering extra credit to anyone who could demonstrate the art of Tuvan throat singing.

I didn’t begin studying Russian at Bowdoin, but through coursework and conversation I made quick progress towards proficiency. More importantly, I developed a deeper sense of the complexity of Russian history and culture and the ways that the collective trauma of the past plays out in individual lives. I was hooked, and I went on to complete a master’s degree in Russian regional studies. I subsequently spent a year working on governance assistance programs in Eurasia at a nonprofit before starting my current job in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the State Department, where I am excited to be helping advance international understanding through the study of language and culture.

In a time of renewed geopolitical tensions, it’s as important as ever to be conscious of the ways that differing perspectives are informed by historical experience and cultural values. There is no better way to build that awareness than through the sustained study of another language and its contexts.