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Culture news
Student gets prestigious Russian scholarship
04.27.2007 15:56

russian_books By Kate Boswell

While other students are catching up on their sleep and reruns of their favorite TV shows, Arlington junior Gary Guadagnolo will spend his summer vacation mastering the intricacies of Russian conversation.

Guadagnolo is the recipient of a United States Department of State Critical Language Scholarship, which will fund his study in St. Petersburg, Russia, from June 20 to Aug. 12.

"When I saw later that 550 people had applied, I was shocked," Guadagnolo said. "I had no idea that there was going to be that much competition. It's the first year that Russian has been offered by the program."

Guadagnolo has studied Russian for three years at Baylor.

Elizabeth Vardaman, associate dean of arts and sciences and special academic projects, said Guadagnolo's achievement was proof of his skills.

"I think it is an extraordinary validation of Gary's abilities that he was chosen from over 500 applicants for this opportunity to study language in Russia," she said.

Dr. Scott Moore, associate professor of philosophy and director of the Great Texts program, said Guadagnolo was a diligent and gifted student in philosophy and literature in addition to language.

"In a class on Christian spirituality, Gary did interesting and very innovative work on Russian Orthodoxy," he said. "It's clear to me that his time in St. Petersburg will only enhance his ability."

The scholarships are offered as part of the National Security Language Initiative, a governmentwide effort that aims to increase the number of Americans who speak "critical need foreign languages," such as Arabic, Chinese or Russian, according to the Department of State Web site. Scholarships are offered for 13 countries, including Russia, and fund travel to and from the location as well as housing costs and program fees.

Guadagnolo said the program is a "very intensive" language study program and that participants will be in class at St. Petersburg University from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The 30 participants will also take part in weekly trips that highlight aspects of Russian culture.

"The whole idea of it is that the best way to learn a language is through immersion, which is the goal of the critical language initiative as a whole," Guadagnolo said.

He added that the scholarship was targeted at students who plan to use the language in their future careers and not just as another study abroad opportunity.

Guadagnolo plans to attend graduate school and pursue a doctorate in Russian literature.

This will be his second summer to stay in St. Petersburg.

He spent last summer living with a host family and taking classes at Gerzen University. He said that trip inspired him to return to Russia.

"Part of my realization was that I learned so much more just being there and being immersed in the culture than only being in the classroom," Guadagnolo said.

"My goal is to be fully proficient (in Russian) before entering graduate school and the best way to make that happen is to be there," he said.

He said living with a Russian family was one of the most important parts of his experience last summer and he is looking forward to doing so again.

"That, to me, is one of the parts of the program that is so important," Guadagnolo said. "When interacting with Russians, you have the most opportunity for practice and growth because you're interacting with people in reality instead of in a simulated classroom environment."

Vardaman said students who are interested in pursuing this or other scholarship programs should check with their department chairperson to learn about department-specific opportunities.

She said she welcomed the opportunity to speak with students herself, adding if she could not help them directly, she could direct them to the person best able to assist them.

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