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A Piece of REEES-CiS: A New Club Adapts to the Virtual Environment

May 11 2020

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COVID-19 has led student clubs to adapt their activities which, in the case of REEES-CiS (The Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies - Community of Interested Scholars), has led to new creative engagements such as the weekly Russian language conversation hour, conducted over Zoom since April. 

Earlier this year, Stanford undergraduates Elizabeth Sinyavin (International Relations, Computer Science ‘23) and Tiffany Zhu (Economics, Slavic Languages and Literature ‘21) brought together like-minded undergraduate and graduate students from a range of departments and programs to form the new ASSU-approved club, which is aimed at enriching students’ knowledge of linguistic and cultural topics outside of the classroom.

Before REEES-CiS had to adapt to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding COVID-19, members gathered regularly to speak in Russian, discuss research and internship opportunities, and had planned to attend the Russian Festival in San Francisco and other local Bay Area events to sample food from the region. While such activities are now on hold, group members still connect with each other over Zoom every Saturday.

CREEES MA student, Stu McLaughlin appreciates the role the weekly meeting play in keeping the community connected in the remote learning environment: “we wanted to strive to maintain a constructive yet conciliatory environment that closely reflected the atmosphere we began organically through our initial meetings with the club... It’s a very motivating and relaxing way to keep in contact with friends and colleagues.”

A typical Russian conversation hour is joined by 8-10 participants who share their experiences and interests, all while improving their Russian language aptitude. A recent meeting featured a presentation by Wren Elhai, a student in Stanford’s Master’s in International Policy program and a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, about disinformation and misinformation. Ahead of the meeting, Elhai circulated several news articles in Russian for the participants to read. "I'm not enrolled in Russian class right now and really appreciate the chance to get together and speak some Russian in a supportive environment,” reflected Elhai. 

The Russian conversation hour also has had some unexpected outcomes. Club co-president Tiffany Zhu described how “In Russian language classes we speak in more formal ways, so this has opened up a new type of speaking, a more informal method of interaction.” Noting the large range of language abilities represented, Sinyavin added, “Anyone who is studying Russian can join, regardless of proficiency…we have students from 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year Russian, as well as native speakers...I want to dispel the notion that you need to know everything about Russian in order to join, an interest is all you need.”

Moving forward, the group plans to introduce different kinds of virtual programming, including research presentations. Zhu described plans for future sessions in which “group members will present on a certain topic they want to talk about, and they will send out an article for us to read...people are pretty excited for it.”

With virtual campus activities potentially extending into fall quarter, Sinyavin and Zhu are intent on preserving the REEES-CiS community. “Although there is a great amount of uncertainty regarding fall quarter, I can see us continuing our Zoom presentations and language conversation hours, and we could even plan to do panels or application workshops...because we are fairly small, it is easy for us to transfer our programming into the virtual space,” said Zhu.