Slavic and Eurasian Studies

A Tale of Two CREEES Students in Kiev this Summer

Fri, August 10, 2018
A Tale of Two CREEES Students in Kiev this Summer
Morgan Henson and Maria Bazaldua

CREEES students Maria Bazaldua and Morgan Henson spent this summer in Kiev, Ukraine, studying the Russian language and absorbing the local culture with the help of FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Studies) Fellowships awarded to them by CREEES.


Maria and Morgan both attended programs organized by the School of Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS), which offers study abroad programs throughout Russia and Eurasia. Our CREEES Communications Coordinator met with Maria and Morgan in Kiev at an event planned by SRAS to learn about their experiences.

Maria Bazaldua is an undergraduate student majoring in history, with a minor in Russian language. She took Russian this summer with SRAS after completing her third-year of Russian at UT. When asked why she chose to study in Kiev this summer, she said she felt it was easier to come to Kiev to study Russian language than to study in Russia, “because of the political situation.”

She hasn't been to a Russia-speaking country before, but has spent a lot of time in Western Europe and has really noticed the differences. “I really like it,” she says. “I think my favorite thing has been learning about Ukrainian people, because it’s made me want to learn more about Ukraine.” From a history standpoint, she says, “It’s definitely been worth it so far coming here, learning more about a part of Europe that a lot of people tend to neglect, especially in our study of history … as you grow up and go through high school and college, you end up getting a lot of Western or United States history, but you don’t get a lot of history about Eastern Europe or even from other parts of the world, so it’s really interesting to see history from a different standpoint.”

Morgan Henson, a dual Masters student with CREEES and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, has been busy in Kiev participating in SRAS’s Russian language intensive program, while also taking Ukrainian classes, AND working at an internship with the Ukrainian State Center for International Education. The State Center is a division in Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science that promotes education opportunities in Ukraine for foreign citizens. As Morgan explains, “Anytime a foreign student wants to study in Ukraine, including us, the Center reviews all of our paperwork and makes sure everything’s ok, that we don’t need visas and that everything is accepted.”

Morgan’s work includes translating and proofreading English applications for those students who don’t speak Ukrainian or Russian, often from countries in Asia & Africa. He is also teaching English to those students. “A lot of them are getting ready to take the TOEFL or the IELTS, the two main English Proficiency exams in America and Great Britain, so I help prepare them for those.”

When asked why he had been interested in that internship, he said, “I was a high school teacher before I went to grad school, so I love education. When I got to my internship, I didn’t think I would be teaching, but anything to do with education I wanted to do. Once they found out I was a teacher, though, they asked me to teach an English class. I just love teaching and now I’m able to interact with international students who don’t really speak Russian, and I’m able to help translate what some of the people are saying when they have to sign documents, and I’m also able to teach my coworkers English. It’s different sections between beginner, intermediate & advanced, but it’s all great.”

Morgan had previously been on SRAS’s Policy and Conflict in the Post-Soviet Space program, organized by NovaMova, which was based in Kiev. Students on that program also visit Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Russia to discuss the conflicts in all these states, both past and present, with local students, teachers, and experts. He was interested in the current program and in studying Kiev because of his positive experiences with the organizers and with Kiev. In addition, he says, “I think that right now, with the World Cup in Russia and some of the politics that are going on between America & Russia, I didn’t think that it was a good idea to go to there. And then I got accepted to this program in Kiev, and I think that Ukraine, even though they have the war in Donbass right now between them & Russia, I think that Ukraine is the best place to learn Russian outside of Russia. You also get a very interesting cultural and political experience as you’re learning the language here.” Above all, he says his favorite thing has been the people. “Ukrainian hospitality is incomparable… I got food poisoning my second week here, and my co-workers were unbelievably helpful. My teachers have been great. It’s been helpful whenever I take the initiative and try to speak Ukrainian, people at restaurants are so open if I want to speak Russian or Ukrainian to them. So, I think the Ukrainian people are much more open that I thought they would be, and the interactions I have with them are unbelievable.”


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