This summer, the University of Dallas invites students, alumni, faculty and staff to join its first-ever tour abroad of Russia, led by Professor of Physics Richard Olenick and Affiliate Instructor of Spanish, French and Italian Irina Rodriguez. From June 8 to June 16, 2020, Olenick and Rodriguez will guide participants through the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, taking them on a cultural and literary tour of the “Russian soul.”
Both faculty leaders have a strong background and personal connection with Russia: Olenick taught at Moscow State University as a Fulbright Scholar after the fall of the USSR, and Rodriguez grew up under Soviet power in Ukraine. She recently published a book on her experience, My Soviet Youth: A Memoir of Ukrainian Life in the Final Years of Communism (McFarland Publishing, 2019).
The trip will begin with a tour of Moscow, where the group will visit Red Square, the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral and several other churches. They will also go to Tretyakov Gallery, home of the oldest Russian icon: The Trinity by Andrei Rublev. “We’ll be learning about icons, trying to get that Russian soul,” said Olenick.
The tour will visit many cultural and literary sites as well, including Gogol Museum, Novodevichy Cemetery and Dostoevsky’s apartment. A group might go to the Hotel Metropole for lunch, a location which readers of A Gentleman in Moscow will certainly recognize.
“We want to make it a very educational experience, not just going places,” said Rodriguez. “We really want to make [the trip] with a great cultural and literary angle, especially since so many people here at UD are familiar with Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.”
Part of this rich educational experience will include learning not just about Russian culture in the past but also about life in Russia today. To do so, Olenick and Rodriguez are organizing an informal meeting between UD participants and students at Moscow State University, where they can discuss literature, politics and their lives in Russia and the United States.
After the tour of Moscow, the group will take an overnight high-speed train to St. Petersburg, a city called “the window to Europe.” Olenick noted that the train ride, although overnight, will take place during the “white nights” of Russian summertime, allowing passengers to see most of the countryside. Once in St. Petersburg, the group will visit Peterhof, the Fortress of Peter and Paul, the Palace of Catherine the Great, Hermitage Museum and the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.
In addition to seeing the sights of Russia in person, students who are interested in earning credit for the experience will have the opportunity to take a one-credit online class, Literary Russia, from June 5-7. This class will cover short works of Russian literature, focusing especially on works not covered elsewhere in UD’s curriculum.
Winston Churchill once remarked that “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Olenick shared this sentiment, adding, “You need to go there to really understand it.”
“You can’t understand [Russia] in your mind but have to feel it in your heart,” added Rodriguez. “Going there does that.”