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WILLIAM ZANG

With the help of funding from the Global Studies Department I was able to spend this summer at the Monterey Summer Symposium on Russia (MSSR) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California. Eleven other fellows and I spent seven weeks in Monterey with leading experts on Russian-American relations, foreign policy, security policy, and Russian history and culture. Approximately half of the lecturers spoke in Russian. Overall my experience at MSSR was intellectually stimulating, allowed me to practice Russian in an academic environment, was a great networking opportunity, and brought me together with eleven other Masters and PhD students from the US, UK, and Europe who helped me with my own research.

It would be fair to say that the program kept the fellows busy. We were fortunate enough to sit through three lectures and discussion sessions a day from some of the most qualified experts in their respective fields. We were able to have dinner in small groups with many of the experts as well, making the program an amazing networking opportunity that I took full advantage of.  The environment was academically rigorous and stimulating because of the caliber of the other fellows and the experts. Somehow, I also found the program to be relaxing and recharging and at this point I feel almost ready to start the fall 2018 semester.

The sheer variety of experts exposed me to different aspects of Russian studies that I had never explored before. We heard lectures from Hannah Notte, a recently graduated Oxford PhD student, on the history of Soviet foreign policy in the Middle East and from Siegfried Hecker, former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, about his first-hand experience with track two diplomacy with Soviet nuclear scientists after the end of the cold war. Alexander Gabuev, who works at the Carnegie Moscow Center, gave us a detailed breakdown of Russian-Chinese relations over five lectures. These three lecturers all spoke to us during the same week! Through lectures as varied as these I have gained a better understanding of many facets of Russian history, culture, and foreign policy.

This summer in Monterey allowed me to take a step back from my life while being in an intense academic program and moving towards my goals. Life as a graduate student is insane, especially when you are engaged and planning a wedding like I am. Your wheels never stop turning, you never get a chance to stop and smell the roses. This summer was my chance to stop and smell the roses, and I can assure you that the roses smell great. I was able to get ahead on my master’s thesis, make new connections, and learn a lot all while recharging my batteries.

I feel lucky to have spent time with eleven amazing peers this summer. It feels great to have created an international network of people who are interested in the same things that I am. I happened to be the only history graduate student among the group, which turned out to be a great thing. I was able to get different perspectives on my research project that other historians would not have given me. One student in particular, an international relations PhD student at Central European University, helped me rework my research question, making it more focused. Without a doubt I benefitted immensely from being around eleven like-minded peers. I feel as though I must extend a sincere thank you to the Global Studies Department for making this amazing experience possible. This program MUST be strongly recommended for future students in the REEES track.