AmStuds After Graduation, Receiving Program Updates, and Giving

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Keeping Up with american studies

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American Studies Alumni Today

Graduates of the American Studies Program are highly motivated and curious life long learners who use their inquistiveness and skills aquired in American Studies in several fields. Our alumni pursue work in financial services, education, law, non-profits, advertising, and a variety of other industries. Below, we feature the stories, adventures, and careers of our graduates. 

Harvey Hinman, AmStud from the Class of 2015, is currently learning about business journalism in Russia. Below, he offers a reflection on his time in Moscow: 

When I say Russia, what image is conjured in your mind? I always saw the snow-covered Kremlin brooding over the frozen Moscow river, lifted from a James Bond film, an old textbook, or a newspaper. Arriving in Moscow in the summer, of course I knew there would be no ice or snow. Still, I expected the essence of those images, that gray emptiness, to guard the city’s streets. Instead, as I walked through the city and conversed with new friends, I began to build my own images of Moscow. They are, no doubt, incomplete, but as we increasingly hear about Russia in the news, I’d like to share a few of the moments which inform my understanding of Russia.

Just down the river from the Kremlin lies Gorky park. Because so much of the city lives in high-rise apartment buildings, parks like this serve as the city’s shared back yard. On a weekend, they will be packed with families barbequing or just out for a stroll, games of volleyball, and friends lounging on the grass. But come sit on a bench in Gorky park on a spring weekday afternoon, and you can watch the whole city walk past. The eclectic music from the park’s PA system turns to “What is Love,” and not far down the path, white-haired members of a large elderly group begin dancing together with quite movements around the small bandstand. Even now, early in the afternoon, the benches and lawns are sprinkled with young couples and friends laughing and doing homework on the park’s Wi-Fi. One group has brought guitars, and they ignore the loudspeakers as they harmonize together. Several mothers cheerfully push their strollers and are quickly passed by man whose suit flaps behind him as he kicks himself towards home. (In Moscow, the same scooters which were the ultimate status sign of childhood in 90’s America have become essential for the business commute.) For some, who skate by on roller skis, the long winter has ended too soon, while others at the skateboard park lose their shirts to enjoy the rare sun. By the fountain, Russian hipsters in their dark denim and flannel play hacky sack next to families enjoying a hot dog from one of the numerous kiosks. It’s a shame James Bond never spent an afternoon relaxing in Gorky park.

“Do they really teach you that America won the Second World War in the USA?”

“Well…with the allies we did win...the US, Russia, France and Britain together”

“But look who did all the fighting! And look at how many men we lost. Okay, the US fought, but what did they really contribute?”

“I don’t think you can judge success by how much any nation lost. Stalin’s strategy caused millions to die. And the US may have entered late, but we contributed quite a bit to the Soviet effort in terms of direct aid, fighting on the Western Front, and the fight against Japan.”

“We were about to defeat the Japanese! The only reason you sent those bombs that killed so many civilians was to scare Stalin. They were totally unnecessary.”

“I don’t know whether the two bombs were justified, but I do know that the US and the Soviet Union were allies who won the war together.”

“Sure we were allies, but victory in the Second World War belongs to Russia.”

If you head northwest from the park, you’ll pass the great Tretyakov galleries and find yourself in streets lined by the same collection of pastel neoclassical, concrete Soviet, and modern glass buildings that define central Moscow. In the winter, when darkness lingers long into the day and returns again much too soon, these four and five story buildings seemed to pull down the sky and hold it stretched between their roofs. Then, on these streets bathed in warm incandescent light, life flaunts the winter darkness. And so I would often step out into this special ecosystem after a day in the University classroom and smile as I trod toward the metro, perfectly content without the sun.

“Hi there, I just heard from another student that our visa renewal may be delayed. Is that right?”

“There are delays at the foreign ministry now. You must understand that all foreign students are renewing their visas at the same time. We still don’t know if your visa will be affected though.”

“Okay, is there anything we can do to make sure my visa will be ready before my flight home for Christmas?”

“As I said, we don’t know if your visa will be delayed yet, so there is no problem so far. And if there is no problem, it would be foolish to try to solve one. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, right?”

“I understand, but because of the dates, if we discover there is a problem, I will have already lost my chance to go home for Christmas. Isn’t there something we can do to help make sure no problem arises? Could you write a letter to the foreign ministry explaining the situation?

“A letter will not accomplish anything. They will not change their system just to make it more convenient for you.”

“Even if it is unlikely to help, it wouldn’t hurt, would it? Is there anything else that might be more effective?”

“I don’t think there is any point in trying. It won’t help.”

“Could we please just try? It would really set my mind at ease.”

“I’m telling you it won’t work. The letter is not a problem, but it won’t do any good. If it will make you more comfortable, I will write the letter, but you have to acknowledge that if you do receive your visa in time, the letter wasn’t responsible. I don’t want you confusing other students into thinking this will help.”

“Yes! That is fine. I really appreciate it.”

Far underneath the streets of Moscow, the sustained roar of a metro car will occasionally culminate in a screech of brakes and then silence, as we wait for the track ahead to clear. I would look up from my book in search of the reason for our delay or perhaps just to confirm the abnormality of the stop in another passenger’s similar gaze. And yet the rest of the car kept reading: no curious glances, complaints, or sassy remarks. Just as my fellow passengers had coldly pushed me aside as I boarded, they did not take this chance to break out of their own solitude and form a small train-car community, brought together by a minor nuisance.

But there was a community in those old, screeching wagons. Often you might see faces light up across the car as a child playfully hits his father with a balloon. Or when an elderly man enters a crowded train, several people immediately stand with a gracious smile. How could these be the same people ready to flatten me at the door? Cautiously, I tried to fall in with those around me, standing my ground in the battle to board the metro. This pushing, unremarkable for those around me, appeared so rude to me, and at the same time, my fellow passengers’ routine generosity seemed so grand.

After exiting the train one morning I found myself next to a stroller at the foot of steps to another platform. I nervously looked around and saw a young man reach down and grab the right side of the frame as if it was second nature for him. So I quickly grabbed the left side and we began walking up the steps. My mind was bursting with nervous thoughts: “Does this woman mind that two strangers just picked up her child?” “This is what I am supposed to do, right?” “Who is noticing my great humanitarian act over here?” But my actions were nothing special to those around me, so at the top of the stairs, I set down the stroller and continued along the tunnel, heart pounding through the jostling crowd.

“No way, cold water! This is amazing.”

“We may be in Russia, but you better believe we can still have pulled pork and cold water.”

“Isn’t that the weirdest thing? Russians’ overwhelming fear of cold water?”

“Seriously, you should have seen the look on the clerk’s face at Auchan when I asked where I could find a water filter that could fit into my fridge.”

“I can imagine, we were hosting some of the kids’ Russian friends for a sleep over, and one of the girls told her father that we served her chilled water. He was convinced we were trying to give her a cold. The next time he insisted upon tasting the water to ensure it was adequately lukewarm.”

“Well yeah, and it’s not just cold water. At my school, we are not allowed to open the window, even in the summer, lest the draft give the children a cold. And every time I wear a scarf, my students ask if I feel a cold coming on and wish me well. It’s just a scarf!”

“I hope you carry it with you when you visit the park, because you know that if you sit directly on a park bench without a scarf underneath you, you won’t be able to have children?


“It’s true. It’s the work of the cold ground that creeps up through the bench.”

“To think that this is the country of scientists like Mendeleev…”

“Oh Russia…”

Step up from the metro at Okhotny Ryad, and you won’t be able to fight the excited flow towards the great red brick gates. The energy is everywhere—hovering around the armed guards, the souvenir kiosks, Putin, Katherine, and Stalin together on a smoke break. Acquiesce, and you will soon step past the corner of the historical museum onto the Red Square. Despite my regular visits, I am always surprised and awed. I suppose it’s like stepping into one of those grand halls at the Hermitage, where paintings are stacked high to the celling. You spin around not quite sure of where to begin until you think, wouldn’t it just be best to sit down on the bench and slowly absorb it all. Caught between the towering red walls of the Kremlin and the fanciful white stones of GUM, some visitors do sit down on the cold stone to gaze up at the spires of St. Basil’s or watch the phantom tanks and Stalin posters of distant year rumble by. When I stand here, I think it must be the very center of the world.