By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Just hours after Keary Iarussi found out he hadn’t made the final cut for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Junior Fellows Program, he discovered that, by way of another program, he’d be spending 59 days this summer in Kazan, Russia, fully immersed in the country’s language and culture.
“That day was somewhat of an emotional roller coaster,” said the 21-year-old Iarussi, who graduated from Miami University in Ohio in May with degrees in diplomacy and global politics, and Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies. He is a 2011 graduate of Struthers High School.
Since early June, Iarussi has been in Kazan as part of the U.S. State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship Program. He explained that the program puts students in an optimal environment in which to improve not only their language abilities, but also their intercultural communication skills.
According to the CLS Program’s website, the program covers approximately one academic year of university-level language coursework, and is made up of both formal classroom language instruction and extracurricular activities. In 2013, about 600 scholarships were awarded for 13 languages — among them, Arabic, Hindi and Turkish.
As for Iarussi, who is one of 16 CSL Program students in Kazan this summer, he lives with a host family who speaks only Russian and attends classes, about two or three a day, taught only in Russian. He also regularly meets one-on-one with native speakers and takes various cultural excursions.
Such immersion, Iarussi said, “is the only way one can master a foreign language, especially one as challenging as Russian.”
“To think through every situation every day in a different language is literally mind-numbing but, at the same time, thrilling. The thinking never ends,” he explained. “Eventually, you begin to understand how others see and react to the world around them.”
Iarussi noted that though students he’s met in the CLS Program come from a variety of backgrounds, all are enthusiastic and driven. Most also have just graduated from college — Iarussi is one of the youngest — and have at least two years of Russian-language study behind them.
In college, Iarussi was a junior fellow at the Miami University Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies, and said he became interested in the Russian language years before, while still in high school. Through a dual-credit program, Iarussi was enrolled in a world-history course at Youngstown State University taught by Brian Bonhomme.
Part of that course entailed learning about the Russian Revolution. Iarussi remembers looking at Russian-language posters and materials from the period, which Bonhomme had translated, and feeling “overcome by the beauty of the language.” He’d long been interested in Russian history, and began taking Russian-language courses in his first year at Miami University.
The experience of learning Russian, Iarussi said, has greatly benefited his political studies and his analytical abilities, and even himself as a person. As for the CLS Program, he’s sure it will help him to accomplish both his short- and long-term goals. It already has “immensely improved” his informal and professional speaking abilities.
Iarussi said he plans to return to Ekaterinburg, Russia, after the conclusion of the CLS Program to teach English for one year; he’s hoping to work further on his Russian-language skills, and even attain fluency. Afterward, he’d like to attend graduate school for international relations or Russian area studies, then find a job where he can apply his language abilities and interest in politics in the former Soviet Union.
In all, he’s grateful for the opportunity to have “unforgettable experiences and opportunities” through the CLS Program.
“This program is the real deal,” he said.
His father — Ron Iarussi, who serves as superintendent of the Mahoning County Educational Service Center — noted that he’s happy for and proud of his eldest son, who “is getting the chance to live out his dream” through the program.
“He has told us that he actually loves it. He really enjoys the fact that he’s putting his learning of the Russian language into practice,” he said. “This is a time when there’s a lot to talk about in Russia, and it’s an exciting time for somebody who’s studied Russian history and Russian culture.”