Anna Melberg (Class of 2018)

photo of Anna Melberg

  • senior Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies major
  • from Lindenhurst, IL
  • presented a paper and studied Russian language and East European history and culture in Vilnius, Lithuania (Summer 2016)
  • worked as a student aide for the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies
  • reading the Harry Potter books in Russian
"The liberal arts are often undervalued by our society, not just in terms of salaries but also in terms of being useful compared to things like engineering and medicine. But I think that as a society we've been losing a lot of compassion and understanding. The liberal arts help enhance our knowledge of the world and why we shouldn't judge other people by their culture, geography, race, and so on."

Why Miami?

Anna Melberg at a gay pride parade in Vilnius, Lithuania (June 2016).

"Late in my high school senior year, I visited Miami for the first time to see the daughter of a family friend who was a student here. I was able to walk around campus, go on a tour, and meet with professor of Russian Benjamin Sutcliffe, who is now my advisor — by the end of the day, it was pretty obvious that Miami was where I wanted to be!

"Life at Miami as a freshman was not a hard transition at all, but I feel I stumbled a bit in starting off as mechanical engineering major. This ended up not being where my real passion lay. If I could do it all over again, I'd have come in either undecided or as a Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (REEES) major, maybe taking a couple of engineering courses. I'd always been interested in Russian, which I'd taken as a student in a math and science boarding high school. One thing I've come to know is that the Russian language is going to be with me forever.

"My interest in learning Russian came about because my best friend growing up was from Ukraine. Her family immigrated to the US after the fall of the Soviet Union, and she was born in America but spoke Russian growing up. My boarding school offered Russian, and I got attached to it really quickly. I think it is beautiful to hear and to read, and to me the grammar feels looser than it does for English. And although I can't yet read classic Russian novels by Tolstoy or Dostoevsky in their original Russian, I've been enjoying rereading the Harry Potter books in translation!

"Because of my Russian classes, I got involved with the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies, which is an incredible resource on campus. In fact, I feel the Havighurst Center alone justifies my application to Miami because of all the funding opportunities it provides to students. If you need airfare, tuition, or aid for a study abroad program related to Russia, write an essay and get a letter of recommendation — the Havighurst Center can be quite generous with how they give it out. They funded half of my trip to Lithuania in the summer of 2016, and there would have been no way for me to go without it."

Best Miami Experiences

The Vilnius River winds its way through Vilnius, Lithuania.

"Early on, I took a Miami Plan anthropology course with Neringa Klumbyte, who is from Lithuania, and she is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and affiliated with the Havighurst Center. Dr. Klumbyte often arranges trips through both Miami, which don't require tuition fees, and other kinds of trips that offer inexpensive alternatives, and she often personally invites Miami students to go. I was part of this lucky group for 5 weeks during summer 2016.

"Dr. Klumbyte set up a special program through Vilnius University, which is located in the Lithuanian capital. The program allows Miami students to study Russian while living with a host family in Lithuania, all while receiving tuition credits from Vilnius.

"I spent a year as a student assistant at the Havighurst Center for a year, mostly putting up posters and working on their website, and this gave me a great opportunity to get to know the professors and learn about the incredible colloquia the Center puts on every semester. You can attend some colloquia for course credit, and they're taught by a Havighurst Center-affiliated professor and focus on different themes. Two noteworthy examples were colloquia taught by associate professor Scott Kenworthy (Comparative Religion) and professor and interim head of the Havighurst Center Stephen Norris (History).

"Dr. Kenworthy's lecture focused not just on the old Church Slavonic religion, but all the religions of East Europe and how they developed after Christianity was adopted by the Russian government in the 11th century. Dr. Norris gave his colloquium about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the 1917 Revolution, explaining its origin and effects on the Soviet Union/Russia and the rest of the world. Both of these talks were fascinating.

"Although I'm now a senior, I haven't yet fully decided what I'll be doing after graduation, but I do know that my trip to Lithuania and my experiences with the Havighurst Center will have a strong connection. Today's political climate has made it all the more important that we have people who understand Russian fluently to prevent mistranslations. As much as we have the technology to directly translate languages, context is incredibly important.

"As a REEES major, my familiarity with the Russian language will help me find a job in teaching, translation, or interpretation. I'm looking forward to helping people, perhaps as a medical interpreter working with non-English speakers, either here or in Russia."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"The Miami Plan has been really helpful to me. I know there are students who say, 'This is what I want to be, so why do I have to take classes outside of my major?' The fact that I had a required anthropology course put me in touch with Dr. Klumbyte, and I learned that there are a lot of things about cultures and their impact on society that I didn't know. Taking classes outside your major is really important.

"The liberal arts are often undervalued by our society, not just in terms of salaries but also in terms of being useful compared to things like engineering and medicine. But I think that as a society we've been losing a lot of compassion and understanding. The liberal arts help enhance our knowledge of the world and why we shouldn't judge other people by their culture, geography, race, and so on.

"Taking it a step further, the liberal arts help us understand history in a way that objective data cannot. For example, there was a recent study done about marble statues in ancient Rome. It had initially been assumed that they were intended to be white and pristine and clean, when actually it was discovered they'd been painted in various colors. The assumption had impacted our idea that Romans were white or conservative, and more recently certain fringe groups have used Romans as a symbol of white power. The liberal arts teach us a lot about diversity without being judgmental. It's very interesting.

"By studying a foreign language, we learn that there are ways to express things that the English language cannot. Language also tells you a lot about what a culture values; the fact that there is no Russian word for 'privacy' is thrown around a lot these days, often in a negative way, but this can also suggest the cultural belief that everything is shared and that no one truly lives apart from another."

Presenting Research and Exploring the History and Culture of Lithuania

Anna discusses her visit to the Eastern European country of Lithuania, along with classmates and graduate students, to present their research papers at a conference and improve their Russian language skills.

The Beauty of Lithuania Video Transcript

Advice to Students

"Don't be too sure about your major when you first enter college. That was probably the biggest mistake that I made as a freshman, thinking that I was going to end up as a mechanical engineer. Don't be afraid to change your major — some people get stuck for 4 years, and they don't end up doing what they would have wanted.

"Regardless of your major, whether it's required or not, you should take at least the first two semesters of a foreign language just to get it into your system. You'd be surprised how much you can learn about not only that foreign language but also English itself.

"Foreign language study also makes Miami's study abroad programs all the more meaningful and richer. Don't limit yourself only to programs that are specifically offered by Miami; even though those are great programs, if you talk to your professors you can often discover that they are planning on alternative study abroad opportunities that may be much more affordable and offer really unique experiences. For example, most standard study abroad trips don't enable you to attend an international conference with your teachers and have opportunities to meet different researchers. Always try to talk to your professors before you start looking into programs to see what else may be out there."

[February 2018]