STARTALK Participant Spotlight

Every year, STARTALK at UCF eagerly welcomes returning student. Some of them, like Michael Mallis, participated for 3 years in a row! According to Michael, the program made him a competitive candidate for graduate programs and employment opportunities. We asked him to share how STARTALK transformed his life.

Michael Mallis, intermediate group

“Having attended as a student and teaching assistant for the STARTALK Russian Language Program at UCF for three years, it is an irreplaceable tool for immersing oneself in the language while boosting one’s competitiveness and desirability in the professional world. Having interviewed with – and been offered a job – with a federal agency, my utilization and commentary on the STARTALK  program in the interview unequivocally boosted my chances of being competitive for the position. As of recently, I have been accepted into Georgetown University for a Master’s Program in Foreign Studies; and it is no mystery that the utilization of STARTALK and the Russian language on my application directly aided my chances of being accepted. Desires to work in the foreign policy and diplomatic field in the future are certain to be very attainable as my three years of studies progress forward.”

How will you utilize your STARTALK experience in the future? Leave a comment below or on our social media using #STARTALK_UCF_2019


Twitter: @StartalkUCF2019


Facebook: STARTALK UCF 2019


Moscow Metro

The Moscow Metro was created in 1935 and serves the city of Moscow, along with the
neighboring cities of Krasnogorsk, Reutov, Lyubertsy, and Kotelniki. The total route length of
the Moscow Metro is around 400km, and it has 232 stations. This makes it the fifth longest
metro system in the world. The Metro is almost entirely underground, with the deepest part of
the system being Park Pobedy station (84 meters underground). It is the busiest metro station in
Europe and is also a tourist attraction sought out for by many tourists.

Komsomolskaya station of the Moscow metro

Park Pobedy station is in the Dorogomilovo district of Moscow. It is the fourth largest
metro station in the world. Park Pobedy has numerous unique aspects of its design that make it
special. For example, it has two platforms, designed by Nataliya Shurygina and Nikolay
Shumakov, that have the exact same design but with opposite color schemes. The Pylons along
the outbound platform are made of red and grey marble. Lastly, the station has two murals which
depict the 1812 French invasion of Russia during the Napoleonic Wars and scenes from the
Great Patriotic War.

Russian study abroad participants presenting about the Moscow metro

Many stations in the Metro have reflective marble walls, high ceilings, and grand
chandeliers. These designs embodied the Stalinist ideals of светлое будущее, which means a radiant future. The engineers of the metro recognized lighting as a legitimate style of artistic
expression. They used experimentation with different materials (cast bronze, aluminum, sheet
brass, steel, and milk glass) to their advantage, creating styles and methods that used technology
to its most efficient extent. The Metro serves a practical purpose by assisting many in their daily
lives with its efficiency of travel, but the design of the Metro itself is a thing of architectural and
artistic beauty.

What is your favorite Moscow metro station? Leave a comment below or on our social media using #STARTALK_UCF_2019


Twitter: @StartalkUCF2019


Facebook: STARTALK UCF 2019

Why is Russian a Critical Need Language?

Russian is a native language for 154 million people, with around 265 million total speakers. Russia’s population has around 190 different ethnic groups and nationalities, so learning Russian provides the learner with a broad perspective of the world that stems from a plethora of eastern European and Central Asian cultures. Examples of other countries where Russian is a popular or official language include Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Knowing this information helps us understand why Russian is classified as a critical need language.

Participants creating Pulsar accounts


Participants uploading evidence of learning to Pulsar



Russian is officially recognized as the language for business, media, education, and politics in many of these countries. The list of what is considered a critical language changes sometimes, but we can be certain the Russian will remain one for the foreseeable future. Russian is less commonly taught in the United States than the likes of Spanish, French, and German. It is easy to see why, given the difficulty of the language for English speakers, and the relative lack of Russian language speakers in the United States, let alone instructors! This is why Russian is a critical language; the language is seldom taught to students in the United States, even though the government is in urgent need of speakers.




Arielle giving a presentation on her study abroad in Russia experience

The government would like more speakers of Russian for various jobs, among them being interpretation, translation, conduction of business, and strengthening diplomatic ties. Diplomacy is especially important. It is not possible to truly understand someone’s culture, ideas, or intents without knowing their mother tongue. Given the importance of the Russian speaking world in today’s political climate, we can see why Russian is classified as a critical need language, and why the US government has such a high demand for Russian speakers.



Why did you decide to learn Russian? Leave a comment below or on our social media using #STARTALK_UCF_2019


Twitter: @StartalkUCF2019


Facebook: STARTALK UCF 2019

STARTALK: What’s for Lunch?

STARTALK at UCF not only allows students to develop Russian but also introduces them to cultural elements, including food. Every day, a local Russian store, Lacomka Bakery, brings various Russian staples: from борщ to мармелад, there is so much to try! 

Блины и зефир

Food is an important part of the culture. Traditional cuisine is passed down from one generation to the next. It operates as an expression of cultural identity. What stays the same though is the extent to which each country or community’s unique cuisine can reflect its unique history, lifestyle, values, and beliefs. Russia, for example, has traditionally relied on farming. After Peter the Great brought картофель (potato)  to the country, it became a staple in every household. Soups, stews, and other main dishes often include картофель. There is even a dessert named after this vegetable! You will have a chance to try it during the third week.

Пирожное “картошка”

Familiarity with Russian food will be handy when visiting the country. It will not only save time and eliminate the stress of picking something unknown but also ensure that the person gets to enjoy exactly what they want. 

Let’s see what food STARTALK participants have been loving so far:

Eric, TA: “I really liked салат салями. As I was eating it, I thought to myself ‘wow, I wish I could eat this every day!'” 


Alex, intermediate group: “I enjoyed пирожок с картошкой и грибами the most. Its soft texture and flavorful filling brought me straight back to Moscow, where I went to the study abroad this past summer.”

Participants getting lunch

Natasha, high school group: “I loved пирожок that we had today! In Jamaica, we have a dish called mandazi, and it reminded me of that.”


What is your favorite Russian dish? Leave a comment below or on our social media using #STARTALK_UCF_2019


Twitter: @StartalkUCF2019


Facebook: STARTALK UCF 2019

STARTALK 2019: Let’s Talk About Russian

Happy day 3 of STARTALK!

By the third day, beginners have mastered multiple phrases, like “я живу во Флориде” and “очень приятно,” that are useful both in daily conversations and business setting. Intermediate students are comfortable with longer conversations on topics of hobbies and navigating the airport. Classrooms are filled with Russian chatter and laughter. Have a look at how well Ahmed and JP, two beginner students, introduce themselves to each other:

So what kind of wild beast is Russian? Let’s look at some facts! The Russian language is the 8th most widely spoken language in the world with 155 million native speakers and 105 million language learners (yes, you are one of them!). The language is related to Belarusian and Ukranian, so knowing Russian will help you communicate with people from several Eastern European countries. 

Alex (intermediate group) learning new hobby-related words

Many participants loved салат Оливье and борщ. Both of these dishes have картофель (potato) in them. But did you know that the word “картофель” was borrowed from German? Russian vocabulary expanded greatly during Peter the Great’s Westernization. The language, however, did not only borrow foreign words but also loaned some to other languages. You have probably heard of cosmonaut and sputnik; both of them originated as Russian words. 

Beginner group learning greetings

Russian is listed as a category IV language by the American Foreign Service Institute (FSI), the second most difficult category for English speakers. Some believe it should be category V, the most difficult (which includes Chinese and Arabic). You, too, might find it challenging, but don’t be discouraged! Our talented team of instructors is eager to help you out. 

What do you find to be the most challenging when learning Russian? Leave a comment below or on our social media using #STARTALK_UCF_2019 


Twitter: @StartalkUCF2019 

Instagram: @STARTALKUCF 

Facebook: STARTALK UCF 2019


Meet Your STARTALK 2019 Team!

STARTALK would not be possible without the incredible team of instructors and teaching assistants. Over several weeks, the team has closely worked together to develop the curriculum for STARTALK 2019 “East Meets West.” The instructors are excited to share language and culture with new and returning faces! They are not afraid to challenge themselves with delivering fast-paced, engaging lessons that prepare students to be active global citizens. Just like every year, they came up with new interactive activities that provide the most immersive experience possible.

Meet your STARTALK 2019 team!

Dr. Ala Kourova, program director

Dr. Kourova, program director, shared with us how the program has changed over the years: “The program is changing every year. We try to learn from our mistakes and make it more interesting and entertaining, combining learning and fun. For example, in the first year, we did not invite any speakers, but this year and last year we have many speakers. We have many games that help student familiarize with the culture and memorize the vocabulary. We also incorporate technology, like when creating digital stories as the final project.”

We asked the program director what vision she has for the future years. “We are definitely looking for more participants. Expanding the program to include an advanced group, not only beginners and intermediate, is another goal. I am also working on inviting military students to create a group for them,” said Dr. Kourova.

Irina Pidberejna, lead instructor



Irina Pidberejna, the lead instructor,  reflects on the importance of STARTALK in today’s world: “Our world is global and interconnected: in other countries, on other continents, most people speak another language besides their native language. STARTALK provides the opportunity, without study abroad, to have an immersive experience. It is probably the closest immersive experience you can have without going to another country. But we are doing it in a fun and engaging way. We are not memorizing grammar charts or verb conjugations; it’s all about actively using the language.”



Yulia Dochtchennikov, beginner group instructor


Yulia Dochtchennikov, a former STARTALK volunteer, greets the beginner group in the morning with a smile. Working with English speakers has changed Yulia’s perspective on her mother tongue: “As a teacher, and a Russian language speaker, I did not realize that it is actually very difficult to teach others, but doing so is an honor. It is challenging to teach your own language to someone who does not speak it, and Russian is a difficult language. There is so much respect from the students, just as I had respect for English when I was a learner.” 

Regardless of the difficulties, there is much joy in sharing the Russian language with the students. Yulia’s favorite part of teaching is meeting new people and making new connections. 



Yulia Belova, high school group instructor



Yulia Belova is excited to work with high school students this year. She is amazed by how quickly they absorb new information. At the same time, Yulia notes that “The most challenging part is to engage every student through the right instruction that will match the students’ proficiency levels, needs, and goals.” The difficulties cannot be compared to the impact that STARTALK has on instructors and students: “My favorite part is just being here! I enjoy the process of teaching and the atmosphere of the program.”





Eric Tangarife, TA, International Relations major


Eric Tangarife, TA, was a STARTALK participant in 2017. He then became a teaching assistant in 2018 and returned this year to give back to the program. “When I was a participant, I was introduced to the Youth Festival in Sochi and then ended up being accepted to it. The trip was a continuation of my STARTALK experience, that really immersed me in the Russian culture, and since then I’ve been “hooked.” I have become a Russian Club officer since then, and it brought me to where I am today,” shares Eric.  



Spencer Martin, TA, MA in Political Science




Spencer Martin, TA, MA in Political Science, has also closely worked with the Russian program at UCF for many years. Reflecting on the impact STARTALK made on him, Spencer believes that  “The experience of being a STARTALK TA will come in handy later on in [his] career when coordinating people, working in a group setting, and being a team player.” He says that the program is so much more than learning basic Russian – it is an immersive cultural experience. 


Michelle Verbitskaya, TA, Secondary Education Language Arts major



Michelle Verbitskaya, TA, hopes to teach Russian and English in the future: “Working with a variety of people that come from different backgrounds is an invaluable experience. I am planning to pursue language teaching as a career, so being a teaching assistant gives me an insight into what it takes to deliver a successful lesson. At times I also participate in the activities as if I was a student, which helps me identify the activities that are most engaging.”




Sean Skillings, TA, International Relations major




Sean Skillings is another TA studying International Relations and an avid language learner: “My participation in STARTALK 2017 made me realize the full extent of my love for challenging languages. The program was very intense but very rewarding. I wanted to give back to the program and new students because I appreciated what the instructors did for me and my language learning experience.” 






What questions do you have for the instructors and teaching assistants? Leave a comment below or on our social media using #STARTALK_UCF_2019 


Twitter: @StartalkUCF2019 

Instagram: @STARTALKUCF 

Facebook: STARTALK UCF 2019



STARTALK Russian language program at UCF is a three-week intensive language program with a mission to popularize critical need foreign languages. The University of Central Florida has successfully hosted the Russian program since 2015 and has become well-known in the Orlando community. This year STARTALK at UCF had a brand new addition: now it is offered not only in Russian but also in Arabic. 


Every year, STARTALK brings together participants from various backgrounds, who are looking to practice their language skills. The program is offered for different levels of proficiencies: from novice to intermediate. In a short span of three weeks, participants strengthen conversational skills in the morning and expand their knowledge of rich and diverse Russian culture in the afternoon. From traditional food to games and cultural presentations, everyone has a chance to see, hear, and taste Russia.

Mariana, beginner group: “Today I learned different ways of introducing myself and greeting other people. I practiced writing my name and using the Russian alphabet. The most memorable part was interacting with other students – it really made me feel like I was learning Russian!”

Today for lunch, participants savored Самса (Samosa), a traditional savory pastry most commonly


filled with meat and onions. The pastry is most often baked, and almost never fried. They are popularly sold as hot snacks by street vendors.


Rachel, beginner group: “I really liked самса. The flavor of the pastry was really interesting – it was nothing like I have ever had before!”


Салат Оливье


Participants also enjoyed Салат Оливье (Olivier Salad), that is traditionally eaten during Новый Год ( New Year’s) celebration. The salad is made with a variety of vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, and pickles, as well as chicken or sometimes ham or bologna sausage. 




We asked a student from the intermediate group about their first impressions of and future expectations for the program:

William, intermediate group: “I really enjoyed the immersive experience. I was talking in Russian the whole time! It made me feel like Russian was more accessible language. I really hope to master the basics to communicate my ideas effectively, even if I still make some errors.”

What did you like best about the first day of the program? Leave a comment below or on our social media using #STARTALK_UCF_2019 


Twitter: @StartalkUCF2019 

Instagram: @STARTALKUCF 

Facebook: STARTALK UCF 2019

Russian Club Ballet

The annual Russian Club Ballet will be held Sunday, June 16, 2019 at 4 PM – 7 PM at Trinity PAC, Winter Park, FL 5700 Trinity Prep Ln, Winter Park, FL 3279.
Tickets can be purchased by clicking here. Tickets are $27 for regular seats and $32 for premium seats – please use our code to receive $10 off! Proceeds from tickets bought using that code go to the Ukrainian Down Syndrome Organization.

Discount code:


You can also see our Facebook event.


Russian Studies Fall 2018 Recap

In the spirit of the new year, here’s a recap of our Fall semester:

The Russian Studies Program at UCF experienced a very successful Fall 2018 semester.

Dr. Alla Kourova and First Secretary Natalia Moroz prepare to present during the International Education Week Breakfast.

International Week in November was full of activities based on the Russian Studies Program, lead by Dr. Alla Kourova and UCF Russian Club President Eric Tangarife. The invitation of the First Secretary of the Russian Embassy in the U.S. and Deputy Director of the Russian Culture Center in Washington D.C., Ms. Natalia Moroz, brought a new, fresh look at Russian-American relations in the sphere of education and cultural exchanges. At the International Breakfast, Dr. Kourova shared her experiences with the international projects and grants through UCF’s College of Arts and Humanities and the Russian Language program, and First Secretary Moroz was a guest speaker. Additionally, Russian Culture Night and Russian Tea Hour, sponsored by Dr. Kourova and Russian Club at UCF, were successful events open to all International Education Week participants.

Russian Club Officers and members with First Secretary Natalia Moroz and Dr. Alla Kourova at the International Education Week Breakfast, November 13, 2018.

During International Education Week, the Intermediate Russian class students, together with Russian Club Officers, had a wonderful opportunity to have a Skype Conference with Thomas M. Leary, Minister Counselor for Public Affairs for the Embassy of the United States in Moscow. Minister Counselor Leary shared his experiences in the foreign service and allowed time at the end of the Skype call for a question-and-answer session.

Mr. Thomas Leary served as a Public Affairs Officer in St. Petersburg from 1999-2001 and as the Consul General in St. Petersburg again in 2017 until the closure of the United States Embassy post in 2018. He speaks Russian language almost as well as a native speaker. Mr. Leary has also served as the Minister Counselor for Public Affairs in Islamabad from 2014-2015, Minister Counselor for Public Affairs in London from 2011-2014, and Minister Counselor for Public Affairs in Ankara from 2008-2011. Additionally, Minister Counselor Leary has served in various Foreign Service positions in Copenhagen, Madrid, Lima, and Sierra Leone.

Skype Conference Call with Minister Counselor Thomas Leary.

On December 3, 2018, Dr. Kourova was invited by First Secretary Moroz of the Russian Embassy and Russian Culture Center in Washington D.C. to present her current book Picturing Russia: A Research Guide to Russian Culture. The presentation was very successful, with many attendees and a plethora of questions.

Dr. Alla Kourova, First Secretary Natalia Moroz, and Dr. Barry Morris.

Congratulations to our two undergraduate students from Elementary and Intermediate Russian Classes for receiving RAMP, Taylor Jenko, and a research grant from the Burnett Research College, Charles Martin, mentor Dr. Kourova.

Watch: WWII Remembrance

The international youth competition of social cinema and social advertising, initiated by the Belarusian social and cultural public association “Heritage” and the Belarusian-Russian University in the city of Mogilev summarizes. Young people aged 13 to 28 take part in the competition.

The winners will be selected based on the results of a comprehensive vote: jury members and audience votes. From numerous entries, 22 video clips with a duration of up to 3 minutes were selected and approved for voting. For diplomas claim participants from different countries: Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and the United States.

The Youth Club of the Russian-American Community Center of Florida (represented by 15-year-old club leader Alec-David Jenkins from Orlando and his Belarusian friends: Vyacheslav Klindyuk, Natalia Zherko and Elena Posternak, with the support of BELARUSdirect travel agency) takes part in this competition , presenting the video clip “Memory, appealing to the world.”

Alec – born in the United States in a mixed Russian-American family. Having been on excursions in the Republic of Belarus, he was very impressed with everything he saw there. He was particularly impressed by a visit to the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, the Stalin Line and other objects associated with the Second World War. That is why they made a decision to take part in this International Youth Competition in the Heritage nomination.

The video clip is dedicated to the Belarusian memorial complex “Khatyn”, which symbolizes the courage and unbearableness of the people of Belarus, who brought innumerable sacrifices in the name of victory over fascism. Khatyn – a former Belarusian village, burned to the ground by the Nazis, along with people. 186 of these villages were burned on the Belarusian land. Khatyn has become a symbol of the tragedy of the Belarusian people. In memory of the 3 million Belarusians who died in World War II, this video was created. Compatriots from the United States remember and honor their historical heritage.

Friends! Support Alec Jenkins and his team, which presented this video clip to the international competition of social cinema in the nomination “Heritage”. Put your LIKE under the video on YouTube and write your comments.
REMEMBER, Proud and Honor!