Dr. Kourova’s Research on cultural Ways

On July 21 in the STARTALK Program Director Dr. Alla Kourova and Lead Instructor Irina Pidberejna led a tag team workshop on “How to Deal with Russians”, an informative and engaging presentation on cultural differences. Dr. Kourova has been working on research for many years formulating, analyzing, and collecting different thematic topics that may vary across cultures. So far she has collected 24 cultural ways which can be identified and used as a lens to see the behavior and patterns of different cultural groups. Some of the ways include “Dress Ways, Time Ways, Family Ways, Gestures and Freedom Ways”. There are of course many more which can be found in her book “Picturing Russia: A Research Guide to Russian Culture”. Last year this book won the Best Contribution to Language Pedagogy award. Irina Pidberejna, along with multiple other Russian students of Dr. Kourova’s, contributed to this book highlighting the type of collaborative work and respect Dr. Kourova has for her students’ scholarly abilities. As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Ufa (2015), Irina was also able to highlight her unique experiences and observations of the cultural ways in action. For each cultural way she created a related question to ask her students. Almost all the student chose to answer about family and the concept of family. 

An understanding of cultures helps to build bridges between people, reduce hostility between nations, and create an atmosphere of mutual understanding. 

Check out more on Dr. Kourova’s culture ways in her book which can be found here!



Guest Speaker Dr. Morris

Today, students got to listen to a very informative presentation by Dr. Berry Morris, who has quite an impressive resume:

Current NAFSA board member, Barry J. Morris, PhD, is the former chief global strategist and senior international officer at the University of Central Florida. He also serves as internationalization consultant for Beijing Jiaotong University (BJTU). At BJTU, he was the founding vice dean for strategic planning and internationalization at the Hanergy School of Renewable Energy, professor of international relations, and founding secretary general of BJTU’s international advisory board. An institutional strategy and international education consultant, Morris also serves as instructor for the NAFSA/AASCU (American Association for State Colleges and Universities) Senior International Officer Institute in Washington, D.C., and the AASCU/CEAIE (Chinese Education Association for International Exchange) Senior International Officer Institute in Beijing, China. Morris serves on the board of directors of the Georgia Council of International Visitors. He is the former vice provost for global engagement and strategic initiatives at Kennesaw State University (KSU)—University System of Georgia, where he was responsible for leading KSU’s global engagement mission and a variety of campus-wide strategic initiatives. During his tenure at KSU, KSU won NAFSA’s prestigious Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization. Morris has served as a founding dean of American University of Nigeria and as a lecturer at Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University. He has management experience in global banking and finance, and consulting experience in international finance, economics, and business. Morris earned a BA in Russian and political science with a specialization in international relations from Tulane University, and an MA and PhD in international relations and international political economy from Emory University. He studied Russian at Moscow State University’s Lumumba Institute and studied Chinese at Tsinghua University. Morris holds a certificate in global strategic management from Harvard Business School and has completed advanced studies in intercultural communication competency at the Intercultural Communication Institute in Portland, Oregon, and the Intercultural Development Research Institute in Milan, Italy. In 2016, the Chinese State Administration for Foreign Expert Affairs designated Morris as a National Distinguished Expert of the Chinese Recruitment Program of Global Experts (1000 Talent Plan).

Dr. Morris presented on the importance of culture when learning language, particularly literature. He is very well read and particularly enjoys studying Pushkin and Tolstoy. The main thing students learned from Dr. Morris was to not be afraid to make mistakes. He made the point that he has made many language mistakes, and still makes them, throughout his journey as a life-long student. Making mistakes is how we learn.

If you want to know more, check out the interview we did with him at the last STARTALK!

Thank you, Dr. Morris!

Russian Traditional Clothing

Today our STARTALK students listened to a wonderful presentation by our teaching assistant Sasha Vargas about traditional Russian clothing. The first item of clothing they learned about was traditional women’s dresses.


The first type of traditional women’s dress our students learned about was the sarafan. A sarafan is a loosely fitting, long jumper dress worn over a long linen shirt and belted. A necessary component of traditional Russian dress, the belt was often worn under the sarafan.

Next, students learned about traditional footwear.


First of the footwear, lapti, are traditional Russian bast shoes worn by peasants. The word lapti apparently originated from the word “lapa”, which meant “foot” in old times, but now means paw. Until the beginning of the 20th century, lapti were worn in every Russian village.


Another type of footwear is valenki. Valenki are traditional Russian winter footwear. Made of sheep’s wool, these warm felt boots have been worn by generations of Russians. Valenki literally means “made by felting.” Valenki are not water-resistant, therefore they are often worn with a strip of leather on their sole or rubber galoshes to protect the felt. Galoshes also protect the valenki’s soles from wear and tear.

Next, students learned about traditional Russian menswear.


Kosovorotka is commonly known in the west as a zhivago shirt, Russian peasant shirt or tolstoy shirt.

Continue to check our blog for more updates on the STARTALK program!

Happy Birthday, Liya Akhedzhakova!

On this day, 83 years ago, famous actress Liya Akhedzhakova was born in Dnipro, Ukraine (USSR). Akhedzhakova starred in many films throughout her career, including the very popular “Office Romance” (Служебный роман). She won an award for this film in 1971 called Vasilyev Brothers State Prize of the RSFSR. She also won other awards, including best supporting actress for the movie “Promised Heaven” (Небеса обетованные).

Akhedzhakova in “Office Romace”

In 1956 she entered the Moscow Institute of Nonferrous Metals and Gold where she studied for eighteen months. In 1961, she made her stage debut at the Moscow Youth theater. Her first ever film appearance was in the film “Looking for a Man” (Ищу человека).

She also starred in several voice acting rules, most recently in “Ivan Tsarevich and the Grey Wolf” (Иван Царевич и Серый волк), an animated film in which Akhedzhakova plays the immortal witch Baba Yaga.

You can find a full list of her film roles here.

C днем ​​рождения, Лия!

Today: Russian Traditional Painting Styles Workshop

Students practicing colors

Today our STARTALK Russian Intermediate instructor, Irina Pidberejna, gave a fantastic presentation on traditional Russian painting styles, and led a workshop where students emulated these styles in their own art. Some of the styles included in the presentation are Гжель (Gzhel) and Мезенская Роспись (Mezen Ornament).

Мезенская Роспись

Мезенская Роспись originated at the end of 19th century in villages around the river Mezen. It is characterized by only red, black, and white colors, while also featuring deer, horses, and geometrical patterns.

Гжель ornament

The traditional Gzhel art style originated in the 17th century in Gzhel village. It is characterized by swathes of beautiful blue flowers and other shapes on white porcelain.

These are only a couple examples of the many styles that were shown and discussed. After the presentations, students took a shot at recreating these traditional styles in their own way. Let’s take a look at some of their creations:

Which is your favorite design? Let us know in the comments!

It’s Time to Meet The STARTALK Russian Team!

By now you likely know a little bit about the instructor of your group, but it’s time to learn about the rest of the STARTALK Russian team. Keep in mind, every member of this team works hard to create fun and productive learning environments, and each of them loves watching their students learn and grow. We’ll begin with the program director, Dr. Alla Kourova:

Dr. Alla Kourova is the program director for STARTALK at UCF. She has held this position since 2015. She is also an associate professor of Russian and TESOL at UCF. In her free time, she enjoys cooking traditional Russian food and playing Piano.

Next, Irina Pidberejna:

Irina Pidberejna is the instructor for the advanced Russian group. She has been with STARTALK since 2017, and began by teaching the Novice Russian group. She loves learning languages and helping students their linguistic passion.

Now, let’s introduce Michelle Verbitskaya:

Michelle Verbitskaya is the instructor for the Russian Novice group. Since 2018, Michelle has been with STARTALK, first as a teaching assistant and now as an instructor. Aside from having a passion for teaching which shines in the classroom, Michelle’s interests include weight lifting, knitting, ice skating, and Russian Futurist poetry.

Now, Yulia Dochtchennikov:

Yulia Dochtchennikov is the instructor for the Russian High School group. She has been with STARTALK since 2019, where she began as the instructor for the Russian Novice group. She also teaches at a Montessori school in Orlando. In addition to Russian and English, Yulia also knows some Hebrew.

Next is Sean Skillings:

Sean is the lead teaching assistant for the STARTALK Russian groups. He has been a teaching assistant for STARTALK since 2019, and was previously a student in the Russian Novice group in 2017. Currently, Sean is pursuing a Master’s degree in Political Science at UCF. In his spare time, he enjoys weightlifting, Rocket League, and playing/watching Baseball and Soccer (favorite teams are the Red Sox and Tottenham Hotspur).

Now, let’s introduce JP Vicens:

JP Vicens was a student in the STARTALK Russian Novice group in 2019 and is currently a teaching assistant. Since 2019, he has taken four semesters of Russian language classes at UCF, and his Russian skills, both in speaking and writing, have progressed tremendously. He loves traveling and meeting people from different countries and backgrounds.

Last but not least, Sasha Vargas:

Sasha Vargas is a teaching assistant for the STARTALK Russian groups. As someone who sings opera, she has a special gift for music, so naturally she is leading the way with teaching students how to sing various Russian songs. Currently, she is teaching students how to sing Если с Другом Вышел в Путь. Sasha is also a great artist, and painted the beautiful picture in the background of this photo.

What questions do you have for our STARTALK Russian team?

First Day of STARTALK 2021

Today began the first day of STARTALK 2021 at UCF. STARTALK is a three-week intensive language and culture program, sponsored by the NSA, where students are taught critical languages. At UCF, students are learning Russian at the high school, beginner, and intermediate levels, as well as Arabic at the beginner and intermediate levels. The University of Central Florida has successfully hosted the Russian program since 2015 and has become well-known in the Orlando community, and Arabic was added to the program in 2019. This year BLANK students joined the program. In this three-week period, participants strengthen conversational skills in the morning and expand their knowledge of the rich and diverse Russian and Arabic cultures in the afternoon. From traditional food to games and cultural presentations, everyone has a chance to experience Russia and the Arab world.

The Russian portion of STARTALK has some new additions this year. Namely, every morning students now watch a STARTALK-produced news show called Новости Стартолк (STARTALK News), where the teaching assistants, Sean and JP, give weather reports, talk about famous idioms, and interesting events all in Russian, every day! You can check them out on the STARTALK YouTube channel. The STARTALK Instagram (@STARTALKUCF) and Twitter (@STARTALKUCF) will both update every day with new proverbs and interesting events in history, as well as fun things from the classroom!

We asked some students about why they joined the program and what they learned today:

What first motivated me is that I have friends that speak the language, and as I learn I continue to learn how beautiful it is.

Zach, Beginner Russian group

I learned how to say my father’s job in Russian; Аптекарь. It means pharmacist!

Eric, Intermediate Russian group

I learned greetings, a third of the alphabet, a little about Russian culture, and a lot of nouns!

Steven, High School Russian group

I want to learn a language that is valuable, and most people don’t really speak Arabic. I want to be able to speak to international communities that we don’t really talk to. I also like Arabic music and want to understand the lyrics.

Colin, Arabic group

Today for lunch, participants enjoyed Курица в соусе с грибами (Chicken in Sauce with Mushrooms), cалат (Salad), and вафли (Wafers).

How did you hear about STARTALK? Let us know in the comments!