The atmosphere is informal (the lectures are held in the Sky Bar) but informative.
Antolini and McCarthy even team-teach a lecture on 19th- and 20th-century literature and music. McCarthy says she likes the opportunity to meet and work with a fellow Russian professor. There is talk of collaborating on a Russian studies course back at home. "I don't get to teach like that at Bowdoin," says Antolini. "It turned out better than I could have hoped."
Sheila McCarthy anwers questions from the group inside the State Armory, the oldest Russian museum, in Moscow.
Lectures like "From Lenin to Putin," offered by Irina Nikolashina, a professor from Moscow State University and the Novikov Priboy's official onboard lecturer, draw Paul Wescott. While Wescott and the rest of us could simply have read a history book (and most have read many), Nikolashina offers human context. It is one thing to read about the economic crisis caused by Yeltsin's 1998 devaluation of the ruble. It is another to have Nikolashina tell you that the result was that overnight her mother's life savings of 5,000 rubles, given to a then-pregnant Irina for her child, became five. "I bought a bottle of vegetable oil, put it in the cupboard. It is all that is left of my mother's life savings," she says.
Or to hear her recount bicycling down to the 1991 uprising outside Moscow's White House. Before leaving home Nikolashina asked a friend in Canada to come get her child if she wasn't heard from in a month. Eventually the tanks turned away and the old Russian flag was flown. "That was a tremendously emotional moment," she says.
"I'm most fascinated by the fact that she can be free and open," says Paul Pineo '63.
These personal accounts aren't just enlightening for the trip's participants. "Astounding," says Antolini of Nikolashina's talk. "It's irreplaceable to have a person who's an eyewitness to an historical event. She wasn't just watching it on TV. She was there."
Group tours can conjure up images of tourists following their guides like sheep, herded from site to site, buffered from the actual country they're visiting. But McCarthy offers us unique opportunities for local exposure,a Q&A with Tim Wiswell '01, who works in the investment banking industry in Moscow and tells us about efforts to gain foreign investors; a discussion conducted at 90 mph with a taxicab driver on St. Petersburg politics and the city's recent $500-million restoration project ("They spent an enormous amount of money, but there was nothing in it for us," says the driver); a tour of the St. Petersburg Classical Gymnasium school, which houses the Colby in St. Petersburg program, where students study and teach Russian high school students. "I think I would have really missed something had these professors not been here," says Everett Brenner (Bates '47).