Mount students return from Russia on high note
By Ike Wilson/ News-Post Staff
EMMITSBURG — Even as conflict was brewing in neighboring Ukraine, several Mount St. Mary’s University business students described their recent 12-day trip to Russia as a positive experience.
Since Russia moved toward a capitalistic system, there have been great lessons to learn on both sides, said Karl W. Einolf, dean of Mount St. Mary's University's Richard J. Bolte Sr. School of Business, and the students' visit was a business and cultural exchange of ideas and information.
The word “incredible” sums up the trip for John Squadrito, the sophomore business major said.
“From the moment we arrived at Chelyabinsk, we felt like we were home,” Squadrito said. “We were hosted by some of the nicest people I have ever met, and the experiences I shared with my new Russian friends defined that entire trip. Their hospitality, their attitude, absolutely everything was incredible.”
The 11 Mount students stayed at South Ural State University in Chelyabinsk, a city renowned for its role in producing tanks during World War II, and more recently for the meteor that fell just outside the city, Squadrito said.
This part of the trip was mainly a cultural learning experience, Squadrito said, and the students competed against the Russian students in a business game to compare and contrast each country's business structure and ideology.
The visitors also toured the city, several historical museums and businesses, including the Baltika brewery.
The Russian invasion
After about a week in Chelyabinsk, the students left for St. Petersburg for sightseeing and to learn about the city’s history.
That's when Russian troops entered Crimea.
“To be honest, I was nervous at how the situation would play out,” Squadrito said. “I had worries of not being able to come home because of a possibility of a war breaking out or old rivalries being reignited, but thankfully, that did not occur.”
Despite the invasion, Squadrito said the St. Petersburg experience was amazing, and the Russians there didn't seem bothered by the ongoing situation in Ukraine, which gave him much comfort.
Mount student Kelly M. Polk said they were far away from the conflict.
“We did not feel very much of the tensions occurring in Ukraine,” Polk said. “Things started to get worse there toward the end of our trip. But being able to say I was in Russia while all this was going on is something unique.”
Since their return, Polk said she has been more in tune with the Ukraine crisis.
“It is a complicated situation that is hard to fully understand,” she said. “The tension actually goes beyond what some may think.”
Einolf, one of two faculty members who made the trip, said events surrounding Ukraine were just starting when the group arrived, and they had no information about the crisis other than what they could find on the news.
“We can’t really shed any light on Ukraine because we never really had that conversation,” Einolf said. “Though the political climate has been dicey, our objective has been to educate students.”
For Polk, the trip “was emotional, exciting, overwhelming and an all-around fantastic trip,” the junior business management major said.
The best part of being in Russia was spending time with Russian students who are now friends, she said.
“They were so welcoming and such great hosts, and they did everything in their power to make sure we had the best time, and we did.”
The stereotypes that some people have about Russians and Russian culture are not valid, Polk said.
“This trip was a great reminder that you really need to experience a place before you can speak about it," she said. "Only once you've been somewhere do you really understand it."
Maddie Weinberg said she felt no hostility toward Americans during the trip.
“I went to Russia with clear eyes and an open mind, and I came home with a happy heart,” Weinberg said.
The trip felt like a vacation, Squadrito said, adding that he had more fun than he had originally anticipated.
Russia is not as bad as it’s made out to be, he said.
“It is a country filled with history, and it was an amazing experience learning about our old rival from the Cold War and meeting the people who lived on the other side of the world from us."
Above photo: Mount St. Mary’s University and Russian students stand outside of South Urals State University in Russia during the Mount students’ recent overseas trip. From left are Michael Neville, Kyle Hart, Matthew Waller, Eugenia Teplova, Natalie Shuverova, Kelly Polk, Kyle Novak, Dima Trubeev, Brigid Flay, Arthur Gasparian, Jack Squadrito, Bridget Heagy, Todd Hershey, Archie Tsoy, Madison Weinberg, Donell Thompson, Tanya Sycheva, Anastasia Arshavina and Patrice Flynn.