Zeller: I was bitten by the Russian bug

(Sept. 8, 2010) LOUISVILLE, Ky. - McConnell Scholar spends four weeks at Moscow State Institute for International Relations
Zeller: I was bitten by the Russian bug

Michael Zeller, Class of 2013, in Red Square.

Michael Zeller was bitten by the Russian bug.

His mother, who studied Russian literature at Indiana University, teased him as a child with Russian lore, customs and cuisine.

By high school, he was hooked on tsars, empires and cosmonauts. He particularly enjoyed his world history class, interpreting all world events from a Russo-Soviet perspective (though that may not have been how his teacher presented it).

But it was Charles Ziegler, a political science professor at the University of Louisville who specializes in Eurasian comparative politics and international relations, who helped Zeller quench his thirst for all things Russian. Ziegler introduced Zeller to the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, a four-week study abroad program.

"I had set the goal to go to Russia for the summer — and I was going to get there by any means necessary," Zeller said. "I had researched every outlet I could think of, and by the middle of March I was convinced I was only going to be able to toy around Moscow for a week. I'm glad Dr. Ziegler introduced me to the Institute so I could study, as well as explore the sites of Moscow."

Zeller, now a sophomore McConnell Scholar, spent part of his summer studying Russia's relationship with the European Union, Russian foreign policy and Russian linguistics at the Institute. The experience and full language immersion helped Zeller test into intermediate Russian language at U of L upon his return.

Known for its international affairs program and its notable alumni including the current president of Azerbaijan and Russian foreign minister, the Moscow State Institute focuses on diplomacy, cultural studies and the increasingly connected global world. Zeller studied with students from North America and western and eastern Europe.

And their studies weren't limited to the classroom.

"Whether in class or on a boat tour of the Moscow River sites, we were prone to discussion of past and contemporary international crises," Zeller said.

His most memorable moment in Russia was when he dropped his bags at his dorm and used enough broken Russian to take the metro rail to the Kremlin.

"Nothing can replace that moment, coming around the corner and seeing the iconic St. Basil's Cathdral and the clock tower of the Kremlin on the horizon."

So did four weeks abroad kill the Russian bug?

"It is clear that this trip whet my appetite for more Russian adventures in the coming years," Zeller said.

He is currently preparing materials to apply for a Critical Language Scholarship to Russia, which carries the possibility of studying advanced Russian linguistics. And he also has a book of Vladimir Putin's interviews on his nightstand.

Zeller is majoring in history and political science and minoring in Russian studies at U of L. He is part of the Honors Program Global Leaders Program and College Democrats and serves as secretary of the Rotaract Club and as a student representative to the residency review committee. He is a 2009 graduate of duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Ky.

His trip to Russia was funded in part by the McConnell Center and the Modern Languages Fund at U of L.