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#31 Making International Connections with the Russian School

Bicentennial Admin 200 Things about Norwich, This Week in History

Russian School student with Russian-English dictionaryThe Russian School of Norwich University was a prestigious summer intensive program that ran for 33 years, from 1968 to 2000. Peak enrollment reached nearly 300 students as interest in Russian flourished during the Cold War years. Each summer, the campus became a hotbed of culture and activity as students from all over the country came together to learn about and celebrate the unique Russian language and culture. The program had a national reputation, attracting Russian luminaries and scholars to come spend the summer in the mountains of Vermont.

The Russian School program began as the Institute for Critical Languages at Windham College in Putney, Vermont in 1960 and moved to Norwich in 1968. For six to eight weeks each summer, the Norwich campus was flooded with students and faculty who took an oath to speak only Russian, 24 hours a day. When not in the classroom, participants enjoyed exposure to many aspects of Russian and Soviet culture, including film screenings, lecture series, and an annual Slavic Festival consisting of traditional music, dance, and other performances.

Russian School dancingThe academic program consisted of five hours a day of immersive language instruction, inspired by the successful approach of the Army Language School (now called the Defense Language Institute). Nearly all of the instructors were native Russian speakers. In the idyllic setting that is summer in Northfield, an entire year of college Russian was condensed into just weeks. Many students returned to the program for multiple years, and could earn a master’s degree after three summers.

Russian School students on the Upper Parade GroundDeclining enrollment, likely tied to the decline of the Soviet Union, led to the closure of the Russian School after the 2000 summer session. With the support of the International Center, students interested in Russian language and culture still have opportunities to enrich their Norwich education by studying abroad in places like Estonia or participating in ProjectGO, an initiative of the Defense Language and National Security Education Office.

Records of the Russian School can be found in the Norwich University Archives if you would like to learn more about its history and programs. You can also find photographs of Russian School activities in the Archives and on their website.