Melanie Carter (Interdisciplinary Studies, ’19)
This past summer I spent six weeks in St. Petersburg, Russia as part of the Reves Center’s study abroad program. Beyond the typical language immersion, classroom experience, homestay accommodation, and cultural excursions, we conducted a research project in collaboration with Russian students from the St. Petersburg State University of Film and Television. At first, I was overwhelmed by the concept of doing a video project because I had never filmed or created anything cinematically before, but we learned from Swem Library media specialist Cindy Centeno, who assisted us in Russia for the first few weeks.
The topic for my project was originally just the St. Petersburg Dam, which is a massive structure that closes off the part of the Gulf of Finland near St. Petersburg from the rest of the Gulf to protect the city from flooding. Program Director Professor Alexander Prokhorov suggested the idea to me and I decided to read more about the dam. As I began my research, I realized that there had to be an environmental impact from the structure, so I decided to change my topic to the St. Petersburg Dam and Environmentalism. At first, I could only find information on positive aspects of the dam, but then I continued my research with interviews in St. Petersburg. Both an architect and a professor raved about the dam. However, I knew this could not be the whole story. The rest of the narrative emerged one morning when I was talking to my Russian professor before class started about my project. He told me the phrase “damba – gorodu amba,” which he translated as “the dam is the end of the city.” I researched this saying and found an online interview detailing the negative effects of the dam. From there my research took off.
Taking almost six months to complete, this was certainly the largest project I have ever undertaken, yet it was also my most rewarding endeavor. I learned so much about the history of St. Petersburg from my research, my interviewees, and talking with Russian university students. The collaboration with the students was by far the most valuable experience, because it required overcoming a language barrier and made cross-cultural exchange possible among our peer group. Watching all of the completed films recently was a proud moment for me as well and it made our entire group very nostalgic.