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Home > Three Students Experience Russia, Learn the Language

Three Students Experience Russia, Learn the Language

September 17th, 2009

By Sarah Pride

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722

From L to R, David Barber, Adam Fisher, Benjamin Barber -- in front of the "Tsar Cannon" in the Kremlin, Moscow.

Three Patrick Henry College students gazed out across the pews in a Moscow church and opened their mouths to sing. As a shaky rendition of Be Thou My Vision issued forth, little old ladies nodded blissfully. An echo of hearty “Praise the Lords!” in Russian followed the last note.

“We felt so blessed,” grins sophomore Adam Fisher, who reports that he “cannot carry a tune to save his life.”

In fact, the students would never have chosen on their own to grace their Christian brethren in Moscow with their vocal talents. As part of a language program taken to fulfill their PHC language requirement, Fisher, junior David Barber, and sophomore Benjamin Barber lived in Moscow and St. Petersburg for several weeks this last summer. In Moscow, they attended a church. After the first service, the pastor came up to them and introduced himself.

 “He told us, ‘You will sing or give a testimony next week, yes?’” recounts Fisher. “We thought he was joking, so we just laughed. Next week, he asked us again, ‘So what have you prepared?’ David [Barber] said, ‘Nothing yet, but we will next week.’ So we sang Be Thou My Vision.”

And after one service, a lady invited them to visit her dacha, or country house.

“The backyard was full of every berry imaginable,” grins Fisher.

Benjamin Barber most enjoyed their visit to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, one of the oldest and largest museums in the world.

“It was amazing to see so many unique, priceless works of art so close,” he says. “We saw a sword that belonged to Peter the Great. Clothes from the Czars and their wives. It was staggering.”

He jokes: “My favorite room by far was the throne room, from when the Hermitage was the Russian winter palace. I thought about sitting down on the throne, but since it was cordoned off and sitting there would probably get me kicked out of the country, I decided against it.”

On a more serious note, David Barber emphasizes the value of studying foreign languages, especially difficult ones like Russian, via immersion. If a student wants to learn a language in order to speak it, a textbook can only take him so far.

“There comes a point when you have to get on the streets and actually talk with people,” says Barber. “Being able to take the metro downtown and hear people speak Russian, or go to the store and talk with the grocer in Russian, gave us a tremendous advantage that we would not have been able to find in a textbook.”

Patrick Henry College requires its students to demonstrate intermediate-level proficiency in a foreign language prior to graduation—either by successfully completing the fourth semester of a language offered at PHC (Latin, Greek, and Russian), or by taking one of several options of proficiency tests. Not only does learning another language better equip a student for a successful life, it enables him to see the world through another’s perspective.

“As Charlemagne noted, to have another language is to possess a second soul,” says David Barber.