Kirsti Dahly started her blog, "Sequins and Snow," shortly after her arrival in Khanty-Mansiisk, Siberia, a place frequently associated with banishment to a land of ice and hard labor. Dahly graduated in May, won a prestigious Fulbright award and is teaching English and American culture at Ugra State University. She is embracing the people and her work with a sense of both joyous enthusiasm and earnest deliberation on the lines between global unity and meaningful differences.
"I have two goals for the year," Dahly says in an e-mail interview, "to improve America's reputation in the eyes of people who only see it through our pop culture, and to show how we're all connected. As globalization spreads, we have to start thinking about culture: should one cling to its unique customs, or should one strive to erase boundaries? This is something I'm experimenting with here and trying to figure out where I stand. To ignore differences is naive, to emphasize them pushes people apart, and it's impossible to blindly preach, 'it's not better, not worse, just different.'"
UVM's Russian majors have a history of success — Joe Bowman '01 was a founding partner of the first venture capital firm in Russia — but this recent group of graduates show particular "industriousness and ingenuity" notes Russian Professor Kevin McKenna. Sam Vary, one of Dahly's classmates, is building his rapid-fire Russian as a news producer in New York for Russian Television International (RTVi). Oliver Chase, a Fulbright finalist with a double major in economics, landed a sales job in Moscow with a medical sports product distributor. Ross Cunningham, also a double major in economics, is a law student at George Washington University.
Dahly partially credits McKenna with her academic success: "He showed us all what we are capable of," says Dahly. "He constantly pushed us far beyond what we thought were our limits and we ended up realizing, basically, 'what we were made of!' That's a hugely important lesson to learn in college."
Outside of the classroom, McKenna sends every current major a postcard when he's in Russia, exchanges e-mails with former students about their accomplishments and has plans to meet up with those he can when he's in Moscow this fall. In the classroom, apparently, he can talk tough. "I point out to every one of my students, 'don't find yourself on June 1 not having a job lined up in advance,'" McKenna says, banging his hand on the table for emphasis. Not quite Khrushchev and his shoe, but students apparently take the point.