By Jack Gaines
In April, three Department of State Russian speakers joined members of USAID and the Department of Defense in an advanced language and cultural immersion course held in New York City and Washington, D.C. The program was hosted by the U.S. Army, 353rd Civil Affairs Command, and it is designed to help colleagues build out their advanced language and cultural skills and to be more effective in developing relationships and advising.
The three Department attendees, Kevin Stickney, Liubov Russell and Jonathan Winward—all operations officers in the Nuclear Risk Reduction Center—met with native speakers to practice discussing technical issues like medical and financial practices in New York and diplomatic engagements at Russian speaking embassies in Washington.
“The program was really fast-paced. For example, in New York, we had native speakers from charities, banks, religious groups and law enforcement. Some were Russian, some were from other countries that spoke Russian, and so we had to listen through different dialects while discussing technical issues like finance and law enforcement practices. We had to constantly switch from common courtesy Russian to technical, academic and theoretical issues to keep up,” said Stickney.
Beyond the technical immersion, the program allowed students to work directly with Russian speakers on technical issues.
“By placing students directly with Russian speakers in a specific profession, it gave each person a chance to better understand posture, gestures and tone,” said Winward. “While in the program, there was no other language than Russian. We walked around the city in Russian, went to stores and shopped in Russian, ate, drank and slept, in Russian.”
The trip ended with a series of embassy visits in Washington. The class visited the Armenian, Azerbaijani, Kazakhstani, Uzbekistani and Kyrgyzstani embassies to talk with officials and practice cultural and diplomatic engagements.
“D.C. was terrific,” said Russell. “Within a few days we met five embassy teams and worked directly with their staff. Later we also visited the World Bank for discussions on financial programs, met the Russian speaking curator at the Library of Congress and visited the USAID headquarters. We finished off by going to Foggy Bottom and briefing the class on the Nuclear Risk Reduction program.”
Stickney, Russell and Winward joined the course to help the program’s efforts in Russian language regions. This was the first Russian course for the Nuclear Risk Reduction Center program. The next courses include two Spanish courses in Madrid, a French course in Marseille and an Arabic course in Rabat.
Jack Gaines the director of public affairs for the U.S. Army, 353rd Civil Affairs Command and a communication strategist for Booz Allen Hamilton.