Spring break trip to Russia continues RANEPA Exchange Program


A poster directly across from the Russian classroom advertises the trip to all students. This year the trip will be open to all Jefferson students, with no requirement of Russian language experience. “It’s a trip that not every student [who’s in the program doing the project] could attend. Spring break is a time that students use for other activities and Moscow is just one of many opportunities,” AP Government teacher and trip sponsor Mr. Monte Bourjaily said.

Miriam Antony and Keertana Senthilkumar

Over spring break, Jefferson teachers Mr. Monte Bourjaily and Ms. Betsy Sandstrom are continuing the Jefferson-RANEPA exchange program by taking Jefferson students to Moscow. 

The students will stay with Russian host families in Moscow, attend RANEPA, a competitive Russian school similar to Jefferson, and go sightseeing. Students participating in the research portion of the program will also present their research projects to various Russian officials. 

“There’s a lot of projects and we formed research teams that are on completely different topics. I am doing a research project with two or RANEPA students about the education system, specifically about the lunch program across different countries and the way we organize our lunch affects the way we learn,” senior and trip attendee Anika Kololgi said. 

RANEPA, a school located in Moscow that focuses on policy and government, brings the humanities side to the research project. Jefferson, on the other hand, with its focus on science and technology, has its students focusing more on the technical aspects of the research. 

“I think the kids who went [to RANEPA] who were really interested in policy and government got to pick the topics that they liked in the project. And I think the ones who still are interested in policy and government but would also want to learn more about STEM then were able to now get that side of it through our project and research more about it,” junior Sadhana Thirumazhusai said.

In addition to providing research experience and sightseeing opportunities, students will also attend school with RANEPA students. Even daily transportation to school can be a learning experience on the trip.

“It’s an important experience in learning and [in a] city, there’s nothing like moving around, as local people do, to learn about the community. As a large capital city, Moscow, they will see a lot as they simply move from home to school,”AP Government teacher and trip sponsor Mr. Monte Bourjaily said.

By giving students to experience another culture, they engage in grassroots diplomacy, or diplomacy between ordinary residents of two countries.

“It’s one thing for leaders of different countries and cultures to interact with one another for official positions like ambassadors on a business level, but it’s another for people to get to know each other on a personal level. There is no better way to get to know someone, than to engage with them personally to meet with them, to talk with them, to live with them, and to socialize with them,” Mr. Bourjaily said.

The personal connections formed between host families and visitors may be the most valuable part of the experience. 

“You know, one of the things that is fascinating about Russian culture in the home is how giving it is,” Bourjaily said. “There is a culture of graciousness in private in the home, that they will put out for us, and our students who are their guests. They will try to make sure that food is prepared that they will enjoy and really try to be gracious hosts.”