Recent TU graduate Alex Garoffolo (BA ’18) feels called to help improve American and Russian relations; and after winning a 2018 Fulbright Scholarship for an English Teaching Award to Russia, he will start his diplomacy in a Russian classroom.
This September, Garoffolo will be placed in a Russian high school as an English language teaching assistant in charge of lesson planning and cultural fusion. “I’ve always loved being a tutor and helping people learn and reach their potential,” Garoffolo said.
To introduce American culture, he plans to use his Eagle Scout knowledge. “I’m going to have an English club; and because I’m a boy scout, I want to make it an outdoors club,” he said. “We will look at vocabulary for the outdoors in English and in Russian on hikes.”
With tensions high between America and Russia, Garoffolo has an opportunity to highlight the beauty of each culture. “It’s going to be crucial that I present a good picture of us,” Garoffolo said. “I’m honored to do it.”
Garoffolo is no stranger to Russia. In the fall of 2016, he studied abroad in St. Petersburg and even served as a tutor for an adult English class. From walking to school in the snow to getting lost more than once at the Hermitage Museum, he fell in love with Russia, especially with the people.
“One of the things I really liked was how genuine the people were in conversation,” Garoffolo said. In Russia, the question “How are you?” is the start of a meaningful discussion. When they consider someone a friend, it is not taken lightly.
“In Russian, there are three different words for friends,” he explained. “For each one, it’s a higher level of friendship to where you would metaphorically take a bullet for somebody.”
Before Garoffolo starts his Fulbright scholar journey, this summer he will be attending Siberia by Southwest, another Fulbright-funded program through The University of Texas at Austin. Only 20 students were selected from 12 southern states to participate in an intensive Russian language program and project-based learning at Irkutsk State University.
Students are placed in groups and given projects with broad topics like anthropology and linguistics. “My part is local language instruction. I’m interested in how Russians teach foreign language compared to how Americans teach foreign language,” he said. At the end of the program, students present digital deliverables of their research.
Garoffolo’s passion for teaching Russian stemmed from his experience in the TU Russian Studies program. “They teach conversation-based Russian,” he said. “From the first day I stepped in the classroom, I had to pronounce words I’d never seen before.” By listening and interacting with Russian news broadcasts, music and movies, students not only get immersed in the language but also the culture.
Russian Studies also includes Russian-focused history classes. In a survey of the Russian Revolution, Garoffolo said, “I came away with a completely different perspective on something that I thought I knew pretty well. Dr. Bradley flipped my notion of what I thought it was on its head.”
As a double major in finance and Russian Studies, Garoffolo noticed that no one ever asked him why he studied finance, but Russian always prompted questions. “There is a ton of misunderstanding, especially in my generation, between what Americans think Russia is and what Russia actually is,” he said.
Preconceived notions about Russia are often cast aside freshman year for those in the Russian Studies program. “If you have enough patience with yourself, believe in yourself and do the work, you come out with a whole new perspective on not only who Russians are as a people but also what the language is,” he said.
Garoffolo wants to fill the gap between the impression of Russians and the reality. “The Fulbright honed in on what I really want to do right now — help our two countries get closer together.”