Morgan Richardson (BA ’15) received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Fellowship for 2015-2016. In the fall, she will move to Kazan, Russia, to begin teaching English at The Institute of Economics, Management and Law. She was chosen to be one of only 25 Americans currently working in Russia through the Fulbright program.
Richardson, a Tulsa native, graduated last May with a BA degree in Russian studies and political science, with a minor in French.
When Richardson entered TU, she wanted to learn a new, unique language. Richardson was already bilingual, having studied French in high school, and she wanted to acquire a third language that would challenge her. After she heard about TU’s Russian studies program, she chose the language for its “mysteriousness.” Richardson said she fell in
love with the language and culture almost immediately, and that love eventually led her to declare Russian studies as one of her majors. She spent her junior spring semester studying in St. Petersburg. While she was there, Richardson took five classes and became fully immersed in Russian culture, an experience she describes as being “like a dream.”
As an African American, Richardson said she expected some culture shock but was surprised by the lack of diversity in Russia.
“Coming from one of the most diverse schools in America, it was initially hard to adjust to the lack of diversity there,” Richardson explained. “You hear about Russia being ethnically diverse, but they are all just different shades of white. There was no way I could blend in!”
Richardson said she was uncomfortable by the many over-the-shoulder glances on the transit system, children staring and pointing, and people turning around to get a better look at her.
“Something as basic and elemental as skin pigmentation singled me out wherever I went,” Morgan said. “I suffocated in my skin; skin that I previously adored. At the time I didn’t understand their curiosity and became very angry.”
This anger prompted Richardson to do more research on racism in Russia. She soon realized that, rather than having negative feelings toward black people, most Russians are just curious, since they rarely see people with darker skin tones. As a culture, Russians tend to be unfriendly toward strangers, which made the attention even more uncomfortable.
In one of Richardson’s blog posts from her time in St. Petersburg, she wrote, “There are surprisingly large differences between typical Russian and American behaviors. It’s
not that Russians are rude, or that we Americans are stupid. Rather, the reasons for our distinct behaviors are rooted in historical differences.”
Despite these challenges, Richardson loved her time in Russia so much that she applied for the Fulbright ETA fellowship to spend another year there. She
said she found that, once she broke down the barriers and got to know them, Russians are some of the kindest people anywhere.
“There is a saying that Russians are like nuts. They are tough, but once you crack them, they are yours,” she laughed.
Richardson says she gained a lot of independence and confidence while in Russia, and she hopes her time in Kazan will prepare her for a potential future
working as a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Department of State. “My dream is to be a Russian Studies master,” she explains. Richardson is on her way toward that dream. When she returns from
Russia, she will enter the graduate Russian studies program at Indiana University on full scholarship.