Fulbright scholar takes inspiration from USFSP back to Russia
When Elena Plakhina wakes up every morning, she writes. She has been filling diary pages with short stories of her daily experiences ever since she arrived in St. Petersburg as a Fulbright Scholarship recipient.
“I haven’t missed even one day,” said Plakhina. It’s a different routine from the one she had back in her home, but the city fascinates her.
She describes the color of the vegetation in detail and has been able to keep up with the blue jays and woodpeckers as they speed past her camera lens. She has also begun to collect photographs of the downtown infrastructure, emphasizing the contrast of color design throughout the city.
“I like that the University is part of the urban space. It’s not separated. It’s a natural part of it all,” explains Plakhina. She is an associate professor in the journalism department from the University of Tyumen in Russian. The scholar has not only been a devoted notetaker of her surroundings but has become an observer of class lectures on campus.
Plakhina’s semester project focuses on creating a new syllabus for her media design course.
“My role is to absorb and try and find new methodologies and techniques to teach my course and sometimes I’m surprised at how easy it is to make lessons interesting for students,” Plakhina said.
She is interested in adopting American academic approaches to teaching. She finds it crucial for her and other professors to keep up with students’ interest in current digital journalism trends as well as educating them on the importance of globalization.
“I need to offer my students something interesting and new,” she said.
The 39-year-old professor has been working at the University of Tyumen for 13 years offering courses related to contemporary foreign journalism, broadcasting news and media design.
Her curiosity and understanding of communication drove her to believe that whatever you create has to be guarded and observed from beginning to end. Plakhina media design, for example, should always be interconnected with a writer’s intention.
When she was a full-time journalist, Plakhina wrote a feature about the experiences of her grandfather during World War II. She wanted to link the imagery of a field of wildflower blossoms they passed during a car trip together with his personal story.
“I imagined the flower as a treasure, the soul of a young man in a tragic situation and the combination of that with nature,” Plakhina said. She titled her story, “Chamomile.”
“When I turn the page to see my printed news story, I see thick black letters,” she said. “And this headline just killed the entire idea of the article. The design is crucial to creating a perception… Every journalist should follow the results of their creation.”
Plakhina began her university studies as a literature major. By the end of her academic year, she had explored the field of broadcast journalism and joined the staff of a local morning news channel.
“I wasn’t too ambitious to stay in television,” she said laughing.
“When I started university there was no journalism department. We tried to always do something related to the profession, and, during that time, events kept pushing me more into this field.”
Plakhina became a full-time journalist before teaching at UT because she had received an invitation to write about a children’s summer camp devoted to ancient Greece. Plakhina, who considers herself a history lover, took the suggestion from professors of the Moscow State University as a sign.
“After that, I just began writing and writing,” she said.
In 2016, she won a technical and economic cooperation program grant and fulfilled a fourteen-week internship at the Aptech training institute in New Delhi, India. The training course, called “Graphic Design & English Communication,” was part of a program run by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Government.
Two months after returning to Tyumen, she took notice of a Fulbright grant application link on UT’s website. When she read that USFSP was a participating university, she immediately sent her application.
“I didn’t do much research about this city. Just sent the application and waited. It was exciting.”
“The only thing that came to mind was that Mark Twain used the name for a book set in Mississippi,” she added.
It took Plakhina a year to send all the tests and essays required to finish the application process. She was selected amongst participants from all over Russia and admits to having found the needed material challenging to write in English.
“It was a surprise that they chose me,” she said.
Plakhina visited a coffee social held Sept. 6 at the Poynter Library. There, she met Galina Gorelenkova, a 25-year-old student from Moscow who is graduating in December.
“It was such a big surprise to see her there,” Plakhina said. “We exchanged contacts and decided to meet one day and share our experiences here. The event was a useful medium.”
For Angelica Rodriguez Jimenez, the international student advisor, the importance of events like the meet up allow the campus community to embrace globalization.
“All of our students and professors have such a unique perspective of the world,” Jimenez said. “That’s something that is definitely worth sharing, experiencing and making possible for them. Often this leads to exciting anecdotes and stories that connect people who would’ve never met back home.”
As Plakhina continues developing her course syllabus the opportunity to capture more memories of St. Petersburg are close to her heart.
She especially appreciates the shoreline.
“The ocean is perfect,” Plakhina said. “It can make me relax, and I would like to try and paint something here. I’m always looking for inspiration, and I’ve found it.”
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