UCF professor revives Russian studies

Almost 20 years ago, UCF shut down the Russian language program after the department’s professor left. Students weren’t able to minor in Russian until Alla Kourova pushed for its return — 11 years later.

“People ask me what I do for a hobby. Teaching is my hobby; teaching is my job; teaching is my life,” said Kourova, who graduated from Moscow State University with a doctorate in English as a Second Language.

With more than two decades of teaching experience under her belt, Kourova came to UCF to work in the field of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, also known as TESOL. The program helps international professionals with multiple language proficiencies, like Kourova, connect to students who want to learn English as a second language.

After two years as a TESOL teacher at the university, she realized there was a void to be filled: UCF hadn’t had a Russian language course since 1999.

Now, she single-handedly teaches all Russian language classes, runs the summer STARTALK program — a grant-based program that gives community members tuition-free access to Russian language courses — advises the UCF Russian Club and much more.

“Of course I want to see another teacher working with me,” Kourova said. “I want more — more classes, more opportunities for the students.”

Kourova said it’s important for her to connect with her students, whether that means taking them on study-abroad trips or hosting Russian tea time sessions in her office.

And with the addition of Advanced Russian, a new Russian language class at UCF, she has been making an extra effort to be more accessible to her students as they continue their education.

UCF senior Jake Kremer is one of dozens of Knights who signed a student-initiated petition to establish the class.

“After intermediate Russian, I was looking to further my education anyway, whether that be Rosetta Stone or online,” Kremer said. “So, when I heard this class was going to be possible, I joined without hesitation.”

At the beginning of each semester, Kourova asks her students to write down three words that come to mind when they think of Russia.

“It was always the same words: vodka, red and arctic,” Kourova said. “I realized no one knows anything about Russia, not really. There are so [many] cultural values to be told.” .

With growing interest in the Russian language at UCF, Kourova thought of another way to reach out to students.

In August, her new book, “Picturing Russia: A Research Guide to Russian Culture,” hit the shelves. The publication covers core values, traditions and cultural aspects of Russian life, including marriage, names, religion and music.

Kourova’s undergraduate research team, who helped with the book, includes UCF alumni Irina Piderejna and Anna Ramirez as well as UCF student Brooke Sarley. Through diligent research and writing, the trio connected Russian life to American life, thereby creating relatable content for readers.

“We all have the same values, but we just think about them in different ways,” Kourova said. “…that’s where my undergrad research team helped, from marriage to religion, or even names. They could tell what it is that is different.”

Russian Club President Amanda Ans said from the start of it all, Kourova has been a source of encouragement to her students.

“I had a little interest when I started college, but Dr. Kourova really pushed me,” Ans said. “She does as much as she can to grow the program here and. It’s just so beneficial.”

Kourova has been invited to speak about her new book at the Russian Embassy in D.C. on Sept. 22. Ans and Kremer are currently working together to spread the word and recruit new students to continue the growth of the UCF Russian language program.