Professor of the Week: Alla Grikurova
Name: Alla Grikurova
Department: Foreign Languages
Classes: Russian 102 and 202
When did you first start working at UAF?
“It was the fall of 1990.”
Where were you before that?
“In Saint Petersburg, [Russia].”
Was this your first teaching job?
“No, I taught before, but it wasn’t Russian. I actually taught English there when I graduated. It was still Leningrad, by the way, at that time.”
Why did you choose to come to the U.S.?
“Actually, I pretty much followed my husband, because he applied to do a PhD. It was a space physics program with the Geophysical Institute. … He worked in Russia for the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, so he was involved in polar research.”
What is the biggest difference that you see between Russian students and American students?
“It’s certainly more relaxed here. The students here are much less formal. The whole environment in the classroom at the university is less formal. You cannot just be late, for instance, in a Russian classroom and just open the door and sit down. It doesn’t happen in Russia. You have to knock on the door, and say ‘I am sorry I’m late’, and you will be harassed so much, you will never be late again. So it just takes only one time. (laughs)”
What qualities do you think make a good student?
“I think those who are actually serious about their studies; who know what they want to do, regardless of their major. I have a lot of students who are not majoring in Russian studies but those who know what they want from the university experience make good students. Those who are willing to learn and who don’t give themselves too many breaks, and maybe don’t have a lot of this sense of entitlement. … The less of that feeling that you have, the better student that you become.”
How do you organize your lectures?
“It’s not really a lecture-type class. Even if I explain certain topics, it takes some part of the class time, but then it’s all collaborative work. … I try to make it, in a way, entertaining, so that it wouldn’t be just a lecture or just grammatical explanations.
What do you like about working at UAF?
“Well, I actually came to like this informal environment. I think that if, for instance, I went back to St. Petersburg, and would apply for a job at the university, it would be a huge adjustment for me now. Because I would have to dive back into this very formal culture of the university environment.”
Do you have any funny stories from when you were adjusting to the U.S.?
“My English was better [than my husband’s] when we arrived because it was my major. As far as physics and his major, he was okay, but he was buying me ‘ear muffins’ instead of ear muffs in the stores. He asks for ‘baggy dogs’ instead of ‘doggy bags’ in restaurants. Or, ordering ‘humble eggs’ instead of ‘scrambled eggs.’ For ‘tow truck’, he was spelling, T-O-E truck, because Russian doesn’t have this feature. Russian is very phonetic.”
What are the advantages of getting a minor or major in a foreign language?
“It’s strange to me that it’s not done here in secondary schools as a mandatory program. … In Russia everybody starts a foreign language in the fourth grade, and it’s not just a couple years. It opens another window in how other people think because language is culture, and culture is language. I think you would be a better citizen of the world if you take a foreign language. And take it seriously, not just one semester – it doesn’t really get you anywhere. First year, 101 and 102, this is just a glimpse. If you really want to be proficient in a language, you have to take a few years.”