To Russia with Love: UCF student interns abroad

Through much of February, the world will focus its attention on Russia for the winter Olympics in Sochi. But Shannon Payne, a junior anthropology major, will be focused on Russia even after the fanfare dies down.

Payne will be traveling to Moscow this summer to work in the U.S. embassy as a Department of State intern. As a cultural affairs intern, she will work for 10 weeks doing tasks including preparing remarks for meetings, taking notes, meeting with exchange groups and assisting public affairs officers.

Shannon Payne

Shannon Payne, an anthropology junior, researches and compiles notes as part of her Global Perspectives at UCF spring 2014 internship.

Payne said she’s looking forward to her trip, and is grateful that she won’t be in Russia during the Olympics.

“It’s a little scary, just because this is the first time I’ve really been paying much attention to the politics behind the Olympics, but, I also feel like this is the first time that there’s been so much politics involved in the Olympics,” said Payne. “I feel like this time it’s just one thing on top of another.”

The 2014 Olympics has caused political concerns. According to, Russian law bans communicating to minors the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” Anti-gay laws have resulted in protests regarding the treatment of gay Olympians.

But Payne’s internship begins in May, and by then, the Olympic buzz will have faded. Though, that doesn’t stop Payne and her family from worrying.

“The first thing that my mom said when I called her and told her I got the internship was, ‘oh, I was hoping you wouldn’t get it,’” said Payne. “She doesn’t want me going to Russia. There’s a lot of safety issues; I’m worry about getting robbed; I’m worried about blending in.”

However, Payne should be prepared for the challenges she may face thanks to the education and experience she has received at the University of Central Florida.

Payne is currently in her second semester as an intern for Global Perspectives.

“The Global Perspectives office is sort of all things international,” said Jessica Gagnon, the program’s public affairs coordinator.

Gagnon said that internships are comprised of three pillars: office, research and events. For her research, Payne is studying the European Union and Russia and is creating weekly current event briefs.

If Global Perspectives has prepared her to speak the language of international relations, UCF’s Russian program has prepared her to speak the language of the people.

Payne has taken four semesters of Russian –the most that the school offers. In order to take her language skills further, Payne is considering taking an independent study with Russian professor Alla Kourova in the fall.

“It will be interesting to have an independent study with her because then for myself –she took four semesters in Russian, she spent internship in Russia, and it will be from the point, not only as a professor, but from the point of research even for me to see how she progressed,” said Kourova.

Payne characterizes herself as determined, and if she applies this work ethic, her language progression may be apparent upon her return.

“I just try to give my best; whether it’s in terms of schoolwork or friendship,” said Payne. “I try to give the best that I can, and if I try to do something and it doesn’t work out, at least I tried my hardest –then I can’t really hold it against myself.”

But, she might have to worry about her professor’s expectations.

“I mentioned to Shannon … ‘I’m going to be very hard on you this semester because I don’t want my friends think, “she did not teach you well enough to use Russian,”’” Kourova said.


A Hike in the Homeland

Looking down at my feet, my formerly white sneakers had adjusted to their surroundings. Matching the high walls of sandy mountain rock, my well worn shoes guided me through crevices on a hiking trail just outside of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Sizable pebbles slipped beneath my soles, causing me to question my balance and my decision to voluntarily participate in a two-hour hike. I am not a hiker. I had to purchase a pair of sneakers before traveling to Israel because I had not owned a pair since my feet stopped growing.

Yet on this Saturday morning, I discovered my own bravery, borne out of the nonstop adrenaline I felt from traveling internationally for the first time.

As American Jews traveling through the West Bank, my group was warned of the dangers that local settlements could pose; yet, I drifted with a couple friends along the path briefly ahead of our tour guide. Had we matched their pace, I still would have noticed the herd of goats chewing on a meager supply of desert foliage. However, I might have missed the chance to interview the Arab boy who sat on a rock beside the animals. Through the help of an Arabic-speaking friend I asked how old the boy was, if the herd belonged to him, and where he lived. The boy remained still, answering quickly; the goats were his father’s, they lived nearby and he was tasked to graze them. I inquired if he attended school. My friend translated, turned to me and shook his head, indicating that the boy did not. For 10 days in Israel, I had discovered its land, people, language and lifestyle.

But on the last day of my trip I encountered the face of the West Bank. A young farmer’s son destined one day to become a farmer’s father.

I only witnessed a moment of this 12-year-old boy’s life, a monotonous chore at that, but it was a solemn reminder that Israel is not alone in the Middle East. He watched without interrupting as my group collectively photographed his livestock, standing slightly too close. Even without a translator, I could understand that this did not bother him nor did he bother us. For a brief moment in the desert a group of Americans, Israelis and an Arab all coexisted in a Promised Land.