Meet Our Team
The School of Russian and Asian Studies is an international team. Each of us has personally studied within the Russian educational system and traveled within Eurasia, giving us first-hand knowledge of this specific geographic area. We’ve built relationships and a network of contacts that help our students not only with academic programs, but also to travel, seek jobs, pursue hobbies, and more – and not only while abroad, but long after the program ends. We at SRAS are here to help you realize the goals you set for yourself.
Renee Stillings Director
Renee first visited the Soviet Union in 1990 to study at MGU after graduating from Boston University with a BS in Biomedical Engineering. After working at a technical translation company in Boston, she returned to Moscow in 1992 for permanent residence until 1998. During that time she worked in the Russian financial markets and eventually founded SRAS as well as co-founded Alinga Consulting Group. Renee is now based in Woodside, CA with her family and continues to travel frequently not only to SRAS sites, but throughout the world and with eyes open for new ideas in education abroad.
Josh Wilson Assistant Director and General Editor
Josh has lived in Moscow since 2003, when he first arrived to study Russian at MGU through SRAS. He holds an M.A. in Theatre and a B.A. in History from Idaho State University, where his masters thesis was written on the political economy of Soviet-era censorship organs affecting the stage. At SRAS, Josh assists in program development and leads our Home and Abroad Programs. He is also the editor-in-chief for the SRAS newsletter, the SRAS Family of Sites, and Vestnik: The Journal of Russian and Asian Studies. In addition, he serves as Communications Director to Alinga Consulting Group and has served as a consultant or translator to several businesses and organizations with interests in Russia.
Lisa Horner Program Consultant, Institutional Relations
Lisa, to the perplexity of her German-rooted family, graduated from Reed College with a BA in Russian Literature. After attending SRAS’s Translation Abroad Program (now part of our Home and Abroad Programs), she went on to accept positions with SRAS and Alinga Consulting Group. Lisa was then promoted within SRAS and is now leading our institutional relations efforts, helping to develop new programs and partnerships. She is also the primary contact during the program selection process, helping students navigate the opportunities they have through SRAS relative to their academic, professional, and personal interests and objectives. She also studied previously at Smolny Institute in St. Petersburg and currently resides in Minneapolis, MN.
April Djakoniya Student Services and Operations Manager
April first traveled to Russia in 1996 when she was a student at Georgetown University. A few months turned into a few years and several cities in Russia before she returned to the US and and completed her B.S. and M.S. in Communications at Northwestern University. April has worked with several international organizations in both the U.S. and abroad including the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), the U.S. Consulate, American Library Association and Upwardly Global. She also has experience in higher education administration. In 2013, April returned to St. Petersburg, Russia where she resides with her family. She enjoys the daily discoveries that come with living abroad and strives to facilitate authentic cultural experiences for visitors. At SRAS, April oversees the development and delivery of student services and operations across our locations. She also contributes to program innovations and development of faculty-led programming.
Meilin “Mei” Liou Zarnitsyna Academic Oversight Manager and Production Editor
Mei holds a BA in Philosophy from Boston University and is ABD in the PhD program in Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She took up Russian as a hobby in graduate school and, after completing SRAS’s Translation Abroad program (now part of our Home and Abroad Programs), moved to St. Petersburg, where she lived and worked as a translator, editor, freelance writer, writing coach, and English teacher. Mei has taught university and high school students (in Philosophy, English, Film Studies, Russian, and German) since 2007. She enjoys helping students to sharpen their critical thinking and writing skills, use writing to deepen their study abroad experience, and find their voices. Besides St. Petersburg, she has also lived in Berlin and Kangshan, Taiwan. She is currently based in Chicago, with her husband and their cat, Begemot.
Katarzyna Maniszewska Warsaw School Director
Dr. Maniszewska is an expert in security issues as well as a journalist and philologist. Her research focuses on the history and development of political extremism and terrorism with particular emphasis on media coverage of terrorism. She is a member of the Scientific Board of the Terrorism Research Centre and lecturer at Collegium Civitas University, Warsaw, Poland. Her academic publications include two books on the history of terrorism as well as numerous papers devoted to subject such as the role of the media (incl. the Internet and social media) in the strategies of terrorist organizations. In her papers she points out the significance of media-literacy and public education in enhancing the traditional counterterrorism measures. Dr. Maniszewska is the Vice-Rector for International Relations at Collegium Civitas.
Sergey Fedorov St. Petersburg Culture Coordinator
Sergei was born and raised in Siberia. He graduated from the Department of Philology at St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) State University with degrees in English Language and English and American Literature. He worked for a few years as a teacher of English in a secondary school before becoming a licensed tour guide, which has been his primary profession for the last two decades. Sergei loves living in St. Petersburg’s “suburbs” – combining an active country life with all the opportunities that a big, cultural city offers. He is a great fan of the Russian banya and enjoys cross-country skiing.
Evgenia Obryadina St. Petersburg Student Coordinator
Evgenia holds a degree in Russian and English Philology from Northern Arctic Federal University in Arkhangelsk. She has lived in St Petersburg for the past seven years. Evgenia coordinates student adaptaion and activities in St Petersburg for SRAS and works as an exchange student coordinator at St Petersburg State University of Economics. She speaks English and strives to improve her German with varying success. Evgenia enjoys writing short, creative articles about cultural life and traditions in Russia. Aside from work, she enjoys playing the piano, listening to music, and being out in nature.
Alex Sitnikov Moscow Student Coordinator
Alex holds a BA in Teaching Russian as a Foreign Language (RFL) and is currently on his way to get an MA in Translation. He came to Moscow from Tolyatti to study at Lomonosov Moscow State University in 2013 and has been in love with the city ever since. Alex coordinates student activities in Moscow for SRAS. When he’s not occupied with that, Alex likes to play guitar, sing, read, play videogames, and make YouTube videos.
Elena Varshavskaya Art Program Director
Elena holds a Ph.D. in art history from the Institute of Fine Art at the State Academy of Art in Moscow. Having worked for the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg as a researcher and lecturer for over two decades, Elena moved to the US where she now teaches art history at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and Eastern Connecticut State University. Her course offerings embrace European, Russian and Asian art with an emphasis on early 20th century Russian art and Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. A published author and an exhibition curator, at SRAS Elena directs the program Art & Museums in Russia hosted by the Hermitage each summer.
Mikhail Rybalko Irkutsk Student Coordinator
Mikhail Rybalko graduated from Texas Tech University in 2014 with a PhD in Political Science. He also holds a Russian Candidate’s Degree in History from Irkutsk State University. Mikhail has also studied in New Zealand, Hungary, and Lithuania. He is currently an instructor in History and International Relations at Irkutsk State University. He actively participates in the life of Irkutsk as a member of a number of ethnic and civil organizations. Mikhail is widely traveled and is very enthusiastic about introducing Russian cultural life to SRAS students. Mikhail coordinates SRAS student arrivals, travels, and activities in Irkutsk.
Yulia Epifanova Vladivostok Student Coordinator
Yulia holds degrees in International Relations and Tourism from Vladivostok State University of Economics and Service. She speaks English and is learning Korean. She now works in the International and Cultural Affairs Department of International Academic Mobility Office and coordinates SRAS student services in Vladivostok. Her key responsibilities are students’ orientation and adaptation, excursion programs, and cultural activities. She loves to work with foreign students and visiting scholars and delegates, contributing to the development of VSUES international relations.
Kendje Aitikeeva Advisor, Bishkek Coordinator
Kendje holds an MA in Linguistics from Kyrgyz Humanitarian University and a BA in Teaching English from Kyrgyz English College. She is also a certified teacher of Russian as a Foreign Language. She has traveled extensively, including to the United States, and enjoys meeting people participating in cross-cultural projects. Kendje co-founded and has served as the director of the London School of Bishkek since 1998 and has been involved in education in the former Soviet Union since 1986. She now serves as an advisor to SRAS on Central Asia and oversees and manages our Central Asian programs.
Andrei Nesterov Writer, Internship Coordinator
Andrei Nesterov has reported on political and social issues for the Russian press as well as American outlets such as Russian Life, Worldpress.org, and Triangle Free Press. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the “real Russia” which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and went on to study TESOL and teach Russian at West Virginia University. He is currently working on an PhD from West Virginia University in Political Science. Andrei contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS site, and is an overall linguistics and research resource.
I wanted to find a program that combined my love of Russia and my passion for environmental studies. Because of my interest in environmental issues, Lake Baikal had always been a site of interest to me. Studying abroad in Siberia gives you the opportunity to see a completely different side of Russia and the Russian people. Just think, few people at home even know that Siberia is anything but a wintery tundra!
I’ve studied in Irkutsk and St. Petersburg with SRAS, but [Bishkek] is, by far, my favorite because of the intense focus on speaking skills. I spend about three hours, 4 times a week speaking one-on-one. It’s such a unique opportunity! The people are also especially friendly here. My homestay is fantastic, the coordinator is a never-ending wealth of help, and the food of Central Asia is delicious.
At a time in my life when I was at a crossroads regarding where my career might take me, this course showed me a path that truly inspired me, and I haven’t looked back since.
My semester back home so far has been incredibly influenced by my semester abroad with SRAS and I find myself talking about it almost daily. Since many of my classes touch on the region (Europe after Socialism, Central Asian Politics), I’m able to add comments and insights unavailable to me before. My contributions to our Russian club have also been greatly enriched. Thank you for everything you did to facilitate this experience and going out of your way to ensure our success.
I spent Fall and Spring with your program in St. Petersburg and it was truly the highlight and culmination of my University experience and just a banner year! I can’t thank you enough for or gush enough about your program. I recommend it to just about everyone I talk to, whether or not they’re interested in learning Russian.
The program here is wonderful. All of my teachers have been extremely helpful and I have made friends both here in the dorms and with others who live in the city and find that I often have many opportunities to practice Russian outside of the classroom. The university also has a speaking club which is comprised of both Russian and foreign students solely for the purpose of speaking practice in Russian. Already I feel that my Russian has improved immensely,especially my listening and speaking.