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Faith ’14 awarded first Gates Scholarship for study abroad

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    Rachel Faith '14 is sitting in the lap of Mikhail Chemiakin’s Peter the Great statue at Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, Russia.
    Courtesy Rachel Faith

For Rachel Faith ’14, attending William & Mary offered the opportunity to fulfill not one, not two, but three lifelong dreams:  studying the Russian and Chinese languages, studying abroad in Russia and China and using these experiences as stepping stones to a career in linguistic interpretation.

Her aspirations received an enormous boost last fall when she became the university’s first-ever recipient of the Gates Scholarship for study abroad, donated by Chancellor Robert M. Gates and his wife Rebecca. Faith spent the fall in Russia and is in China for the spring semester.

“An important part of realizing this dream is leaving the classroom and studying abroad in Russia and China in order to better understand these languages and the cultures woven into them,” Faith explained.

A double major in Chinese language and literature and global studies concentrating in Russian and post-Soviet studies, Faith strategically chose her studies knowing that China’s emergence as a world power and the United States’ close yet complicated relationship with Russia would keep up continued demands for linguistic interpreters in the future.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to award outstanding students like Rachel with the Gates Scholarship, which we hope will inspire and foster future leaders in the fields of international relations, foreign diplomacy and other global endeavors,” said Molly DeStafney, assistant director for study abroad operations in the Global Education Office at the Reves Center for International Studies.

For Faith, being awarded the Gates Scholarship has reminded her of a very important aspect of language education.

“Any and every language which I learn should be thought of as a global study, and not looked at in isolation from the languages and countries around it,” she said.

“In order to truly understand a foreign country or language, one must also understand its place in the greater world. With the aid of the Gates Scholarship, I will be able to bring my understanding of Russian and Chinese to a higher, more international level.”

With a goal to be able to interpret from Chinese to Russian, and Russian to Chinese, without the use of the English language, Faith hopes to achieve what many consider the pinnacle of linguistic interpretation. Understanding every tone and nuance of a given language is mandatory for such processes.

“Culture and history dictate and create phrases and idioms, grammatical and lexical forms of politeness and offense, dialects, slang, word connotations, and the evolution of language into its modern form,” explained Faith. “Understanding all of these things is absolutely essential for accurate and professional interpreting.

Yet Faith’s time abroad incorporates more than just language immersion. Independent study conducted in Russia allowed her to conduct several oral history interviews within the framework of the Russian Movie Theater Project, an ongoing project collecting oral histories about the cinema and movie-going in Russia. It gave her the opportunity to attend the Moscow International Film Festival as part of a film studies internship.

“Rachel spent the fall semester at Russia's top university, Moscow State University, studying Russian language and culture,” noted Alexander Prokhorov, associate professor of Russian studies. “In the winter she designed a questionnaire to interview a Russian film historian, Dr. Sergei Kapterev, about the oldest Moscow movie theater, Khudozhestvennyi.”

The theater’s long history makes it a prime landmark for study.

“The Khudozhestvennyi has been around for so long, it has the ability to give us a wider, more cohesive picture of the progression of cinema throughout the Soviet era,” noted Faith. “Through it, we might also be able to get a clearer look at the relations and struggles between the state and the cinema industry than would be possible through interviews with people who just attended the cinema.”

For Faith, meeting Gates and thanking him in person for this award would be a highlight of her time at William and & Mary.

“I would want to ask him what kind of experience he had while studying Russian and Soviet history for his doctorate,” Faith said. “I was extremely interested to learn that he and I share a common interest in Russia, and would absolutely love to hear what the process was like for him, and how his interest in and knowledge of Russia played a role in his later careers.”

Robert M. and Rebecca W. Gates Scholarships are merit-based awards for outstanding students majoring in international relations or global studies. Awards are available for semester and summer study abroad programs. The deadline for applications for study abroad in summer 2013 is Feb. 15, 2013.