Jan. 26 marked the 39th anniversary of Bella Ginzbursky-Blum’s immigration to the United States from the Soviet Union. She has vivid memories of that journey with her family to New York when she was a teenager.
“Arriving in the United States was incredible,” said Ginzbursky-Blum, a senior lecturer of Russian studies at William & Mary. “It was exhausting. It was disorienting. It was scary. It was a lot of things.”
That passage opened up many opportunities for Ginzbursky-Blum and led to a long and rewarding career at W&M. She has been a part of the William & Mary Russian and Post-Soviet Studies Program for 27 years as a lecturer and advisor, and she was rewarded for her work with the 2019 Excellence in Teaching (Post-Secondary) Award from the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages.
Ginzbursky-Blum will accept the award Feb. 7 during the AATSEEL annual conference in San Diego, California.
“Bella is the first member of the W&M faculty ever to receive this prestigious national award,” said Russian and Post-Soviet Studies Program Director Alexander Prokhorov. “It is a nationwide recognition of Bella’s contributions to teaching Russian in this country. We, her colleagues in Modern Languages and Russian and Post-Soviet Studies, are very happy for and proud of our beloved colleague.”
Ginzbursky-Blum received ample support from her peers at W&M, which made winning the award particularly special.
“It feels wonderful,” she said. “After giving this many years to the profession, it's incredibly rewarding, but I'm also incredibly honored because it's my colleagues from across the nation who nominated me. My colleagues wrote letters of nomination on my behalf for this award, and it's a wonderful feeling to feel valued and respected.”
Elena Prokhorova, director of Russian studies, said Ginzbursky-Blum’s impact is felt in many ways, from her role as director of the W&M study abroad program in St. Petersburg, Russia, to her work as advisor to the Russian Language House since its opening in 2002 and advisor to the W&M chapter of the Dobro Slovo National Honor Society, which she started in 1994.
“Bella is a superb teacher, a dedicated mentor and academic advisor and an exemplary colleague contributing to the internationalization mission on William & Mary’s campus and beyond,” Prokhorova said.
Ginzbursky-Blum was in graduate school in New York when she became interested in teaching Russian.
“I learned that it was really amazing to interact with learners, and I also had an amazing professor who taught pedagogical courses and courses that had to do with linguistics, the structure of the Russian language and the history of the Russian Language,” she said. “I was really inspired by her and her work.”
Ginzbursky-Blum came to William & Mary in the fall of 1992, and it didn’t take her long to feel right at home.
“It was kind of a dream place for me to work,” she said. “Honestly, it has exceeded all my expectations. From my very first year, I got very connected to the program and the students and the classes, and it has been wonderful ever since.”
During her time at William & Mary, Ginzbursky-Blum has taught classes at all levels of Russian language, including some in which only Russian is spoken and written, as well as Russian Myths and Legends and Soviet Animation.
“I would say that the Russian and Post-Soviet Studies program is like a little gem at William & Mary,” Ginzbursky-Blum said. “We are a small program, but I believe a very successful program. A number of our students have gone on to Ph.D. programs. A number of our students have gotten Fulbright Scholarships to teach English. Our students just continue to amaze us every year.”
Ginzbursky-Blum said her AATSEEL award is validation for all her work, and it also serves as motivation to continue to provide the best educational experience for W&M students.
“This is a great honor,” she said. “AATSEEL is one of our two major professional organizations in the United States, and to win an award from such an organization is humbling.”