St. Olaf College | News

A summer at a Russian news desk

Cameron Judge-Becker ’17 is one of a number of St. Olaf students who spent their summer working or interning abroad.

On the first day of his summer internship at Russia Direct, a news outlet in Moscow, St. Olaf College student Cameron Judge-Becker ’17 was told by a colleague that “it’s a fun place to work because we are accused of being both CIA and SVR.”

And that, Judge-Becker quickly realized, is the news site’s true challenge: providing expert-oriented analysis of events and developments concerning Russia and the United States while simultaneously avoiding being labeled as “Western propaganda” or a “Kremlin mouthpiece.”

“This can be an extremely delicate dance when the current political atmosphere is so volatile, with headlines of economic sanctions, proxy wars, and blacklists dominating both American and Russian media,” Judge-Becker wrote in a piece for the site describing his first week on the job.

Striking the right balance also required overcoming his own stereotypes about Russia and its people, which Judge-Becker says a summer working in the country helped him do.

Judge-Becker is one of a number of St. Olaf students who spent their summer working or interning abroad, an experience in line with the college’s commitment to helping students become knowledgeable world citizens.

Defying Western stereotypes
An analytical media outlet focused on U.S.-Russia relations, Russia Direct features original reporting and writing by a wide variety of experts around the world who deliver insight that is often missing from the contemporary media landscape. The nature of the outlet itself, Judge-Becker notes, defies most Western stereotypes of Russian media.

During his time at Russia Direct, Judge-Becker performed a variety of tasks, from voice-overs for the “RD News Minute” videos to proofreading news pieces to assisting with upcoming infographics. He also had the opportunity to interview Russian political and scientific experts in and around Moscow.

The staff of Russia Direct, a news outlet in Moscow where St. Olaf student Cameron Judge-Becker ’17 interned for the summer.

“I’ve analyzed topics I previously knew little about, such as Arctic competition, Russian mass surveillance technology, Eurasian immigration, and FIFA corruption,” Judge-Becker says, noting that editors and writers at Russia Direct assigned him challenging tasks and made him feel like an equal counterpart, shattering many perceptions of Russia that he was told before he set foot in the country.

Almost everyone he met in Moscow was also anxious to bridge the cultural gap, showing Judge-Becker aspects of Russia that might not be shown in American media stories and challenging the notion that most Russians are closed and private people.

Learning beyond the classroom
Judge-Becker, who is majoring in political science and Russian language at St. Olaf, says interning abroad offers students majoring in a language — or any discipline, really — the chance to see the “real world” beyond the classroom studies. It also enable students to use the skills they have learned in college to enact real, positive change throughout their surroundings, wherever that may be.

And perhaps most importantly, he says, is that the length of time spent abroad can become the biggest factor in breaking down misconceptions and building up real understanding.

“A short trip could serve to confirm stereotypes. With more time, however, friendships form and experience builds up, and the travelers can begin to understand how skewed their ‘knowledge’ of the country was,” he says.

Judge-Becker will return to Russia this fall to continue his Russian language studies at Novgorod State University