Perceptions of the Russian National Character by Young Americans: An Insight into National Identification in a Multi-Cultural Environment

Nataliya Getmanenko, Brigham Young University

Cultures do not talk to each other; individuals do.
Scollon, R.,& Scollon, S.W.

This presentation summarizes findings of research conducted on the issue of national cross-identification (prevailing ideas and perceptions of a national character by another culture). The question of how peoples of the post-Soviet world self identify, and how they are perceived by others is a timely one. The Russian-speaking world has experienced the ongoing major historical change during the past almost 20 years. This project focuses on how the Russian national character is perceived and identified by young American university students of Russian language and culture. Its goal is, first, to elicit and analyze these perceptions, and, second, to demonstrate inherent difficulties in the process of national identification exemplified by the divergence of individual subjective perception from the overall group opinion.

Research subjects were 252 US university students of Russian language and cultural history (6 academic classes) that had lived in all the regions of Russia, other C.I.S. countries or the Baltic states for a continuous period of at least six to seven months during 1999 – 2004. Research was conducted from the summer of 2002 through the winter of 2004. Research included two phases. The first phrase comprised a survey in which the participants were asked to identify eight principal characteristics of the Russian national character. Subsequently, group discussion included active discussion and comparative analysis of the information obtained in different groups. Every survey produced an average total of 40-50 different principal national character traits, some of them recurring, some unique to individual participants. I summed up each survey, ranking the eight most frequently recurring characteristics. All the participants in the survey took part in the subsequent discussion groups. I led the discussion. I organized the discussion around two principal assignments. First, the participants were asked to compare their individual list of eight principal characteristics against their integrated group opinion, and, second, to compare their integrated group opinion against the integrated group opinion of the immediately preceding research group. The information obtained from all groups will be presented in a table.

This research project was conducted as an integrated part of the class work and homework by the students of Russian Cultural History (taught in Russian) at the beginning of each semester/term. It helped the professor to set the right priorities in developing and adjusting the efficient teaching and mentoring plans best adapted to the needs of the specific group of students This methodology gives the students an opportunity to see the dynamics of the change in perceptions of the Russian national character by their peers over the past four years. For example, the two latest groups of participants indicated drinking, reticence, etc. among the principal character traits, which was not characteristic of the perceptions in earlier groups. This research project is both a good methodological and a cognitive and analytical tool. It teaches awareness of the essentially subjective and fluid nature of national cross-identification, and the importance of its validation by group opinions, both contemporaneously and over time.


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Scollon, R.,& Scollon, S.W. Intercultural Communication. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell; works by: Barker, Chris; Blot, Richard K.; Tracy, Karen; others; 1957.