Russia: Open for Business

A Duke alum returns to talk about careers in Russia, Eastern Europe

While a Duke undergraduate studying the language and literature of Russia, Lucy Stringer Rojansky got some good advice from her professors.Their message: Don't choose the career path they had.

"My advisers told me not to be a Russian literature doctoral student because there were no jobs," Rojansky recalled. "But I still loved the language."

Rojansky took their advice, eschewing the traditional academic career track other students of Slavic and Eurasian studies have pursued. Instead, she took advantage of a changing, more accessible Russia and found work with the U.S.-Russia Business Council.

She will return to Duke next week to share her experiences at one of a series of events the Slavic and Eurasian Studies department is holding to urge students to think broadly about their career options.

She'll speak at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19 in 320 Languages.

In Rojansky's view, there's a world of opportunity outside academia for students with language and culture expertise.

"Russian language and literature classes might seem like a dead end, but there are real careers in the policy world," said Rojansky, who has worked both for the U.S.-Russia Business Council and the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council. "I really wanted to do something that played into the new reality of Russia, which is that it is open for business."

In Slavic and Eurasian Studies, department chairwoman Beth Holmgren hopes Rojansky's words ring true. Her department, which offers culture and language training in Russian, Polish, Turkish, Romanian and Uzbek, has shifted gears as academic careers in those disciplines have decreased.

"We academics cannot afford to reproduce ourselves," she said. "It's shortsighted and old fashioned. The world now is wide open. In business, development, non-governmental organizations, there's myriad things students can do."

Rojansky is the second Duke alumna with work experience in Eastern Europe to speak to students in this department. Kathleen Horst, a doctor who worked in global public health in Central Asia, spoke on campus in January. And Holmgren hopes to continue recruiting alumni to share their advice and experiences.

Rojansky graduated from Duke in 2003 with a strong foundation in Russian language and culture, and she went on to earn a master's degree in Russian & East European and Eurasian Studies from Stanford University. But the difference-maker became the year she spent in Russia soon after graduating from Duke. That was the crash course in true Russian culture that set her apart when she went looking for jobs in business and government.

In recent years, Russia has become far more accessible to U.S. business thanks in large part to its new membership in the World Trade Organization and some stronger regulation after the wild west days of the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Companies once wary of doing business in Russia have recently begun to view it as a market they can’t afford to ignore, Rojansky says.

As a result, they're hiring.

"For U.S. companies in Russian, the hardest thing to handle is the growth," Rojansky says. "There's so much demand for their products and services, they can't keep up."