Graduation Profile: Trip to Ukraine prepares senior for adventure

Taylor Broadfoot is ready to move anywhere after graduation, as long as she gets to put her knowledge of Slavic language and culture to use.

Kiev Ukraine protest camp
Taylor Broadfoot traveled to Ukraine near the start of revolution there this spring. She witnessed up close the protest camp set up in Kiev’s central square. – photo courtesy of Taylor Broadfoot

When Taylor Broadfoot thinks of her most significant achievement while at the University of Kansas, her answer is definitive. Broadfoot, a Wichita senior majoring in Slavic languages and literatures, points to her trip to Ukraine during the early stages of revolution in the country.

About a quarter of students study abroad before they graduate from the University of Kansas. Many more have opportunities to travel abroad for conferences or research experiences. Yet, in all those excursions, very few place students in a country in the midst of a turning point as significant as Ukraine’s revolution.

Fortunately for Broadfoot and the two KU faculty members she traveled with to Ukraine, the revolution was quiet as then-President Viktor Yanukovych had taken an extended sick leave. Yet, the signs of discord were evident throughout Kiev. A notable experience was the group’s visit to Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the city’s center square and headquarters for protesters.

“It was fascinating because they basically built a small city in the middle of this big square in Kiev,” Broadfoot said. “We were only there for three or four days but it was just really interesting being there at such a crucial historical point in Ukraine’s history.”

Taylor Broadfoot in Russia
Taylor Br0adfoot spent several months studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia. One big lesson she learned – it’s not acceptable there to smile at strangers.

Broadfoot also spent five months studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, during her junior year. Both trips abroad are experiences she never would have imagined for herself as an undecided freshman.

“The whole college experience is not just about your education. It’s about you growing as a person,” she said. “Thinking about the person I was when I first moved to KU … [I was] feeling so scared and so alone and not knowing what to do with myself and how to talk to anyone. Now I can just agree, yeah I’ll go to Ukraine for three days. That’s OK. That sounds fun.”

Before she came to KU, Broadfoot was already interested in Russian culture and language. She had become fascinated with the country’s history during high school classes and learned some vocabulary from her sister-in-law, who is from Russia. KU’s strength in Russian studies was one of the factors that led her to choose the university. By her sophomore year, after ruling out majors in art and art history, she decided on her major in Slavic languages and literatures, coupled with a minor in business.

“I saw a lot of relevance to studying Russian, not just because I was interested in the history and the culture, but because they’re a major world power and a major factor in world trade, especially now with what you see going on in Crimea,” she said. “People think that because the Cold War is over, it’s not relevant anymore to know a language from that part of the world but I think I’m going to prove everyone wrong and show them studying Russian has practical implications.”

Broadfoot complemented what she learned about Russian culture in courses with firsthand experiences while living abroad and attending St. Petersburg State University. Among notable differences between living in the U.S. and Russia were acceptable levels of privacy and smiling at strangers.

Taylor Broadfoot
Taylor Broadfoot has applied to jobs from Ireland to Tajikistan. Her trips abroad while at KU sparked a passion for new experiences.

“Going to Russia, I had no idea that you weren’t supposed to smile at strangers. That’s a sign of being overly friendly or being insincere. I learned that really quickly because everyone thought I was crazy when I would walk into a place and have a beaming smile. My Midwest friendliness was too American, so I had to “Russ-ify” myself. You just pick up on little nuances about the culture the more and more time you spend in a different country,” she said.

Although she’s still sorting out her post-graduation plans, Broadfoot knows at least two things: she wants a job that requires her to use Russian and she’s willing to relocate just about anywhere. She’s applied for jobs in California, Idaho, Ireland, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia, to name a few. She’s eager to continue to accumulate life-changing experiences, a path set in motion during her time at KU.

“I think just getting out there and seeing what the world has to offer with my specific skill set, I’m really excited to see what the future holds,” she said. “The uncertainty is what makes it exciting.”