From Kalamazoo Valley to Russian Immersion



International Studies major Christal Stricklin’s college plans changed dramatically when her father was diagnosed with cancer. To spend time caring for him while his health declined, she changed her plans and enrolled at Kalamazoo Valley instead of the University of Michigan. “It ended up being one of the best choices that I fell into,” she said.

The honors program student has traveled to Russia twice and participated in the Russian Immersion program on the Ivy League campus of Middlebury College in Vermont.

She is obtaining multiple degrees from Kalamazoo Valley and will transfer in the fall to a four-year college, most likely Middlebury. She also sits on the Board of Directors for the Kalamazoo Russian Cultural Association and is one of four co-directors of the group’s annual Russian Festival.

Stricklin said Kalamazoo Valley helped set the stage.

“Kalamazoo Valley prepared me for rigorous study at a prestigious university because the honors program is competitive, yet supportive here,” Sticklin said. “At other universities you don’t have that expertise. My program, and subsequently, my studies were customized to fit me personally.”

She said she has loved being in small classes and has found her instructors to be intriguing. “The professors here are interesting, really unique characters that appeal to a wide audience,” she said. “The International approach at Kalamazoo Valley is probably the best feature. I tend to be drawn to people with an international focus.” Most of her friends are international students and she’s also enjoyed learning about Africa from math instructor Mark Sigfrids and Germany from economics instructor Philipp Jonas.

Because she loves Russian literature, Stricklin set a goal of one day reading classic Russian literature in its native language. “I knew that I’ve always loved Russian literature,” Stricklin said. “My dream was to study and read those books in the native language.”

Honors program advisor Stephen Louisell was aware of Stricklin’s passion for Russian and suggested that she apply to Middlebury, a multi-language campus where students pledge not to speak English at all during the duration of their summer language program. Because she was there fulltime and speaking Russian fulltime, Stricklin said the experience really boosted her language skills. “I learned to get past trivial things,” Stricklin said. “The education showed me how to find myself within my education, and I think the most important thing in life is education. Above all, I want a quality education.”

She is confident that she’s obtaining a quality education now – one that has prepared her to transfer to a prestigious university. Even though attending Kalamazoo Valley wasn’t initially her goal, Stricklin is pleased with the outcome. “In time, this became who I am,” she said. “I would never have had the opportunity to study at Middlebury without Kalamazoo Valley.”