by Media Relations Intern Natasha Muhametzyanova
WEST LIBERTY, W.Va., Jan. 25, 2017 — West Liberty University collaborates with many student exchange programs every year. New to the list this year is The Year of Exchange in America for Russians (YEAR).

Polina Peleneva (left) and Media Relations intern Natasha Muhametzyanova, both international students, enjoy cheering on the Hilltoppers at a recent basketball game.

“YEAR is a two-semester exchange program administered by American Councils for International Education (ACCELS) — an international non-profit organization. This program gave several outstanding Russian students a chance to join us this year and allowed the students to engage with our local community in a sustained and meaningful dialogue to promote cultural exchange and the opportunity to gain a new, nuanced understanding of our societies,” said Mia Szabo, director of International Enrollment Services. The YEAR program is funded by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Polina Peleneva (left) and Media Relations intern Natasha Muhametzyanova, both international students, enjoy cheering on the Hilltoppers at a recent basketball game.
Through this program, Polina Peleneva, 19, came to WLU from Moscow this past fall. She had just completed her freshman year at MGIMO University double-majoring in Public Relations and International Energy Cooperation.

MGIMO is Russia’s most prestigious and well-known higher education institution. It offers a wide-range of degrees but is renown for its international relations program and its emphasis on foreign language studies offering its students 56 foreign languages on all levels of complexity.

MGIMO graduates include presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Slovakia, Ukraine and other countries. (See

“These two universities are drastically different,” Peleneva said, comparing WLU and MGIMO.

For example, here at WLU, she’s enjoyed the opportunity to take classes that interested her but were not part of her major. In Russia, students have little opportunity to take electives, like art and design since the system doesn’t leave much time for this luxury.

“In Russia, the education system is different from that in the U.S.,” Peleneva explained. “Students first have to choose a department and only then a major which often leads students to have a double major. That is why we only take classes related to our field of study.”

Peleneva added that at MGIMO she is required to take 30 credit hours per semester and dedicate a little over 10 hours a week to studying foreign languages, in her case English and Spanish.

Besides enrolling in art classes at WLU, Peleneva discovered her love for American history. After completing her first American history course, she realized she would love to learn more.

“Dr. Owens is very thorough and professional,” Peleneva said about her instructor, professor of history, Dr. Richard Owens. “He manages to make his lectures both informative and interesting. It inspired me to register for another history class.”

Since arriving at WLU in August last year, Peleneva also had to adjust to lifestyle changes. It was her first time living in a dormitory, since she was a commuter student back home. It also was the first time she saw a rural campus setting.

“It is interesting for me to see that in the United States, universities are more like towns on their own,” Peleneva said. A native of Moscow, Peleneva is used to heavy traffic and big crowds.

“Moscow is the busiest city in Russia. Being in a rural area is definitely a new experience for me,” Peleneva said.

Moscow is the capital of Russia and is currently 15th most populated city in the world with over 16 million people living in the urban area.

Being away from home made Peleneva reconsider her plans for the future.

“I admire women who are successful in their careers, but I realize now that I want to devote my life to family and self-improvement.” Peleneva is an only child and both of her parents speak English.

Peleneva will remain at WLU for the spring semester and has many things to look forward.

“I have very interesting classes this spring and I’m going to create more art, of course. I am also planning to visit the iconic American cities like New York and Chicago,” she said. Over Thanksgiving break, she visited New Orleans.

As far as the state of international relations between Russia and the United States, she believes that the two nations can be at peace and cooperate on things like science, art and education. “I avoid politics and don’t pay too much attention to the controversy.”