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CCU Atheneum: Billy Hills at Peterhof, now known as Petrodvorets, the St. Petersburg site with three palaces and several parks with 150 fountains and four cascades.
Billy Hills at Peterhof, now known as Petrodvorets, the St. Petersburg site with three palaces and several parks with 150 fountains and four cascades.

CCU professor Hills readies for Russian assignment

by Mona Prufer
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Editor's note: Due to visa issues, Billy Hills' trip to Russia has been postponed until early next spring. We just learned about it after publication.

It is six weeks into the fall semester, and Billy Hills, professor of psychology and sociology, has not taught a single class. He is busy packing up boxes of books ("essential" versus "nonessential") in his office in the Science Building since he'll be out of the office for months – four months, to be exact. Once he gets his visa approved, Hills, a specialist in the field of gerontology, will travel to Moscow, where the Russian State Social University (RSSU) is located, to teach and study Russia's aging population.

Hills was recently awarded a Fulbright grant to teach courses in gerontology and work closely with Russian students interested in careers that involve understanding the older population and providing services for them. Hills, who earned a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia and a Master of Social Work degree from the University of South Carolina, is one of approximately 1,100 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad through the U.S. Fulbright Scholar program for 2012-2013.

While there, he also plans to do some of his own research into the culture and how older adults are treated in comparison with the American system.

"Trends toward modernization usually focus on the younger people," says Hills. "In older agrarian societies like Russia once was, the older adults were involved in all aspects of life. Now, it is shifting toward the young people of child-bearing age."

Hills, who has just stepped down as chair of the Department of Psychology and Sociology, went to Russia last spring with other CCU faculty including Dennis Wiseman, who has been instrumental with Darla Domke Damonte in forging the collaborative academic program with RSSU. It was Hills' sixth trip to the Soviet Union, usually with CCU faculty; it's a country that interests him enormously.

"I'll just be happy to be there," says Hills, who has a separate winter wardrobe of warm clothes just for Russia. "It's a true foreign country; it's not Paris or London. I love walking around and just looking at everything. Even the shops are interesting, though they now have all the western goods they didn't used to have. It's so different from here."

In addition to teaching two classes and his research, the psychology professor has also volunteered to help out with English classes in the translation division at RSSU. He will teach in English, but with a translator present. He plans to immerse himself in the language and deliver his final lecture in Russian. "I can speak enough to get by, but I want to be proficient by the time I leave."

The RSSU is one of five universities in Moscow, with more than 100,000 students enrolled. There are only 41 universities in the country, Hills says.

"I have been warned to expect differences, not to be surprised if students don't attend (classes), or if they talk and text during class."

During his time there this fall, the U.S. presidential race will be decided, which Hills can't wait to watch unfold in Moscow from his American perspective. "I will try to avoid the political discussions," he says. "But it will be interesting to see how they portray the coverage."

While the Russians are keenly interested in American culture and "the cool things," they are generally more cautious with other people after years of an oppressive society where you don't know whom to trust, Hill says. Walking down the street, for instance, they don't smile or make eye contact like Americans might do (especially in the South).

"I'm always amazed at all they've been through and what' they've seen," says the professor. "But when you get to know them, they're warm and smiling." Hills has a friend, Ruslan Khairullin, a professor at RSSU whom he met during earlier visits. "We will have a lot to talk about, a lot of catching up," says Hills.

The hardest part of being abroad for four winter months will not be the cold, says Hills, but the absence of family. His wife, Karen, will be joining him for a couple of weeks during his stay there, but son Beckett will be too busy with his graduate school work (he's a student in CCU's marine science program) for a trip overseas.

Hills plans to blog about his experiences during his Russian winter; he'll be back for the spring semester to teach classes in the new academic building.


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