Inviting Russian diplomats to class, taking students to meet with diplomats from around the world, and falling in love with Richmond’s fabulous farmers’ markets were all part of Anna Gryaznova’s first year here as a visiting scholar. She also started riding a motorcycle — “something I would have never done in Russia,” she says with a smile.

Thanks to the Jepson School of Leadership Studies’ Zuzana Simoniova Cmelikova Visiting Scholar Program in Leadership and Ethics, Gryaznova is getting out of her comfort zone and taking a two-year break from her work at Moscow State University Business School, where she is an associate professor and associate dean of academic programs and international relations, to focus on research about Russian business and political elites.

Below she discusses the course she taught this year on Russian leaders, growing up in Siberia, Russian-American relations, and her plans for next year.

You grew up in Siberia. What was that like?

I grew up in Tobolsk, a small Siberian town. Tobolsk was founded in the 16th century and used to be the capital of Siberia. Its main sight today is the stone Kremlin, a beautiful and spectacular fortress built in the 17th and 18th centuries, the only one in Siberia. Life was pretty simple, away from attractions and distractions.

You are an associate professor and associate dean of academic programs and international relations at Moscow State University. Why did you decide to pursue a visiting scholar position at Richmond?

I had been thinking about taking a break from my work and spending more time on writing and publishing. I saw an announcement about this position, which fit my profile and what I was doing at the time.

You taught a course on Russian leaders this spring. How did you approach the topic?

We tackled the issue of leadership in Russia from an interdisciplinary perspective. We read Russian and foreign economists, historians, and philosophers, as well as lots of Russian literature from the 19th and 20th centuries. The reading list was sometimes heavy, and I decided to rely on movies, mainly documentaries, to make the learning a bit more visual.

In one of the classes, we had a special guest speaker – former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese. On another day we had as guest speakers Russian diplomats from D.C. They talked about the Russian economy and Russian foreign economic relations, and then students had a chance to ask them questions. As far as I understand, students loved this class. After all, diplomats don’t come to classes that often. At the end of the course, students had to present their research projects, which were about contemporary Russian business and political leaders.

In addition to inviting Russian diplomats to class, you also took students on a field trip to D.C. where they talked to diplomats from around the world…

I believe in the power of micro-level relations. We live in an exceptionally difficult period of Russian-American relations. Politicians very often live through their own agenda, and people rely too heavily on the information they get from media, which tends to be negative. We have an advantage of being not that far away from D.C., where the Russian Embassy organizes events and activities for American students with the objective to promote Russian culture and mutual understanding, and it would have been crazy to waste this advantage.

What is your research focused on while you’re here?

I am working on the interaction between business and political elites in Russia at the end of 19th century through the beginning of the 20th century.

Is it difficult to do the kind of research you do in Russia?

As long as you don’t directly deal with political issues, it seems to be okay so far — though working with [the topic of] leadership it’s often very difficult to draw a clear line between what is political and what is not. The academic research in Russia is not well funded and the academic infrastructure is much less developed.

What are your plans for next year? What courses will you be teaching?

I’ll teach Leadership Across Cultures: Russia again, which is a Jepson course, and a course on the Soviet Union and how it transformed into today’s Russia for the School of Arts and Sciences. I’ll also continue to work on my research.

What is your favorite thing about Richmond so far?

It has been a very happy year, full of events. The students were beyond my expectations, and I learned a lot from interacting with them. Shortly after I came here I started riding a motorcycle – something I would have never done in Russia. It adds a whole new perspective to life. In the fall, before they closed for winter, I fell in love with the Richmond farmers’ markets. It was an absolute highlight of my Saturdays.