Alumni Profiles

Russian Riddle
Travel abroad has broadened Andrew McKernan's perspective

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His first time in Russia, Andrew McKernan '09 started seeing beyond the American stereotypes—like the stern Russian. "Russians don't smile as much we do in public—why would you smile?" he says, with a smile. But their hospitality is legendary. Witness the eight-egg omelets his host mother in St. Petersburg used to make for him. Then again, he adds, maybe she was simply cooking for the Russian stereotype of the American appetite.

Churchill's famous observation still rings true for McKernan: Russia is "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." It was on his second trip—a summer research project in Moscow funded through the UNH International Research Opportunity Program—that he began to delve into some of the enigmas of Russian architecture. A dual major in Russian and linguistics, McKernan is especially interested in the architecture commissioned by Stalin, whose grand, tiered "wedding-cake skyscrapers" are known as the Seven Sisters. Like the monumental architecture in Washington, D.C., the Stalinist skyscrapers nodded to the classical period of Roman and Greek architecture, but for entirely different symbolic purposes. They were designed to impress the West, explains McKernan, and offer Soviet citizens hope for the future.

Last summer, McKernan interviewed a number of young architects who are attracted to a recent revival in Stalinist style. "They don't think Stalin was good," he explains. Instead, they focus on the elements of grandeur and hope in Stalin's architecture.

As an undergrad, McKernan received scholarship and grant support from UNH Foundation board president Frank Noonan '64 and his wife, Patricia, as well as Margaret Clarke Norman '68 and the Norman Gagnon Fund. Now thanks to a Fulbright scholarship, he is back in Russia once again, looking to dig deeper into the connections between the Soviet creed and the "temples to the Soviet regime." He doesn't expect ever to fully grasp the Russian culture—or solve the riddle wrapped within it—and that's what keeps drawing him back.

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