Russian is the native language of some 150 million citizens of the Russian Federal Republic, and of a very large population of emigres in other countries around the world, including the United States. It is one of the five official languages of the United Nations and ranks with English, Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, and Spanish as a major world language. What is more, Russian remains the unofficial lingua franca of many of the former Soviet republics, an indispensable communications tool across all of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Russian is a major language for scientific publication, and it is an increasingly important language for business and trade as Russian institutions, both public and private, pursue integration with their European and American counterparts.
Russian majors have the opportunity to use their language skills and cultural awareness in a broad variety of settings in both Russia and the United States. Students go on to work in business as financial and policy analysts for American and Russian companies. They work for non-governmental organizations, publishing houses, and print and broadcast media. They teach in Russian schools and consult in fields such as marketing, advertising, aerospace, and computer engineering. And, of course, some continue to go on to graduate school to do more traditional work as teachers in universities and colleges, and as employees of the diplomatic and intelligence sectors of the United States government.
Although Russian as a modern cultural language is relatively new, with the vast majority of the work of its best-known authors having been produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the wealth of the Russian cultural heritage in literature, visual art, theater, opera, instrumental music, and ballet is enormous. And while it's possible to gain some appreciation for such authors as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in English translation, no true understanding of the immense richness of Russian culture can be acquired without a good knowledge of the language. In particular, Russia has produced one of the world's most vibrant and exciting poetic traditions—including the works of poets like Pushkin, Lermontov, Blok, Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva, Pasternak, and Brodsky—and its beauty is only very roughly accessible in English translation.