There are a lot of good reasons for studying Slavic and East European languages. There is even a web site entirely devoted to answering the question. You should take a look at it in a moment. But the fact that you are reading this already indicates that you are interested in, or at least slightly intrigued by the idea of studying Russian, or another one of the Slavic languages we offer. So our question to you is, Why not study Russian (or Ukrainian, or Polish, or Czech, or Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian)?
Who could ever learn to read that crazy alphabet? You can. Our students learn the entire Russian alphabet in the first week of class and write and read it well by the end of the third week. After all, about 18 of the letters should at least look familiar to you already. Have a look. (And in case new alphabets aren't your thing, if you choose to study Polish or Czech, you can stick with the alphabet you already know!)
Anyway, Russian is too difficult. We are not going to lie to you. The truth is that Russian takes longer to learn than many other commonly taught languages. But it takes less time than Japanese, Chinese, or Arabic, to take a few examples. You don't need special abilities in order to learn Russian. People of average language abilities learn Russian all the time. You can too.
Russian is impractical. On the contrary! A major in Russian prepares you for many of the same things that a major in other humanities disciplines does, and sometimes better. You learn to write and express yourself well in more than one language. You gain a broader perspective on American culture and your own history as well as specialized knowlege of another culture, both of which are of inestimable value in the current global economy. In fact, that's why Russian in combination with another major can give you a real edge. Here the prejudice that Russian is difficult plays in your favor. Russian on your resume shows that you believe in your abilities, that you accept challenges, that you are not afraid to go off the beaten path.
I can always study it later. Sure, but Russian is not offered just everywhere, and who knows if you will have the time later. Why not do it now? At Columbia you have one of the top Slavic programs in the country at your disposal. We are proud of our language program: our students learn more of the language and learn it better than students at many other universities. Sign up for Russian, and take a look at our undergraduate programs. Perhaps you will find one that is right for you. And watch for our annual open house for prospective majors and concentrators.
Knowing Russian will get you around in a number of beautiful and exciting places whose native languages are rarely taught in the West.
The Slavic Department also offers excellent instruction in Czech, Polish, Serbian/ Croatian/ Bosnian, and Ukrainian, and a concentration in Slavic Literature and Culture. Each of these languages can open up a world of culture and opportunities for you. And once you learn one Slavic language, the second one comes easier -- they are all closely related.