Russian and Eurasian Studies offers opportunities for students to study abroad and receive course credit! Below are some stories of current and previous Russian and Eurasian Studies students who have had this wonderful experience:
My first class at George Mason University was Professor Levine’s Intro to Russian. I knew long before college began that I wanted to learn the language. I was interested in Russian culture and had a desire to learn more about a country to which I had little exposure. As an avid chess player, I was also intrigued to learn more about the society that valued this game and developed a strong educational system for it. At that time, I had no grasp of the immensity of the Russian-speaking world or of the possibility that I would find a place in it, working in Kazakhstan for an entire summer.
During the summer of 2017, I was sponsored to work as a Student Ambassador for the USA Pavilion in Astana, Kazakhstan. The first World Exposition took place in 1851 and has since been a recurring international event, where several countries come together to celebrate innovation and collaboration. Expo 2017 was in Astana, Kazakhstan, and themed “Future Energy.” The goal was to bring the world’s focus to sustainability and green technologies that Kazakhstan and the rest of the world could adopt. The USA Pavilion interpreted the Expo’s theme in a way that allowed us, the Student Ambassadors, to demonstrate to the world that everyone is “the Source of Infinite Energy,” capable of innovation and developing solutions to global problems. My fellow Student Ambassadors and I educated and informed roughly half a million visitors from around the world about the United States, promoting public diplomacy and friendship to the people of Kazakhstan.
Working at the USA Pavilion, I used my Russian daily, speaking to people about myself and the U.S., all the while developing a stronger understanding of the foreign cultures participating in the World Expo, especially Kazakhstan’s. Thanks to Russian being the lingua franca of the Post-Soviet states, I was able to communicate with much of the Eurasian population. Improving my Russian wasn’t the only privilege the Expo afforded me — a few minutes from the USA Pavilion, I could walk past all of the European Pavilions, the Russian Pavilion, and many more. I was able to interact with people I may not have had the opportunity to encounter outside of an international exhibition like the expo. I could simply walk in and strike up a conversation with people from places I have never been to. It was an incredible opportunity to be able learn all about their nations, their scientific and technological innovations, and often, their delicious cuisines.
Outside of work, I was able to explore the city with friends from the USA Pavilion, local Kazakhs, and friends from the Expo-village, the place where all the Expo-workers lived. One of my fondest memories from the whole experience was speaking to a Chinese student in the village who only spoke Chinese and Russian. Being able to communicate and interact with someone in that capacity, sharing the struggles and rewards of the Russian language without discussing it in English, was both bizarre and incredible. Exploring Astana, and occasionally traveling to other cities, gave me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in Kazakh culture. Being able to try horse steaks and kumis (fermented mare milk) at bazaars, while learning more about how locals interpret their faith, relationships, and the world, was immensely gratifying. I often sported the Kazakh “tubeteika,” the traditional hat that landed me smiles everywhere I went.
This experience not only enhanced my Russian skills, but also opened doors to different career avenues that I previously deemed inaccessible. This spring, I have been interning at APCO Worldwide, the company responsible for managing our pavilion. As a global consulting agency, APCO has projects scattered across the Russian speaking world. As an Economics major with a Russian minor, it is important for me to combine my interests in my future career. Being in Kazakhstan revealed the importance of achieving advanced proficiency in the Russian language, and the opportunity to take part in the Critical Language Scholarship program this upcoming summer at the KORA Russian Language Center in Vladimir, Russia, will help me continue taking steps in that direction.
When I first began studying Russian, I never thought I would have the opportunities I’ve had over the past year. Living and working in Kazakhstan was a rewarding experience that taught me just how extensive the Russian-speaking world is. I now realize how the Russian language opens doors to cultures and learning opportunities I never imagined were waiting for me.
I spent the spring 2015 semester in St. Petersburg on the Russian Language and Area Studies Program (RLASP) sponsored by the American Councils for International Education. For a student seeking to improve their level of Russian language, gain a greater understanding of Russian culture, or both, there is no substitute for a study abroad program in Russia.
Among the foremost advantages of journeying to Russia is the incredible opportunity to vastly improve your level of Russian language every day. Whether you are touring museums, ordering at cafes or restaurants, you will virtually always be speaking in Russian and listening to it. While some of the most popular tourist destinations in Moscow and St. Petersburg offer tours in English, it is a more rewarding experience to stay in Russian. It may seem an intimidating, daunting prospect at first, but as the weeks go on in the program, you will find that the number of times you don’t understand words or phrases will become progressively rarer. Also, one would be remiss not to state that most Russians will be pleasantly surprised that you are making a serious effort to learn their language, and will be very accommodating and explain things if you don’t understand them the first time (If in doubt, ask a Russian!).
Yet another highly enjoyable and beneficial aspect of study abroad is the experience of living with Russians through the homestay program. Your host family will not only feed you twice a day, they will take an active interest in your studies and other interests in Russia. Moreover, your host family will be an excellent source of knowledge regarding local cultural life and points of interest in your respective city. An additional advantage of staying with a Russian family is that you will have native speakers around who can help you with your schoolwork as well as questions you may have regarding idioms or aspects of Russian culture. The most important thing to keep in mind with the homestay is to communicate your interests and concerns with them. They want to make your stay as enjoyable as possible and the best way to ensure that is to speak with them openly about any issues you may have.
Perhaps the most exciting parts of the American Councils study abroad program are the weekly excursions and the regional field studies trips. As the excursions will be conducted entirely in Russian, students will simultaneously improve their language skills, gain a greater understanding of a variety of historical and contemporary topics in Russian culture, and visit locations that most tourists either would not think of or have easy access to. Excursions during spring 2015 in St. Petersburg included a variety of things from plays, ballet, museum visits, a hockey game and even a tour of the “Baltika” beer factory in St. Petersburg.
These are just a few of the advantages and opportunities that a study abroad in Russian will provide a student of Russian. It will be an unforgettable experience and will greatly improve not only your language and knowledge of the culture, but will make you a stronger student and person. If you have the desire, take the leap and go to Russia!
During the 2014-2015 academic year, I had the opportunity to study at Moscow State University. My experience in Moscow was incredibly helpful towards improving my Russian language. While in Moscow, I studied at the faculty of foreign language in level 5 Russian. Grammar concepts, literature, writing styles, and politics were explained only in Russian; use of your native language was not allowed. The academic requirements and expectations were challenging, but the chance to converse with native students and faculty incredibly rewarding. Speaking and thinking in Russian daily propelled my language to fluency. Often said by linguists, once you start dreaming in that language you begin to assimilate.
Living in Moscow forced me to adapt to the city, culture, and people. I found myself discussing current events, social issues, and breaking down stereotypes with Moscow students during lunch and evening meals. Free tea and bread at the cafeteria often prolonged conversations. The experience living abroad, particularly in Moscow, taught me unforgettable life lessons. I forged great friendships and a deeper understanding of Russia, its culture, and people. I advise all students to study abroad: the experience alone changes your perspective on the world. Getting out of your comfort zone and speaking with Russians and foreign students is the most effective way to enhance your language. I often found many students were afraid to speak and spent time with only American students – don't fall into that trap! It’s one thing to memorize grammatical cases, verbs, and common phrases, but being forced to use your language with native speakers gives you the richest possible study abroad experience.
In spring 2014, I had the privilege of studying abroad in Tajikistan for several months through American Councils for International Education. I lived in Dushanbe with a small family and walked to school every morning, where I took classes in Persian with several other Americans. During my free time, I was able to explore a culture that has lived on the crossroads of world history for thousands of years. Tajikistan has been a part of dozens of superpowers over time, ranging from Alexander the Great’s vast empire to the Soviet Union. I saw a mountain made entirely of salt that Marco Polo described during his travels, I traveled to a remote Sogdian village and recorded a nearly-extinct language that was once the lingua franca of the Silk Road, and I picnicked on the ruins of a fortress that was razed to the ground by 13 different conquerors over time.
In summer 2014, I participated in a Russian language study program in Lithuania. Here I stayed with a retired widow and her daughter, who had lived together for over 20 years in the same tiny apartment. Every day I took a bus to Vilnius University, where I studied Russian with Lithuanian professors from the Philology Department. On the weekends, I had numerous opportunities to travel inexpensively around Europe because of Vilnius’ prime location. I saw the capitals of Latvia and Poland and I was even able to see Rome and Paris. During the week, I would often sit and study Russian in various places throughout the city, where I would see stark generational differences. “Anybody over 40 here will speak fluent Russian,” the dean of the university explained to us. “But if they are 20 years or younger, don’t bother. They will speak to you only in English.”
Perhaps the greatest experience I gained from my travels was the opportunity to personally witness the contrasting developments in post-Soviet states. In Tajikistan, many of the locals I met expressed nostalgia for the Soviet Union – under communism they had gained unprecedented development and opportunity. In contrast, many people of Latvia and Lithuania remained bitter towards the Soviet legacy, as older generations recollect times of oppression and fear. In Russia, there was considerable nostalgia for the Soviet Union – not for its system, but rather, for its status or prestige that many Russians believe was lost after its collapse. The people I met and places I visited taught me lessons and gave me insight that I might not have fully grasped had I not gone there personally.
Applying to college, I never considered studying abroad. It was always one of those things that I didn't think I’d ever end up doing. However, after a year of studying Russian, I realized that going abroad would be an irreplaceable experience that would really help me understand what I was studying. So after sophomore year, in summer 2014, I took a leap and went to St. Petersburg, Russia for two months on the Russian Heritage Speakers Program sponsored by the American Councils for International Education. The experience was incredible, and it left me wanting to return to Russia. St. Petersburg is truly a city of culture and art, and the immersion I experienced challenged and improved my skills in a way that classroom instruction in America never could. I made amazing friends in the program, and together we went to museums, theaters, and the opera. The most memorable part was the architecture of the city. From the cathedrals to the palaces, St. Petersburg left me breathless. Overcoming my fear of studying abroad was well worth the effort, and though it may sound like a cliché, it is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. Studying and living in Russia, surrounded by a different environment, culture and people, and having enough free time to explore it all is an amazing opportunity for personal and academic growth.