Students of the NSLI-Y Russia Summer program in Nizhny Novgorod have testified that living with a host family is one of the most helpful tools for learning about Russian language and culture. Host families are an integral part of the immersion experience, bridging the gap between classroom study and the ‘real world.’ From the moment students wake up, conversation is in Russian, and practice continues during meals and afternoons spent together. On weekends and afternoons, families have taken participants to such places as the countryside, or to churches and museums to teach them about Nizhny Novgorod’s architectural splendor and cultural heritage.
Below, Nathan and Brooklyn reflect on the value of the host family experiences in their NSLI-Y program.
When I first got on the plane to Russia, I was terrified about meeting my host family. First and foremost, of course, would they like me? But the biggest question was how I would communicate with them, which in retrospect has been the greatest joy of this trip for me. Talking to my family was hard at first – I barely spoke any Russian, and always was hesitant about utilizing my English-speaking host sister as a translator. As the first days with them turned into the first week however, things started to change. In conjunction with my lessons at the university, I found myself learning at a remarkable rate how to ask for this type of food, or how to express what I thought about this excursion or that cafe. I was speaking Russian so frequently with them, that I caught myself thinking in the language, much to my delight of course. Being in this environment forces me to use the target language not just for basic communication, but to establish a relationship as well. They are very curious about life in our country, and this experience seems to be as helpful to them as it has been for me. My host family has expressed great kindness to me and is very patient with me, and I’m extremely grateful for the care taken in placing me with them.
I do many things with my family, including the basics – shopping for groceries, going for walks, etc. – to experiences that have stuck out to me as highlights of my scholarship. Amongst these include a trip to the Nizhny Novgorod zoo, visiting my host mother’s father outside of town and experiencing a Russian village, meeting cousins and going to numerous museums. My favorite thing that I do with my host family, however, is nightly post-dinner talks with my host mother. Like my mother back home, she and I have similar personalities and outlooks. We talk about anything, from the simple things like what my family is like back home, to the more complex, like why I am very happy to be forging friendships abroad. Not only does this help my Russian vastly, but it establishes strong interpersonal connections between our two countries.
I have learned much about the Russian character and culture, not to mention the language, in no small part thanks to my host family. I would not trade these experiences I have had with them for the world.
– Nathan, NSLI-Y Russia, Summer 2013
From the moment I walked into my host family’s home, they welcomed me with open arms. Like my American family, for the last four weeks they have seen to all my needs, helped me with homework, encouraged me through frustrating times and cheered for my accomplishments. My host family is a crucial part of my exchange experience. They have been after-hour teachers and substitute parents. My host family has answered all my questions, shown me what typical Russian lifestyle is like, and worked to help me communicate in Russian. They are wonderful!
It is the little things they do that show me they care. My host mom knows I love hot chocolate, and at every meal a cup of hot chocolate is waiting for me. If it is going to rain, an umbrella magically appears in my backpack. My host brother goes out of his way to help with my homework, never getting frustrated. My host father sits with me when I study flashcards. He reads the English out loud and I answer in Russian. It is not easy going to another country when you haven’t mastered the language, but my host family has done wonders for my vocabulary and made my six weeks’ stay all the more enjoyable.