By Anna, NSLI-Y Russia, Academic Year
A huge part of what defined my experience in Russia on NSLI-Y was my host family. The description of my house usually evokes an image from a fairytale. I lived in a wooden log cabin in a huge garden with an older couple who grew all their own fruits and vegetables. We ate homemade jam in the winter and sang songs together in our cozy living room. While of course no foreign exchange student’s life is perfect, my host family truly enhanced my experience.
I spent a lot of quality time with my host parents, whether it was at the table drinking tea, getting help with my homework, going to the orchestra, singing traditional songs, going to the grocery store, or cooking a meal together. Tea time is a huge part of Russian culture. With tea as a facilitator of conversation, I practiced my language skills more often over tea than in any other aspect of my life abroad. There is truly something to be said about sitting and taking time out of your day to drink a cup of tea and have a conversation with another person. This aspect of Russian culture taught me to be more patient and to be a better listener. I gained perspective from my host parents’ stories about their youth, worked from only knowing a few words to formulating long stories, laughed at my host dad’s jokes, and received life advice from my host mom all at the table over tea.
Learning a language from scratch is hard when you’re thrown into the environment and expected to start communicating immediately. I don’t quite remember how I communicated with my host family for the first two months of my program, but somehow everything worked out. At first, most of our conversation resembled charades, but learning how to communicate with a limited vocabulary makes you a much more confident and flexible person when your language skills catch up. From interactions with my host family, I feel that I developed greatly as a person. I questioned what I had always thought was true, developed close relationships with people raised in drastically different cultures, and learned to appreciate the world and everything it offers us. My NSLI-Y experience would not have been complete without all of the experience I had at the table drinking tea.