Students on American Councils’ NSLI-Y Summer 2015 Russian Language program in Narva, Estonia, began the program with varying levels of previous Russian language experience. While everyone could read the Cyrillic alphabet and count in Russian, engaging the language outside of a classroom or with native Russian speakers was an experience new to most. Over the course of the six-week summer program, participants interacted with native speakers in a range of settings. In the classroom, the American Councils’ academic teaching team from the University of Tartu’s Narva College guided each student through the intricacies of Russian grammar, phonetics, and literature. With their Russian host families, participants have found warm, welcoming homes, and valuable speaking and listening practice in informal, unrehearsed settings. They have also found unique insight into one of the largest, most concentrated ethnic Russian populations in the Baltics. The cultural program in Estonia has been designed to complement the academic and host family program components, providing further linguistic engagement in settings with real-life application.
Two recent activities exemplify this approach. During the second week on the program, the group was invited to Narva’s main police and fire station. They were given tours in which they learned about the job of a police officer in Estonia, how they protect and engage the community, and how they utilize various tools in the police station and on the street. Students also received safety and security tips for their time Estonia. The excursion offered participants a glimpse into how residents of “E-stonia,” one of the most high tech countries in the world, can use technology to expedite transactions. Officers explained the use of digital identity cards and card readers that allow Estonian residents to sign documents and file taxes, among other operations, virtually and in a matter of seconds. In the fire station, participants learned about equipment used by firefighters, touring various models from the Soviet period to more sophisticated modern day machines. Students were eager to ask police officers and firemen about their experiences on the job, in addition to sharing about their career goals and law enforcement professions in the U.S. It was a successful event in which students were able to put their classroom Russian to use, while receiving practical advice for staying safe during the NSLI-Y summer 2015 program.
Later, the group visited the Kohtla Mining Park, the only underground mining museum in the country. This cultural enhancement activity offered participants the chance to learn about northeastern Estonia’s main industry, oil shale mining. Before descending into the mining shaft, they participated in a Russian language lecture with local visitors. During this time they learned about the history of mining in the area and were able to pose questions in Russian. Students gained insight into the daily life of a miner and how the industry has adapted to advances in technology. Some participants took the opportunity to interview the guide, a former employee of the mine, for their interactive research projects. One participant continued the conversation in the host family home, interviewing his host mother about her experience working with ores mined in Russia, and discussing the pros and cons of using various sources of energy. As part of American Councils’ Summer 2015 cultural program, participants completed preparatory work, participated actively in tours and debriefed excursions upon return to Narva with host parents and language teachers. These activities served to solidify new vocabulary learned and open up new industries and professions.