Chloe is from New York City, New York and participated in the 2017 Russia summer program.
In my opinion, the most noticeable difference between Russian and American culture is the attention which Russians allot to superstitions compared to the lack of attention Americans accredit to similar beliefs. This struck me hardest while having dinner with my second host mother. I had just finished explaining that despite any Russian heritage, my parents chose to give me a Russian middle name. She smiled and told me an old Russian saying, “имя обозначает ребенка” meaning “the name marks the child”.
I found this incredibly ironic and enlightening as it seemed an interesting explication to why I suddenly received so many opportunities to live, work, and travel in Russia. While I had always expressed interest in travel and culture, I never believed I would be lucky enough to visit Russia. In the United States, I got a lot of questions about why I was spending so much time in Moscow. I never had a good answer except that “Russia chose me”. My trip with NSLI-Y was not my first time to Russia. I spent the previous summer as an Au Pair teaching English in Moscow.
My experience as an Au Pair was a result of my parents asking me to get a summer job after my junior year of high school. I had decided I wanted to travel over the summer and thought Au Pairing would be an ideal way to satisfy both my parents and myself. Originally, I intended to work in a Spanish or French speaking country; however, due to the complexity of finding a family, I found myself with an opportunity to work in Moscow. I decided I was interested in Russia enough to pack up my bags and spend two and a half months living and working halfway around the world.
While at the airport, I saw several 2016 NSLI-Y students in matching T-shirts and happened to sit next to several of them on the plane. I found out they were part of a State Department scholarship to study critical languages abroad and asked if I would be eligible to apply the following year. So, in the fall of my senior year, following the summer of Au Pairing in Moscow, I applied to the 2017 summer NSLI-Y scholarship and was shocked to receive the semifinalist notification in December and the finalist letter in February. I was ecstatic to be traveling back to Russia to spend the summer with thirteen other like-minded students exploring the Russian language and culture!
NSLI-Y proved to be the most exciting, challenging, influential experiences of my life. During our six weeks in the program, my peers and I lived in the dorms of a historic academy and studied daily with the teachers there. We had opportunities to meet with numerous agencies and organizations across Moscow. And additionally delved deep into the Russian language, culture, and cuisine.
Furthermore, a highlight of the NSLI-Y program for me was the opportunity to spend time with local Russian host families. This provided us an additional unique insight into the Russian culture where we learned of things like traditions and superstitions. For example, most Russian sit down before traveling because they believe it to calm the trip.
While meeting with my first host family, I discovered my host father was a researcher at a highly regarded university in Moscow. From him, I learned of two programs taught in English at the university he worked at. With the help of my host family and several of my NSLI-Y peers, I contacted the international department of the university and completed the entrance exams and application. I was both floored and ecstatic to find out in late July of my acceptance, I would be able to continue studying and living in Moscow.
Without the NSLI-Y program, I would not be in the place I am now, studying and living in an exciting, foreign country. Looking back on my experiences, I see no other explanation except that I was “marked by my name”. Now, when people ask me why I chose to spend so much time in Russia, I explain that according to an old Russian saying I am fulfilling a destiny to explore Russia, found in my middle name: КАТЯ.