The 2015 NSLI-Y Russian Language and Culture, RAF & Bolshoi Way Program offers a unique opportunity to its participants to acquire Russian language skills and cultural competency while enhancing their ballet skills through in-class language instruction, authentic cultural activities, host family stays, and ballet training at Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet Academy. In addition to the more formal aspects of the program, participants gain first-hand knowledge of what it means to be a “cultural ambassador.” See participants’ responses to questions about their experiences thus far as cultural ambassadors in Moscow, Russia below.
What has been your greatest success since arrival?
• Feeling like you are unable to communicate with people around you is a terrible feeling, so when someone speaks to me and I understand them it is one of the best things ever!
• My greatest success since arrival has been figuring out the metro. Getting [to my destination] without messing up or getting lost [is] extremely rewarding.
• My maturity and tolerance for customs different from my own have grown exponentially over the past couple of weeks. Although this character growth is not tangible or clearly visible, I personally see it as the greatest possible success I could have achieved.
• I was surprised at my ability to understand and communicate after only three weeks of study, and it made me more optimistic that I may reach the language goals I have set for myself.
How has the experience been different from what you expected? What has surprised you?
• I was not entirely sure what to expect. I only ever saw Russia through brief clips in movies and travel shows… but never really got to form a full idea of what it was like. I was surprised to see how interested and supportive [Russians] were of our purpose in this program.
• My host family is a lot more interesting than I expected as it is really cool to see their everyday life… It surprised me that the teenagers are just like American teenagers in that they listen to the same music, watch the same movies, and play the same games.
What has the language learning process been like for you? What strategies or approaches have been helpful?
• Russian is such an incredibly difficult language!.. Whenever my host mom says a vocab word that I don’t know, I write it down in my phone. I have learned much more useful vocabulary with her than what I would otherwise learn in a textbook!
• The language learning process has been good but hard. What has helped me has been making flashcards and just reading all the words I see on signs and ads around Moscow so I can get better at not mixing up the letters.
• I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be immersed in Russian culture because it forces me to pick up the language more quickly.
• At first the language learning was extremely difficult and actually quite frustrating. After being in Moscow for 4 weeks, class has become much easier, and I am very pleased with the process I have made thus far.
• The language learning process has been simultaneously challenging and rewarding. One of my best strategies for coping with the challenging moments of language learning is remembering what I love about the Russian language.
• I have always loved art and music and the important roles they play in Russian culture. There is so much passion and fierceness that has come from the struggles the Russian people have faced in the past. I am just looking forward to being able to go back home and share a deeper and fuller understanding of the people here with my friends and family.
• One of my favorite aspects of Russian culture is the attention to and appreciation of beauty. From the detail put into the practical buildings of the metro to the elevated fashion level of everyday pedestrians, people here respect the beauty of appearances more than in America.
• I appreciate how in Russian culture things like compliments and beliefs are taken more to heart. They aren’t said as casually as in America.
• I love having tea with my host family and just having a time in the day when everyone is together. I want to bring that back to my home because the days can get crazy and you don’t talk to friends or family as much as you want to.
• I love Russian food. This was a huge surprise to me… When I get home I am definitely going to make all my friends and family blini [pancakes] and pirog [pie] to show them how tasty Russian food really is (even though it sounds scary)!
• In Russia, I was pleasantly surprised by the respect that is shown to adults. Within the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, every time an administrator, teacher, or volunteer walked by, Russian children would immediately stop and greet them.
How has this experience impacted your thoughts on the future? What have you learned about yourself that you will take away from this experience?
• This trip has been so inspiring that I am planning on studying Russian in college next year!
• This program has really opened my eyes to a wider world and has made me excited to travel even more after it finishes. I feel I can take on the world and overcome many more obstacles now.
• This experience, especially our visit to the U.S. Embassy, has definitely made me consider a career in foreign affairs more deeply than I did before. Amazingly, I have formed connections with people on the other side of the world, learning their way of life and showing them my own.