Why did you choose your program and location?
Ever since my older sisters did semester-long study abroad programs while they were in university, I knew that I wanted to do the same. Having studied Russian at university for two years, going on a program in Russia or Ukraine made a lot of sense for me. With SRAS having been recommended to me by professors, I narrowed it down to either St. Petersburg or Moscow. I ended up choosing St. Petersburg because of all of the history and how beautiful the city looked. St. Petersburg also seemed like a friendlier place to visit (whether correct or incorrect) and was recommended to me as a good place to go for a first trip to the former Soviet Union. I chose Russian as a Second Language because my ultimate goal was to become better at the language. I combined it with the Home and Abroad Scholars Program to help fund my time abroad.
What did you learn while abroad?
To start off, I learned an enormous amount of Russian language. Sure, in my two years of university study I had learned all of the cases, a decent amount of grammar, and some vocabulary. But it’s difficult to focus on learning a language when that’s just one class out of five that you are taking in a semester. In St. Petersburg, I was able to really focus on Russian. My abilities to read, write, speak, and listen all grew enormously. To be sure, I still have a long way to go, but living and studying in St. Petersburg was a huge step forward.
I also learned a lot about Russia itself—its history, geography, mentality, and culture. My two electives (taught in English and offered with SRAS’ Russian as a Second Language program) focused on Russian foreign policy and Arctic governance and law. I really enjoyed learning about these topics from a Russian point of view. I also learned about the Russian economy and current events through my chosen focus with the Home and Abroad Scholars Program. I, of course, also learned a lot about the history of Russia in general and St. Petersburg in particular through excursions, tours, and just talking with locals.
Do you feel the cultural program complimented your program abroad?
I really enjoyed the cultural program. Having a native guide to tell us about places was also really helpful to get a full picture of the background and history. I particularly enjoyed the group excursions to the Winter Palace, Peter and Paul Fortress, and Peterhof.
There is also plenty to go and see in St. Petersburg on your own if you are so inclined. I went to many other museums and historical sites separate from the official cultural program and learned a lot. I also really enjoyed going to football (soccer) games. I attended seven matches of the local team, Zenit.
Did the program meet (exceed, fall short of) your expectations?
I think the program more or less met my expectations. I really enjoyed myself and did not encounter any enormous difficulties. I had pretty high expectations for the program, and it was quite good.
What do you hope to do with what you learned while abroad in the future?
I think I will be able to use what I learned abroad in the future in both obvious and targeted ways, as well as more generally. I hope to be able to do work involving the former Soviet Union in the future and knowing Russian and having more background in history and culture obviously help with that. More generally, I can apply the language learning skills I have acquired to learning other languages and processes. Learning more about other cultures also helps one gain more perspective and ability to make good, balanced decisions. Spending a long amount of time abroad has also reinforced my desire to travel even more.