In regards to studying in St. Petersburg, I have mixed reactions. Learning Russian grammar, conversation, and culture, for example, in Russian, presented an enormous obstacle for me the first few days of class. As a third-year student at UNC Chapel Hill, I had only taken two years of Russian grammar and one year of Russian conversation prior to arriving here. But on my first day of classes, I was awoken quite abruptly to the seriousness of learning a foreign language in a foreign country. My first day of classes involved intense concentration, note-taking, and asking to repeat questions of the professors in all three of my classes. Fortunately, I was placed in a level of Russian study adequate for my current knowledge and have been lucky to have patient, polite, and serious educational instructors.
After the first few days of classes, I began to feel less pressured and more at ease while at school as I was immersing myself into Russian study. When I wake up in the morning now, I’m always looking forward to classes because I know that I’m learning so much and am so happy to be in this position with the help of ACTR. My plans of using Russian in a future career or profession have been cemented by the fact that I’m just here in Russia, using Russian in everyday conversation. After about two weeks studying in St. Petersburg, I can say that I would want to come back and study Russian at an even higher level, possibly reading works by writers such as Dostoevsky and Pushkin, in Russian rather than English.
Living with a host family is a gratifying, yet sometimes frustrating, experience. For me, with my limited knowledge of speaking Russian, it was tough to carry on even a simple conversation about food, news, music, or movies with my host dad, Andrei, or my host mom, Alla. I remember the first day I met with my host parents, they drove me to a coffee shop where their son works for the purpose of getting to know me. They tried to explain their intent but I didn’t understand until they asked me, “Do you like coffee?” in Russian. At the table, Alla and Andrei asked me basic questions, which I answered enthusiastically but if something more was asked, I couldn’t quite comprehend what they were asking. I felt awkward because of this until we drove home to their apartment. My host dad then shared with me his appreciation for the movie, Transformers, and then I felt comfortable trying to speak Russian even though I definitely made some grammatical mistakes. But I’ve learned that if you don’t try speaking Russian because you’re nervous or afraid that you’ll sound terrible, you will never get anything positive out of living and studying in St. Petersburg.
Although studying and spending time at home trying to figure out what my host family is saying consumes most of my time here in St. Petersburg, I’ve made time with friends to see what this historic city has to offer. For example, on Friday, June 12th, Russia celebrated its own independence day with a concert in the evening. Some members of the St. Petersburg group and I ventured to uncover a little bit of Russia’s culture here and we did indeed. Listening to Russian pop, dancing to the music, and being a part of a sea of patriotic Russians were the defining points of the time we spent together on that Friday.
By: Jason Jones
Term: Summer 2009