Patrick Kennelly reflects on his semester on the Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program in Moscow as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship recipient and how everyday is an adventure in Russia.
It is near impossible to bring everything you are going to need when leaving for another country, and in the first few days I noticed I did not have nail-clippers. A pretty simple fix in America, drop down to the CVS and pick them up. Only in Moscow, there was no CVS equivalent. Couple that with the fact that I had just moved there and did not know exactly where in Moscow I could go for a thing like nail-clippers, and what followed was an almost week long journey to different stores and malls before I found them in a beauty salon.
This experience helped me realize two things. The first was that nothing in Russia was going to be as easy as in America. This is likely true in every country, but especially in Russia where things are simply put, very different from America. The second was that, being slightly more difficult, doing anything in Russia can turn into an experience. Everyday simple things, like buying nail-clippers can turn into an act of charades with a helpful and patient saleswoman who can not quite hear through your thick American accent.
A few weeks later a few of us decided to go to St. Petersburg, so we headed down to the train station to buy tickets. What would have likely been an online purchase in America, took us two hours with a woman who skipped both of her breaks during that time period, to help us out. A Muscovite who overheard us speaking English when we walked in, identified that we were struggling and offered to help us out. He became one of my best friends in Moscow, someone I still talk to today. Of course there were certain days in Moscow where I wished for the familiarity and easiness of life in America. But it was the difficulty of figuring things out on your own, that turned normal tasks into character growth experiences.
I was expecting to get better at speaking Russian in Moscow, and that I certainly did. Within a week of getting back to America I translated the company’s health insurance policy to a man my dad worked with from Uzbekistan, who spoke very little English. That was a moment of realization for me just how far I had come in the 4 months I was in Moscow. But what was unexpected, was the personal growth I experienced through living there. I often find myself in America, when stressed out or anxious, looking back on my experience in Moscow as a source of reassurance. I have gained a sense of independence and capability that I believe can only be found, when you are thrown into a world completely unfamiliar. The language gains were only part of my overall growth as a person in Moscow, as I now look on troubling tasks and foreign places with excitement. I know how there is much to gain by stepping out of your comfort zone, and making life a little uneasy.
About Fulbright-Hays Scholarships from American Councils
American Councils for International Education has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad, to provide scholarships for advanced overseas Russian and Persian language study. Learn more about the eligibility requirements here.
About Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad
The Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act, commonly referred to as the Fulbright-Hays Act, was made law by the 87th U.S. Congress under President John F. Kennedy on September 21, 1961. Senator J. William Fulbright and Representative Wayne Hays introduced the legislation, which represents the basic charter for U.S. government-sponsored educational and cultural exchange. 2016 marks the 55th anniversary of this landmark legislation. More information about Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad can be found here.