In Conclusion

Studying while abroad is, obviously, an educational experience.  That said, there are always some hang ups that hinder learning, and there are some things to be aware of that improve learning.

During orientation they gave us a list of things to bear in mind when learning a language abroad.  The list is quite comprehensive, covering things such as seeking out native speakers, using note taking skills, trying to learn a set number of words a day, and so on.  What the list points to, but does not explicitly state, is that one should be prepared for embarrassment.  As I had described in my first blog, I felt like an idiot when interacting with security shortly upon entry into Russia and I was unwittingly playing an idiot when doing so.  There is an important lesson from this – One can remain silent, constantly double guessing themselves, or one can speak.  Embarrassment is the third certainty of life, best learn from it.

“How does feeling embarrassed aid in learning?  It feels bad.”  Yes.  It does.  That’s how it works.  The problem in learning, however, is that people learn the wrong lesson from embarrassment.  They make a mistake, get negative feedback, and then don’t do such an action again.  However, the error that many make is that they sometimes think that the action itself is the mistake, not how they did it.  My greatest problem (of many) with Russian is pronunciation.  My problem is a fear of a confounded face, trying to untangle my misplaced stress.  Thus, my solution is to note where I am not clear and check the pronunciation of the words which were not clear.  Not speaking in fear of being misunderstood will only harm you in the long-term; avoiding unpleasantness will only lead to more of it when push comes to shove.

Another issue when studying abroad is that it is not immediately clear how much progress one makes.  Certainly, teachers may say this or that about how much improvement one had over time, but it is easy to focus on what one is still not able to do.  There is the disconnect between what one would like to achieve and how much one actually achieved.  It does not matter how much you have walked; there are always kilometers more to go to the point that any distance covered simply seems trite in comparison.  It’s easy to get mired in regret, “Oh, if only I did this from the start.”  Such thoughts are probably natural, it may be irritating to get such insights late, but better late than never, one still has time.

In sum, learning abroad is quite educational, but the more educational experiences tend to be seen as negative as they are happening.  To fall into doubt is quite easy and it is important to push on, regardless.  However they pay off as time passes and the initial negative feelings (stress, doubt, etc) pass and such tribulations pay off greatly, giving a greater appreciation of the country you will be in, and what you have accomplished.

By: Austen Demsko

Program: Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies

Term: Fall 2017

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