Going to Russia was always a part of my four-year plan for college. I knew that majoring in Russian meant that I would go to Russia for a semester. This information was both a source of incredible excitement, but also a lot of anxiety. I love to travel and exploring different cultures and languages but how would I survive in a country where I wasn’t strong in the language? Would I be able to communicate properly? Make friends? Order what I wanted when I went out to eat?
The first day we went to get Pierogis, the Russian kind that are more like pie, I was the last person to order because I listened to the people in front of me, listening to every word they said trying to figure out how to say, “I would like a meat and cheese pierogi please.” Even after listening to 6 people I still had to ask someone else in the program how to say, “I would like” and then I just pointed to what I wanted. The lady kind of chuckled at me and corrected me. She was incredibly nice and was patient when I had no idea that she had asked if I wanted anything to drink. This was the moment where I had a moment of “Oh boy this will be a long semester,” but I also realized that people here are willing to help as long as you at least try.
The first few classes were slightly nightmare-ish, to be quite frank. I had no idea what the teachers were saying or what they wanted me to do for homework. I quickly realized that they are more than willing to repeat themselves multiple times or rephrase or jump up and down and wave their arms to mime what they wanted to say. My vocabulary increased by at least 2 times within the first two weeks. This was a source of incredible stress because I knew very few words at the beginning of the program and was unable to express my concerns or what I was confused about in class. I could only point to things on the chalkboard and saying “um… what?” which worked for a while, but was not ideal. With lots of studying and doing homework for at least three hours every night I was finally able to say specific things that I don’t understand and ask deeper questions about the topic that was being discussed. My first few pages of notes in many of my classes are just a list of vocab words. Themes of the classes are barely distinguishable between lists of random words that don’t really make sense together. Honestly some still are, but in my politics class you can finally see the theme of each class in my notes that constantly switch back and forth between Russian and English. Even though there is a lot of English in my notes I count this as win because it means that I am following along enough that I can take (slightly illegible) notes.
Overall, I think that, while I still have a long way to go, I have improved greatly, and I am really proud of myself. The frustrations are still at large but I remind myself every now and then how I started the program and see how far I’ve come to serve as motivation to keep pushing and keep studying because the improvement shows.
By Katherine Simpson
Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program
Term: Spring 2019