One of the most challenging things about an immersion program is getting to know other students in your target language. Many students, no matter their proficiency, struggle with branching out from the other international students. Being less than proficient myself, I had no idea what to do. At first, I had been nervous to go anywhere alone, in case I got lost or was stuck with the language. As I slowly gained confidence, I finally met my first friend in Russia. She was working in a café, and knew a bit of English, so that when conversation was stuck, she was able to help me figure out what I was trying to say. We ended up doing homework together constantly. Through her, I met more students my age, some who knew nothing at all in English, and I was amazed at how easy it is to connect even when my vocabulary was at times nonexistent about certain subjects.
While it can be nerve wracking to put yourself in an unknown situation, my best memories have come from ignoring my anxiety about social confusion. My new group of friends showed me local spots that I would never have found on my own. I was able to go to live concerts because they would hear about them and invite me. Best of all, I made bonds with students my age who understood the challenge of coming to a new place. Going to a different culture is not as scary as it may seem; the people there are just as caring and feeling as we are, and little social blunders are going to happen, whether in another language or at home in the US. My advice? Go out, take the first step. Introduce yourself to someone who is reading an interesting book, talk to the man who works at the front desk, because conversations like that lead to lasting relationships. These conversations are also the best source for language immersion. In class, we talk about how to put sentences together and what Pushkin wrote about, but with my friends I talk about everything from art to the movies we see together.
That being said, it is also okay to spend a day at home, relaxing. It can be a challenge to constantly be on alert, trying to understand everything happening around you at once. It is just as important to meet new people as it is to give yourself time to adjust. Finding a balance between schoolwork, social life and time to relax is essential, as social life in another language can be more taxing than we think. To quote American Councils, “Blunder boldly!”
By: Meighan Winner
Program: Russian Language & Area Studies, St. Petersburg
Term: Spring 2019