Cian Stryker reflects on his travels around Tajikistan while on the Eurasian Regional Language Program in Dushanbe as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship recipient.
One of the greatest benefits to learning a foreign language is that you gain the ability to travel and converse with people who you could not before. Entire portions of the globe that were inaccessible to you before become opened with your newly found language ability. Travelling while in a program is important for multiple reasons ranging from personal development to language learning progress. Exploring your host country broadens your horizons and forces you to adapt to uncertain situations.
While in Tajikistan I had the opportunity to travel to different regions and villages within the country. These experiences were not always particularly comfortable or pleasant, but each time I left Dushanbe I experienced ways of life that bettered my understanding of the country as a whole. I spent a whole week driving through Badakshan, a remote and sometimes desolate region within Tajikistan that fared poorly during the civil war. The history of this region is rich and stretches back to the Silk Road when it served as one of the major highways for the wealth of the world to flow through. Today, however, it is generally isolated from the rest of the world and somewhat forgotten. This does not diminish the beauty of its landscape or lessen the striking nature of its ancient forts overlooking the Pamir Mountains. While in Badakshan I had to switch between languages frequently as the people there have learned to use English, Russian, or Tajik depending on the preferences of the travellers who frequent the region.
The flexibility of language use demonstrates the other major benefit of travelling within your host country while studying. Often students study their language with their teachers and assume that their progress in classroom will automatically translate to the outside world. Unfortunately this is rarely true. Your language instructors are trained professionals who are used to conversing with foreigners and so are far more patient, understanding, and aware of your accent issues, grammatical problems, and atypical cadence. When students finally leave the classroom or try to listen to a native speaker in a podcast or news site, they often feel dismay because they can barely keep up. This is why travelling can be so useful because it forces students to interact with native speakers who are not pedagogically trained. These interactions can be very awkward and often embarrassing, but they are also incredibly useful for language progress. Those awkward conversations allow students to adapt and use their language ability in unfamiliar situations, which translates to a better overall command.
Looking back on my time in Tajikistan I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to travel as much as I did. The places I saw and the people I met outside of Dushanbe left a distinct impression on me and developed my understanding of the country. I urge all other students to not be afraid to be adventurous and also to take the risk of leaving their classrooms to put themselves in awkward situations that will pay off in the future.
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.