Fulbright-Hays Scholarship Recipient Profile: Jon Koele

Jon Koele  discusses the valuable life lessons learned while living abroad on the Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program in Moscow as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship recipient.


When I first decided that I was going to study abroad in Russia, most of my friends and family looked at me with surprised complexions. Russia isn’t a place typically thought of when one thinks of studying abroad because of the historically tense political relations with the USA and many other negative stereotypes that are alive and well in America. I can honestly say though that this summer was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life and not only did I learn so much in terms of language, but I was able to take things from the Russian mentality that I would have never encountered If I had stayed in America. Here is the most important thing I learned from my time living in Russia.

I learned something more valuable than gold from observing the Russian mentality and that is the total acceptance of life as it is. Russia has had a brutal and bloody history which still directly affects the way Russians think and behave. This has produced a generation of Russians who appreciate life itself and realize just how easily it can be taken away and destroyed. The way Russians deal with everyday nuances and larger life-changing events is incredible to me due to how different it is from a typical American response. In my experience, Russians complain rarely, if ever. Of course, this does not speak for all Russians but from the ones I was blessed to communicate with it was something I definitely noticed. One example that comes to mind was when I was in Domodedovo Airport with my host father to check my bag for my return flight home. We had been standing there for an hour or so and my patience was running low. I turned to my host father who had come to help me check out and said, “I hate airports.” He curiously asked, “Why?” which caught me off guard as I was expecting him to agree with me because who likes airports? I said, “There’s too many people, it’s time-consuming, everything’s expensive, and it’s stressful,” to which he responded, “That’s just what airports are.” This response was short and simple but the meaning behind it was complex and spoke so much to the Russian outlook on life. Often times as Americans we complain about things that are completely out of our control, we complain about the way things are, and we complain about our lives and the random events that occur in it when most of the time the dissatisfaction we have with our lives is due to our own sloth and fear of what would happen if we tried to change it. In Russia these things aren’t bad or good, they aren’t hard or easy, they aren’t even annoying, they just are. “Life just is” and this is something I think as Americans we would do good to learn. To accept life as it is, to accept that without the sadness and misery we cannot have the happiness and love. One cannot be without the other. This is something I will never ever forget from my time in Russia and my life has improved immensely from learning and implementing this in my own life.


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.

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