Dante Moreno reflects on the rewards of living with a host family while abroad on the Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program in Moscow as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship recipient.
Even though I spent only eight short weeks with my Russian “family” in Moscow, I was warmly welcomed into the daily rhythm of their lives, and quickly became a part of the family. Of course, my language skills improved, as did my knowledge of the history, culture, and the political atmosphere in Russia. But getting to know this family, and being so affectionately integrated into their lives, was the greatest gift of this unique experience. I landed in Moscow with many preconceptions of Russians and Russia. Most of which I was unaware were not based in fact. Cold and inward-facing were two adjectives I would have used to describe both the country and the people. After a summer of interactions with Russian people – at a café, riding the metro every day, visiting museums, shopping, using the archives, and, most importantly, daily life with my host family, completely changed the way I see Russia, the largest country in the world.
I was overwhelmed by the immediate warmth of my host family. As we were introduced, I stood awkwardly, expecting an equally awkward and aloof welcome, fitting the preconceptions I had of the Russian people. Instead, my host mother impetuously closed the distance between us and went in for a hug. That was just the first of a pattern of ways in which this Russian family showed me that families are the same wherever they are, loving and warm and curious about life outside their own. My host mother would link her arm with mine whenever we walked anywhere together, and we would chat and enjoy pointing out various people and places along our way. Every night after dinner my host family and I would gather around the kitchen table and share our stories from the day, discuss tomorrow’s plans, which always included inside tips about metro routes or little-known places, and our past experiences. Despite the fact that my Russian is far from perfect, we laughed our way through my misunderstandings and their corrections, and were always able to communicate. My family and I went to the movies, on walks and to museums, and cooked together. These interactions brought Russian life and the people alive for me and were by far the most rewarding part of my summer. Now, two months after our tearful good-bye, my host brother and I exchange text messages and constantly send each other funny videos and updates on our lives. I also like to send him pictures of Russian dishes that I have tried – and failed – to recreate.
As I got to know more about my host family, I realized that I harbored yet another preconception of Russians. I assumed that they lived in isolation. I expected them to have little interest in traveling abroad, and even less experience. I am not sure where this preconception stemmed from, but it was challenged the very first day I met my host family. While I learned that the experiences and perspectives of Muscovites differ from that of Russians who live in other parts of Russia, almost every Muscovite I met had traveled outside Russia and expected to continue to do so. The travel experiences of my host brother and sister were typical of other Muscovites. They had traveled to the East Coast of the United States and, despite how expensive the trip was for them, they cannot wait to return. My host mom and the two younger sons went to Turkey during the summer. Far from seeing the world through the limited perspective visible within Russia’s borders, most of the Russians I met had traveled to Asia, Europe, America, and elsewhere.
I could write a book on the preconceptions that were overturned during my sojourn in Moscow this summer. The people were kinder, the city more modern and cosmopolitan, and the thinking more varied than I had originally believed. Of course my summer resulted in the expected benefits of expanding my Russian vocabulary, and I became more adept at using correct grammar, but I also began to see the world from a very different perspective, visited many world-class museums, realized how deep Russian history runs, and realized that, at the end of the day, people are the same everywhere. Whether we live in Moscow, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., we value family, and human connections, we are curious about other cultures and willing to welcome a stranger. I learned new grammar and visited countless museums to dive deeper into the layered history and renowned art in Russia. However, my host family was by far the greatest.
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.