Rebecca Lawson talks about acclimating to life in Russia while on the Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program in Moscow as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship recipient.
Adjusting to life in Russia has been a challenging yet rewarding experience. Adapting to new cultural norms and subtleties while also learning to maintain a busier day to day schedule forced me to view the world from a different perspective and has allowed room for personal growth. Being in Russia for six months has brought a number of challenges that I wouldn’t normally face back home. Some of these challenges were expected – such as learning to navigate a new city in a new language, while other challenges were unforeseen – namely how living abroad would affect my physical and mental health. But it’s because of these challenges that I have been able to learn so much about Russian language, culture, and about myself.
Arriving in Moscow for the first time was an overwhelming experience. The fact that i was in a completely different part of the world was made real driving from the airport through the city and seeing the architecture, the people, and the language. For the people living in Moscow, these sights are normal, but for me, a person who has never been to Europe, everything caught my attention – from the street signs to the way the buildings were lit up to the way people were dressed and how they interacted with one another. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in the rural Midwest city where I grew up and I was excited to explore.
But despite the excitement, I knew there were challenges I would face as I became acclimated to the city. We were told many times that we will most likely have to deal with some level of culture shock, and I was ready for and expecting those feelings. But as time went on I realized that I felt none of the things I expected to feel related to culture shock. I never felt uncomfortable with any aspects of interpersonal interaction that Americans would consider vastly different such as diminished personal space, a lack of smiling or pleasantries, or blunt honesty. Although these are differences I definitely noticed, I never felt threatened or defensive – rather it was relieving at times knowing that I didn’t have to put on a fake smile with every interaction I had. It allowed me to be more honest with others and myself about how I was feeling.
However, the biggest challenges for me showed themselves through the quality of my mental well-being in various aspects of my experience abroad. As an example, I have always been a shy, introverted person and have had social anxieties in many different types of situations. As hard as some situations may be in a language I am comfortable with, these situations were made even more difficult in Russian. Simple interactions such as ordering a meal or buying groceries suddenly became much more intimidating. Yet I found ways to work through them. The act of working through something so seemingly simple manifested itself in many other situations as well and I have become much more confident in my ability to navigate different social situations while minimizing my anxieties.
As mentioned previously, one of the unforeseen challenges I have had to face while studying in Moscow is how strongly my general health was affected. It seemed that I was getting head colds more often than back home, and that I wasn’t sleeping as well. Although some of this is expected due to the stress of living in such a new environment, it is something that I expected to happen on a smaller scale. I also had stronger periods of general anxiety and depression than I did back home. However, I am not saying any of this as a reason not to experience study abroad or Russia – I would come back to Moscow in a second. Rather I see my experiences as a way to grow. I feel as though I will be coming out of this experience a stronger, more confident person because of everything that I have gone through – both negative and positive – and I wouldn’t give up this experience for anything.
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.