Note: The Spring 2020 semester was interrupted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Participants returned home in the middle of the semester and continued their studies remotely.
Olivia Myers reflects on her experience while on the Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program in Moscow as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship recipient.
My study abroad experience in Moscow was cut short due to COVID-19, but while I was there, I made the most of my time by exploring new cafes, meeting new people, and doing activities with my host family. Before I came to Russia I was extremely nervous, but my classmates, host family, and friends made me feel so welcome and comfortable as I adapted to my new environment. One weekend, my host family took me to the Moscow Zoo to see the opening of the new Panda exhibit. We spent a few hours walking around the zoo and my host brother explained each animal to me in detail. It was a great way to expand my vocabulary and spend quality time with my host family.
Maslenitsa (Мaсленица), which is a celebration the end of winter, began on February 24th and that morning I drove with my host family to a city about 45 minutes west of Moscow to attend a festival. They showed me a cathedral built in 600 AD and introduced me to several Russian saints who were painted on every wall. At the cathedral, I was also able to purchase a couple of icons to remember the experience. After this, we went to a neighborhood nearby to celebrate the beginning of Maslenitsa. The little festival had traditional Russian knights, a blacksmith, all you could eat Pelmini and Blini, traditional Russian drinks, and a troika which my host family and I rode.
The celebration of Maslenitsa also marked the beginning of a carnival back in my home state of Louisiana. Every year, my family and I celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Beignets, beads, and king cake are staple holiday treats and traditions in the south. As a way of thanking my host family for showing me their culture, I wanted to do a little of the same. I used the Beignet mix I had brought from home, and I made them for my host family to give them a taste of New Orleans. They loved them! That same evening, I met up with my friends to watch the fireworks for Defender of the Fatherland Day (День защитника Отечества).
I don’t remember what I expected when I got to Russia, but any worry I had vanished once I arrived. The people I encountered were patient, helpful, and mutually curious about my own culture and views. I have some advice for prospective and future study abroad students.
Be open-minded and go with the flow. I would have missed out on some fun memories and experiences if I had stayed in my room instead.
Talk to the locals. They know the city the best and can tell you about fun events, the best cafés and sights in the city.
Try all the food. Russian cuisine is unique and tasty. Most of the food has an interesting history and is important in understanding various aspects of Russian culture.
Ask questions! It is the best way to learn more about the culture and practice your Russian skills.
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.