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.
Claire Wool discusses her academic experience while on the Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program in Moscow as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship recipient.
The Program’s Start and a Taste of the Teaching
I was so pleased to be introduced to Russia through American Councils’ Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program. Ever since my initial e-mail communications with the people at American Councils, my experiences with this program have only been positive. I arrived to Washington D.C. excited, but not without apprehensions and anxieties. However, the fast-paced, concise, and comprehensive orientation put concrete information in place of my imaginings and I left the country with a feeling of ease and preparedness for the adventure ahead.
My group arrived to Russia with approximately a week to spare before classes began. We lived the first few days in a dormitory which enabled us to decompress after the minor slog overseas and before moving in with our Russian hosts. American Councils provides its participants with a ready-made support system. Even before settling into our families’ homes, our resident director began introducing us to Russians with whom we could create friendships. The community then widens with the conversation partners we are each assigned, the students we meet afterschool at Russian-American discussion club, and the people we work with if we select to intern somewhere. But some of the greatest support comes from the university faculty members who tirelessly assist us in our venture to learn Russian. I was relieved and thrilled to be met in Moscow with excellent instruction from caring professors.
We have eleven different classes; 4 lectures, 6 seminars, and dance —yes, we have dance! I will here describe these classes briefly. We attend a lecture a couple mornings per week on the topics of history and geography. Our teacher, who incorporated a lot of visual aids in these lectures, transitioned with impressive facility to distance learning when coronavirus had us come home. We attend a linguistics lecture with a heavy focus on culture led by a teacher who delights in seeing us every Monday and is quick to strike up conversation. One of our seminars is intended to familiarize us with all things internet-related and bring us up-to-date on the news. This class can go in many a different direction and our teacher is big on debating issues. We are fortunate to be taught music history and culture by a talented musician. He is booming and energetic (but always bears a pleasant smile) and he will make his way to the piano throughout his lecture in order to audibly demonstrate what it is he’s referring to. Of course, there is the important and arduous task of learning grammar and vocabulary. We follow our teacher’s lead of patient steadfastness to yo-heave-ho through the tangled forest of Russian grammar. We have one film seminar and one literature seminar each week. Our teacher for these subjects has abounding energy and a clever knack of turning everything into a game. We are also taught phonetics through song and literature. My Russian pronunciation improved dramatically thanks to the key points brought to light in this class which my teachers in America had never mentioned. And yet another class offers us assistance in conversation development. It is a free-flowing and fast-paced class that builds on whatever we happen to walk in with. Finally, we practice the notoriously hard-to-grasp verbs of motion (with prefixes) through the study of dance. In dance class, we are introduced to a variety of styles, including waltz and quadrille.
The teaching is exclusively done in Russian which is to our benefit. There is no penalty for not understanding everything or (especially in the beginning) anything. Language cannot be acquired in a state of tension. The teachers, thanks to their positivity and supportiveness, disappear tension. After a couple of days into our first week I was a relaxed student and became more so as the semester progressed and I grew more comfortable with the language. The enthusiasm expressed by our professors and their keenness to provide us a quality education during our time in Moscow is an important reason why I gained so much from American Councils’ Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program and why I would earnestly encourage other students to participate in the program.
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.