My Motivations for Learning Russian

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, AC Study Abroad programs were held virtually during Summer 2020.

I have been studying Russian on and off for the last eight years now and I do not see an end to my language learning journey anytime soon. I read Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky my junior year and I immediately developed a deep curiosity for all things Russian. I remember being a high school senior applying for colleges and researching various Russian programs. My mentor at the time asked if I had any familiarity with Russian and if not, that I should brace myself because all things Russian are far from simple, but worthwhile. I can honestly say that my relationship with Russian has been a wild ride that has drastically changed my life and worldview.

My very first day of Russian class was the first time I had ever seen a Cyrillic alphabet. Prior to embarking on my Russian studies, I studied romance languages such as Italian and French, as they share some commonalities with my native tongue, Spanish. While I love to learn, I must admit I was worried about whether or not I would be able attain some level of proficiency in Russian and maintain it—given that it is very different from the other languages I speak. However, in order to major in Russian Literature and Culture at Mount Holyoke College one must study Russian—a common prerequisite in various Russian programs.

Over time as I met more people, I noticed something that set Russian apart from other languages. Russian language is often directly associated with political science and or the humanities, specifically literature. I recall being asked many times by friends, relatives and professors my reason for learning Russian. It was always the same question: “are you interested in translation or are you leaning towards diplomacy?” Learning Russian can open doors for various careers, but I could not help but notice the reoccurring theme of literature and politics.

Everyone who studies Russian has a different experience, but it is safe to say that learning Russian comes with unique challenges—raise your hand if you have ever felt personally victimized by verbs of motion and the genitive case. However, it was not until my first visit to the region in summer 2015, that I my entire approach towards Russian changed. After about a week had passed, I felt as though I was holding myself back. When I was 16 years old my family and I went to Egypt for our annual family vacation. While waiting to be seated at a restaurant I saw that the menu was translated into four different languages. I could not help but stare at the menu, which included letters that looked more like symbols with many Rs written backwards. The hostess asked me if I read Russian, I said “no” and carried on with the evening. That same memory came to mind when I walked into my first Russian class and again, when I stood in front of the Hermitage Museum for the first time. Before heading back home to begin my senior year at Mount Holyoke I knew that I was going to let go of all associations and assumptions that come with learning Russian.

It was not until I went to Russia that I realized that attaching the language to an academic or professional ambition was only going to hold me back. I understood the responsibilities that came with my major but it was my child-like curiosity for Russian that kept me interested. I left Russia that summer knowing that I would see Russian for what it is, a language, a way to communicate with remarkable people and further my understanding of this sensational culture. It is not to say that I have not had humbling experiences since then, but if there is one thing, I can proudly admit is that learning Russian has taught me how to learn and I only fall more in love with the Russian language with each experience. While, repetition is the mother of learning, as Russians frequently say—I would argue that учить учиться is more telling of the experience regarding Russian language acquisition. Learning Russian is an experience like no other, but and I have yet to meet someone who like me, who remains committed to Russian for any reason other than love.

By: Gabriella Gonzalez

Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program

Term: Summer 2020

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