Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, AC Study Abroad programs were held virtually during Summer 2020.
The impacts of coronavirus have been felt in all corners of the world and the daily lives and future plans of everyone have been affected. For many students they have started taking classes online and the hope of going back to campus seems to disappear more and more each day as coronavirus cases rise in the U.S. Before the pandemic and quarantine happened, I, like many other students, applied for a study abroad program that would take place during the summer of 2020. This program was RLASP (Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program) in Almaty, Kazakhstan, which would have included going to classes at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, living with a host family, and having a conversation partner that you would meet with once a week in order to study the Russian language and improve my proficiency. However, as the days passed by it became clear that the program would be canceled for everyone’s safety. At this point I thought I would have to cut my losses and apply for the program next year. I was surprised when I learned that I could still continue with the program as I had planned with the change that the classes would be online. Of course, it was not ideal but I was excited to still be able to take classes and improve my Russian over the summer.
Due to the nature of online courses, many elements have changed. Most obviously, all of the classes are online through Zoom, which many students have been using to attend their classes; same with my summer courses. Every week through Zoom I take Grammar, Conversation, Listening, Phonetics, Reading, Writing, History and International Relations of Central Asia, and Kazakh Studies; in a day there are two classes that are an hour long each, and with each class there is a different teacher. This keeps the pace of each class pretty fast as well as having the advantage of being able to meet and speak with many different people and experience different teaching styles of teachers that are distinct from the classes I have taken in the U.S. Every week we meet with one of the teachers for an hour so that we can discuss concepts we did not understand or practice having a conversation with a native Russian speaker. These are very helpful as it can sometimes feel stressful to ask a teacher during class to help you understand a topic but with these private meetings you can feel comfortable to ask whatever questions you want. We also have conversation partners that are Kazakh students that are studying at the same university and can talk with them about topics we might normally discuss with our friends or other people our age. All of these things work well in an online format and even with the restricting conditions I have noticed an improvement in my Russian.
However there are some things that cannot be replicated in online classes, first and foremost is the host family. In this program I would have normally been paired up with a host family so that I could better understand Kazakh culture as well as constantly be practicing my Russian with regular people. The other is living in Almaty and being surrounded by Russian language and Kazakh culture everywhere I go. The constant exposure to a foreign language and its culture is very important to mastering the language. Unfortunately, these things cannot be easily reproduced through online class meetings.
This has been my experience so far of studying abroad online during the coronavirus pandemic. I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of my lessons despite the circumstances and I am hoping to visit Almaty, Kazakhstan in the future to experience the parts of the city I was not able to experience during my virtual exchange.
By: Alexandra Stewart
Term: Summer 2020