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.
When I applied for this study abroad program in the winter, I imagined myself living in Saint Petersburg with a host family, taking Russian classes at the Russian State Pedagogical University, and just being completely immersed in the language and culture. I did not imagine sitting on my computer three to four hours a day on Zoom speaking to people I am sure I would never meet in person.
When applying for the Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program through American Councils, my main goal was to build a better foundation of the Russian language to utilize it, along with my background in nuclear nonproliferation and electrical engineering, in my future career. After studying the language for a year, I quickly realized that perfecting my Russian was a skill that I wanted to pursue.
When COVID restrictions started getting implemented throughout the world, my summer intensive immersion program in Russia was cancelled. Consequently, I was offered the option to participate in a remote version of the program. Professors living in Moscow and St. Petersburg gave 3-4 hours of instruction every day using the Zoom platform.
As I sat down to write this blog post, a stream of images of what might have been began to collect in the shadowy corners of my mind. The bittersweet goodbyes to family and friends, the anxious but exhilarating flight to Almaty, the inevitable jetlag, the initial encounters in the airport as I attempted to find my baggage in a new language, and the sights, sounds, and smells of a world hitherto unknown to me.
Hi everyone, Shareese here! I'm entering week four of the RLASP program, and it has been a whirlwind! I've loved it! It's a strange situation to embark on a study abroad program in your living room in the US. However, the program coordinators have worked their hardest to make sure this program is as intensive and immersive. You would think it might be challenging to connect with others via Zoom, but I beg to differ. I have enjoyed connecting with my cohorts as well as the Russian students. Our conversations in getting to know one another are incredibly enriching. I do feel immersed in the culture during those courses.
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.
Although I have lived a substantive portion of my post-college years in various countries around the world, even now I tend to take for granted the way our mind exists in flux when adjusting to a new country, language, or context. This concept in relation to language in particular inexorably asserts itself during the summer months I spend each year in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
I think it’s safe to say that summer 2020 hasn’t gone as planned for anyone, especially for those studying in fields related to international relations. I can count myself among those persons whose plans were upended by COVID-19; I’m a Russian and History major at the University of Missouri, and I had received a fully-funded scholarship to study abroad in Russia this summer.
In the beginning of the year, I was looking forward to traveling to Russia for the summer and studying Russian language and culture in an immersive environment. When I learned that traveling abroad was not going to be possible because of the coronavirus, I was afraid that I would waste this summer by not practicing Russian in an environment where I could learn with the proper guidance.