After studying Russian for several years in high school, Nick wanted to take his proficiency to the next level. NSLI-Y seemed like the perfect opportunity, and he applied for and was accepted to the Summer 2014 program in Russia. His experience during the summer then inspired him to apply for the 2015-2016 Russian academic year program. Nick was accepted to learn Russian in Moldova, but this time his parents had some concerns. “At first my family was a little skeptical about allowing me to leave home for 9 months to a country that many people have never even heard of.” After a number of discussions about the details of the program and the beneficial experience it would be, his parents became supportive of his participation.
While Nick had previously studied in Russia with NSLI-Y, this was his first time in Moldova; he was not quite sure what to expect. “I was nervous that host country nationals would be hostile towards us, but it was exactly the opposite. Almost every Moldovan we encountered was very excited to talk with Americans and ask more about our country and to share about their own.” Transitioning to life in Moldova was challenging, however. He says that keeping an open mind was important during this adjustment period. “Being able to go with the flow and adapt to unexpected situations is a valuable skill for an exchange student.”
During his academic year program in Moldova, Nick had language classes for four hours a day. He says that time in the classroom played a vital role in his progress with the language. “The teachers not only taught us grammar, phonetics, vocabulary and other basics, but also talked to us about the history of Moldova and the Soviet Union and shared Russian and Moldovan culture with us.”
Nick (front right) playing in the Central Park (Pushkin Park) with the youth orchestra he was involved in during his year in Moldova.
The group also had many activities outside of the classroom that helped to reinforce their language studies, such as “city quests” where they had to complete various tasks like mailing a letter or finding out information about the theatre schedule. They also had excursions and master classes throughout the course of the year. “Some of my favorite excursions include when we went to the Nutcracker ballet during the holidays, a trip to a local village for a traditional Moldovan festival and a boat ride we took along the Dniestr River.” Every excursion was accompanied by a guide who would explain things to the students in Russian and answer their questions in Russian, which provided excellent opportunities to practice.
In addition, Nick and his fellow participants completed several projects. Nick completed several projects including a final five-page research paper in Russian. “Some of the topics I covered with these projects were the college application process in Moldova, music in Chisinau, and the linguistic situation in the country. All these projects were extremely helpful in reinforcing the language skills we learned in class.”
Nick’s language abilities grew significantly through his diligence in and out of the classroom. “When I arrived in Moldova, my language skills limited me to talking about basic topics such as the weather, food, and daily routines. As the year progressed, I began to be able to talk about more and more complex topics such as the political climate in Moldova, Russia and America and my thoughts and feelings on deeper issues. As a result of this linguistic progress, I was able to form stronger relationships with those in the host country as the year went on.”
NSLI-Y students eating dinner together after a culinary master class led in Russian. The local coordinator taught students how to make traditional Moldovan and Russian dishes, such as pelmeni (пельмени), which is a meat filled dumpling, and borscht (борщ), which is a traditional Russian beet soup.
Nick reports that one of the highlights of his experience was forming relationships in his local host community. “Many nights after dinner [my host family and I] would go for walks with the dog around the neighborhood and chat about a variety of topics ranging from what I learned in class that day to who is going to win the US presidential election.” Another special part of Nick’s experience in Moldova was his participation in a youth orchestra in Chisinau. “It was great linguistic practice to speak with the director and students in Russian as well as a great opportunity to participate in something I am passionate about while in Moldova. At the end of the year we participated in a city wide youth orchestra competition in the Central Park of Chisinau and won first place.”
Nick shared the following advice for students considering NSLI-Y: “I would encourage anyone with interest in any of the NSLI-Y languages to apply for the program, even if you have little to no experience in the language. If you participate in the program, take every opportunity you can to get involved in the host culture.”
This fall, Nick will be starting his university studies as a chemical engineering major at the University of Maryland. He will continue to study Russian and hopes to minor in it. He plans to start a career as a chemical engineer and would like to travel and use his Russian as part of his work.