By Catherine Cata, summer 2017 NSLI-Y Moscow alumna, from Stafford, Virginia

catherine cooking with her host family

It all began at the JFK Airport when our group of thirteen in matching green t-shirts waited anxiously for the plane. I remember thinking before I got on the plane to Russia, “this is really happening.” It was going to be my first time abroad and I was anxious but excited not knowing what Russia held for me.

When I arrived in Russia I experienced jet lag for the first time. I was confused if I was hungry or not and I woke up at two am for three straight days. Gradually I adjusted and was able to function properly in language and ballet class.

As a ballet dancer, this experience to dance and live at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy was amazing. The faculty cared and gave lots of corrections each day in class. During the week we would have technique class and either repertoire, character, or gymnastics (class favorite).

catherine pictured with her ballet teacher

Along with the awesome ballet classes, the main and most important part of the program was learning Russian. The Russian language, I will not sugar coat, is a difficult language. Our teacher was a very nice lady who challenged us every day in class. We would sing songs and write dialogues that became easier to do as we learned more through the week. Every night my friends and I did homework and helped each other understand the grammar and memorize vocabulary. Learning was fun with them because we made riddles and associated English words with the Russian vocabulary words to memorize them. I still remember the one night we only spoke in Russian to each other while we did our homework.

After all the classes I enjoyed hanging out with my friends in Moscow. We had our own fun experience called “понедельник молоко” translating to “Monday Milk” which meant every Monday we tried a different cafe in Moscow. Our last one we went to the Pushkin Museum Cafe which I recommend because the staff is kind, the dessert is amazing, and their tea is the best. My friends and I also went to Red Square as well as GYM.

image of catherine dancing in moscow

I recommend going out as much as possible because it's a great memory creator. One night we went to LaDuree and our waiter was so excited that we were trying to learn Russian that he taught us Russian words and we taught him English words. Don't be afraid to interact with Russian people, they are kind and are excited to know someone is trying to learn their language. NSLI-Y also organized cultural events with the whole group that were great experiences. For example, we went to Mari Vanna, an authentic Russian restaurant that served amazing blini (pancake). We also went to ballets, attended a cooking class, and danced with Russian folk singers. Weekends were spent with my host family and it was the most amazing experience. My family taught me many words and took me to places where tourists don't go. I went to my little host brother's ice hockey practice as well as the dentist where my host mom read a children's book in the waiting room with me. After studying and staying with my host family for six weeks, I had learned so much Russian and about Russian culture, I didn't want to leave.

Separating from the friends I lived, studied, and laughed with was extremely hard. This experience not only taught me a ton of Russian but has also opened me up to opportunities within the NSLI-Y Alumni network that I can't wait to look into. In all of my high school career, this experience NSLI-Y has given was unforgettable.