Gillian is from Boalsburg, PA and participated in the Russia Summer 2017 program.

gillian practicing ballet

My NSLI-Y journey began in New York City as I boarded a plane to Russia with twelve other amazing participants. Leaving behind a city I had gotten to know over the course of three weeks, and walking onto a plane departing for Moscow was daunting. This wasn't my first trip abroad, and I was desperately trying to conjure up information from my past experiences but nothing could have prepared me for the life-changing opportunity I was about to take part in.

Leaving home for nine weeks with people you barely know may seem like an absurd thing to do, however, it was the best decision of my life. As a ballet dancer, Moscow and all of Russia hold a special place in my heart and I never thought I would have the opportunity to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. I am still in awe and honored to have stayed at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and learned from such valuable teachers.

gillian striking a ballet pose

While my ballet experience is one that has shaped me for the rest of my life, the full immersion of the NSLI-Y program is an experience like no other. It has always been an academic and personal goal of mine to enrich myself through the study of language. I am lucky enough to have studied German and Spanish, however, Russian was at the top of my list. I was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to learn Russian, no matter how difficult it may be. Through my studies, I have indeed learned that Russian is very difficult, and the other students and I had daily four-hour lessons, but it was all worth it. I believe that you can only truly begin to experience a country once you have some understanding of the language, no matter how fragmented that understanding may be. For me, an introduction to the Russian language has opened up so many doors and I am incredibly grateful for the experience I have had.

As every good thing must eventually come to an end, so did my time in Moscow. To be completely honest I don't think I am ever ready to leave a location, especially one that I fell in love with. Russia came with its ups and downs, but despite the struggles, I always managed to come out on top. Leaving the academy was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but I know that whenever I look back on my experiences I will remember the people I met and the lessons I learned for a lifetime. My summer in Moscow with NSLI-Y truly changed my life and has given me the strength and guidance to be who I am today.