John is from West Branch, IA and participated in the 2017-2018 Russian AY program in Moldova.

When John first stumbled across the NSLI-Y program, he assumed that it wasn’t for him. He had never left the country, so he thought a year abroad would be impossible. However, his interest in Russian culture and desire to dispel negative media portrayal of the country led him to give the application a try. It was as he was writing his essays that he really began to grasp what NSLI-Y entailed and how he could not only fit into the program, but succeed in it.

image of john with a group of moldovan friends

While in Moldova, John not only improved his Russian skills but also found ways to connect with locals, working toward his original goal of dispelling negative media stereotypes of the Russian-speaking world. He had the opportunity to meet Moldovan alumni of FLEX, a U.S. Department of State-sponsored program that brings high schoolers from Europe and Eurasia to America for a year. He cites that experience as having helped break down barriers between the U.S. and Moldova and giving him lifelong friends that he is still in contact with.

One of the most magical experiences on his program, though, was unexpected: “[My friends and I] were walking around the Christmas market. There was snow falling and it felt like we were in a fairy tale. One of my friends suddenly wanted to dance, so we danced the ‘Hora,’ a lively folk dance where you join hands and dance in a circle. People stopped to watch, and strangers even started to join in.” In that moment, he truly felt like not just a visitor to his host community, but a part of it.

john singing with a group of moldovan friends

Being part of this community took more than just starting a dance circle in a market, though. Having had no prior experience with Russian, John struggled to communicate at first, but people like his teachers and host brother were there every step of the way to support him. In addition, hailing from the Midwest, John was accustomed to an indirect way of dealing with both pleasantries and conflicts. He was surprised initially by how honest Moldovans are, but over time he came to appreciate their genuine interest, concern, and curiosity.

image of john with fellow nsli-y students

John spent time volunteering with the elderly and youth with disabilities in Moldova, but he believes his biggest contribution to his host community was simply being there and dispelling stereotypes about Americans by explaining American culture, working hard to improve his Russian, and engaging with the locals. He has brought these perspectives back with him to the U.S., where he has already presented about his year in Moldova to his home community. He taught Americans about his host country and encouraged others in his hometown to seek cultural experiences and linguistic acquisition.

John will start his freshman year at Georgetown University with a major in global health. He is planning to combine his Russian skills with his interest in healthcare by studying health disparities around the world. He would like to work in targeting those disparities, which he became interested in after seeing and hearing about some of them in Moldova. He hopes to return to the region someday not just as a physician but also a friend – no dancing required.