NSLI-Y is excited to honor Black History Month and recognize the achievements of Black Americans, by spotlighting the stories of our Black alumni.Damien Johnson is an alumnus of the 2022 Summer Russian Program in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, Damien’s time in Kyrgyzstan was instrumental to his personal growth in a variety of ways.
Damien was initially inspired to study abroad by his desire to challenge himself and to grow his Russian skills. He sought a program which would allow him to grow as a person while introducing him to new experiences. After being encouraged to apply by his Russian teacher, Damien was thrilled to receive the NSLI-Y scholarship. Some of his favorite memories from the program include exploring downtown Bishkek with his language partner and host siblings, including visiting bazaars, ordering food, playing games, and going to the mall. Damien enjoyed how all these experiences felt familiar to things he would do in the United States, but so different at the same time.
Damien also bonded strongly with his host family and peers, both other NSLI-Y students and his Kyrgyz peers. He said, “I believe that my connection to my family and friends is the strongest and most lasting impact from my experience. Even miles away and hours ahead there is nothing that can cut the tether connecting me to the people I bonded with and I know that I’ll visit them again soon.” From participating in excursions to museums, to delighting over his host mother’s endless cooking and playing soccer with local teens, Damien had a motto of accepting each opportunity that came to him, and he took every opportunity to immerse himself in the local culture, find opportunities to use his language skills, and make a plethora of new memories.
Damien looks forward to continuing to use what he learned through NSLI-Y through his professional and academic endeavors. He notes that NSLI-Y strongly increased his “soft skills” and has had a positive impact for him in internships and other foreign language studies. While Damien had experience studying Russian before the program, he emerged much more confident in his language skills and ability to have conversations with others in Russian. He was proud of how he built a personal connection and strong bond with his host family, even when his Russian skills were at a lower level upon his arrival. Damien hopes to continue studying Russian in college and participate in additional exchange programs in the region before potentially pursuing a career abroad.