Samantha participated in the 2022 Russian Summer program in Narva, Estonia, as well as the Virtual Summer Intensive for Russian in the summer of 2021. Her experiences with NSLI-Y led her to want to become a language teacher. She will attend McGill University in Montreal to pursue a Bachelor of Education in Teaching English as a Second Language. She speaks English, Russian, and Spanish, and will be learning French in college. Apart from languages, she enjoys gymnastics, music, and theatre.
When I first moved in with my Estonian host family in Narva, my Russian was not where I expected it to be. I froze up and forgot the whole language when I was spoken to, despite starting the program at an intermediate low level. This is why, when my host mom asked me, "Ты умеешь ездить на велосипеде?" (Do you know how to ride a bicycle?), I stammered over the answer, which should be "Да, я умею" (Yes, I do). I was so flustered and tripped over those three words so much that my host mom thought I didn't know how to conjugate basic verbs.
Past that small hiccup, knowing how to ride a bike would enable me to bond with my host family immensely. It seems like a small thing, but на даче (at the dacha, or summer home) in the forest, we rode our bicycles down trails and roads through the forest to get to the beach. The first weekend we spent with our host families coincided with Иван Купала, a holiday celebrating the summer solstice. Since it fell on a Thursday, we got a four-day weekend, which for myself and the other student in my host family meant four days at dacha.
For practically four days straight, we were at the beach, usually riding our bikes there through the woods. We played with our host mom's seven-year-old granddaughter, building sandcastles, pretending to be sharks, and escaping her splashes. We explored the promenade of Sillamäe, a neighboring town, with our host mom, her husband, her goddaughter, and her goddaughter's American boyfriend. We ate and drank a lot of rhubarb, had a lot of Karelian stew (a traditional dish of Finland, Estonia's neighbor across the Gulf), and I definitely got the worst sunburn of my life from all that time spent at the beach.
We went to dacha most weekends, and our host mom spent a lot of time there while we were at school. The other participant and I were encouraged to explore as we pleased — we knew the way to the beach and back, and were welcome to go — so the two of us set out on a walk one day. It had been raining on and off, but the sky was clear. Before we left, our host mom insisted that we wear jackets and waterproof shoes. We told her we didn't need them, and that our shoes would be fine, but she would not take no for an answer. I ended up wearing her sneakers and neon pink jacket. Sure enough, on our way back to the dacha, an absolute downpour found us. I used her jacket as an umbrella for myself and trekked through the mud wearing my host mom's surprisingly water-resistant sneakers.
I loved Russian class, but spending time with my host family at dacha was one of the highlights of the program. That first weekend in particular definitely helped me come out of my shell in terms of language. I got to know a lot of people while we were there, since my host mom seemed to know everybody, and having people to practice speaking with was an invaluable part of my program experience.