Photo of Ashley

Ashley, Russian

Ashley is an alumna of the 2021 NSLI-Y VSI and 2023 NSLI-Y ATP programs. She is currently a student of International Relations at Stanford University. Ashley plans on pursuing a career in international law and hopes to continue exploring the world and other cultures.

What comes next? That seems to always be the question before a big step. You prepare to take a leap of faith but what comes after that remains a nagging question. When choosing to participate in the 2021 NSLI-Y Virtual Summer Intensive (VSI), the path of opportunity ahead of me was difficult to predict – a situation made worse by the complications of the COVID pandemic. Even though the path was bumpy, NSLI-Y VSI altered the course of my academic and professional career.

Riga Skyline from the Radisson Blu Hotel

I’d been certain about my course prior to applying to NSLI-Y. The goal was simple, and the path was well-defined. The first step, study abroad through NSLI-Y, build my Russian language skills, and explore the world. Then, I’d major in International Relations and after that get a job through the US State Department and work my way up to Ambassador position. Studying abroad through NSLI-Y was the first step. It might have been a good plan, but COVID made step one impossible. The path that followed, while unexpected, promised more than I could have ever imagined.

Ashley standing in front of the icy Baltic Sea coast in Jurmala, Latvia

After a summer of virtual language study, I knew I still needed to work on my Russian skills. So, I kept studying at university and before long I heard about the NSLI-Y Alumni Travel Program. A new program, specifically for those of us whose NSLI-Y experience had been interrupted by COVID. NSLI-Y ATP offered me the chance to finally study abroad as I had planned to all those years ago. In January 2023, I was so lucky to spend two weeks in Riga, Latvia. While brief, those two weeks started me down a new path. I got to explore Riga with my lovely host family, seeing old castles and visiting the beaches of Jurmala in the cold winter. Little did I know that this summer I’d return again to see the same beaches in the warmth of the summer.

View of the forest surrounding the Ahja River

After falling in love with the immersive language learning experience offered in Riga, I knew I wanted to come back again. I was lucky to have professors who supported this adventure. I once again took up my studies at the Baltic Center for Academic and Educational Development while interning with the Baltic Security Foundation. While spending this past summer in Riga, I learned more about myself, my field, and my aspirations than I ever could have in the US. Somehow, between work visits to the NATO Centers of Excellence, cooking classes, and canoeing through Estonia, I found the silver lining to having my plans derailed by the COVID pandemic. I got the added benefit of meeting with some NSLI-Y students currently studying in Riga! It’s amazing how life can turn out.

So, for all of those future NSLI-Y students on the fence about what comes next, don’t worry. What comes next is a mystery, but it’s bound to be an amazing adventure of growth and passion, so take that leap and run with it. For those of you soon finishing your NSLI-Y summer experience abroad, just remember that the adventure continues even after you return home.