Bryan Furman (Moscow 2011-12)
Alumnus Bryan Furman discusses his personal experience abroad, including an internship at the Carnegie Moscow Center that taught him about the Russian workplace.
American Councils (AC): How did you originally become interested in Russian language?
Bryan Furman (BF): I originally took Russian because I wanted to be different. When I started college in 2008, everyone was studying Arabic or Chinese. At the time, I knew very little about the Russian language and culture, but after five years, I have grown to love both.
AC: Why did you choose to study abroad?
BF: In my eyes, studying abroad was the only way to improve my knowledge of Russian language and culture. I had reached the point where sitting in Russian class two days per week was not going to improve my ability to communicate in the language or understanding of the culture at a satisfactory rate. I had participated in Middlebury College’s Russian Language Summer School in 2010, and I remembered how quickly I had learned in an environment that was all Russian, all the time. What could be better besides living in Russia?
AC: Why American Councils?
BF: My professor at the time, Dr. Benjamin Rifkin, recommended that I look into American Councils. He knew that I was looking for a program that offered vigorous academics as well as numerous opportunities to explore Russia outside the classroom. After meeting with a representative from American Councils, I was pretty much sold.
AC: What made you choose Moscow?
BF: I wanted to study in Moscow because I felt there would be a lot of opportunities outside the classroom. Because Moscow is such an international city, there are plenty of places to intern, people to meet, and sights to see. I hoped to immerse myself in this kind of face-paced and exciting environment.
AC: What expectations did you have of Russia and the program prior to traveling abroad?
BF: I was lucky to have made some Russian friends at school and thus perhaps had fewer stereotypes about living in Russia than students who had not interacted with as many Russians. That being said, I did think that living in Moscow would be trying and stressful, but I expected to progress in my Russian-speaking abilities and learn about Russian culture.
AC: How was your experience ultimately different from your expectations?
BF: At the risk of sounding cliché, it was even better than I had expected. Sure, living in a new country—especially one with a significantly different culture and set of social norms—is tough. Even though I felt that I had known what to expect, it still came as a shock to be immersed in Russia, and there were definitely times when I didn’t know how to act in a certain situation or had trouble acclimating to a certain cultural norm. That being said, living in Russia forced me to adjust quickly so that I could manage social interactions and communicate effectively. Once I had “figured it out,” Moscow became like a second home to me.
AC: How would you characterize American Councils' academic program?
BF: Again, I was very impressed. Jon, the resident director in Moscow, did an incredible job of supporting all the students and ensuring that they benefited from their study abroad experience. The professors at International University in Moscow have extensive experience teaching Russian, and it shows. Each class focused on a different aspect of Russian language and/or culture, and by the end of the program, I felt confident that I could apply my Russian language and cultural knowledge comfortably in social, professional, and academic settings.
AC: What was the most valuable aspect of the program/your time abroad?
BF: Spending time with Russians. For sure. American Councils’ pairs students with a peer tutor. Although the tutors are only required to meet with their students once per week, in many cases, we saw them much more often. Both my tutors, Tanya and Masha, brought me to malls, restaurants, bars, and celebrations. They even introduced me to their friends. And, of course, if I had any questions about Russia, Russian, or Russians, they were always ready to help. Now, I have a bunch of friends in Russia and just as many extra reasons to return.
AC: What was your host family situation like?
BF: I think that living in a host family is vital to the study abroad experience. My host family and I got along very well, and I enjoyed every minute with them. At times, I had to remind myself that I was living in somebody else’s house, such as when my host-mother asked me to spend less time in the shower to conserve water or when she would open the door to my room without waiting for me to invite her in. But navigating these types of situations only gave me more insight into Russian culture, and by the end of the first semester, we had very few if any cultural misunderstandings.
AC: What type of extracurricular activities did you pursue abroad?
BF: I interned with the Carnegie Moscow Center. It was an interesting experience. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a Western organization, and so I expected it to be like any other internship. However, the Carnegie Moscow Center is staffed by Russians, and the concept of interning is not well-developed in Russia. On the one hand, this allowed me the freedom to define my own responsibilities, but on the other hand, I had little direction and was often unsure what to do. That being said, it was still a valuable experience, as I had the opportunity to work at a Russian think tank and do research that I could not have done in the United States. Moreover, I made strong connections with my fellow interns, who were also exploring the Russian workplace.
AC: What is your greatest memory of the program?
BF: Our cruise down the Volga River was incredible. We were able to see six Russian cities—more than most Russians ever do—and catch a glimpse of how life differs across Russia. Moreover, it was an excellent bonding opportunity for all the students, and I think it was on that trip that we became truly close.
AC: Would you recommend the American Councils program to others? Why?
BF: Absolutely. American Councils offers an incredible, multifaceted program that provides students with seemingly endless opportunities to discover Russian language and culture. I don’t think that there’s a better program around.
AC: What advice do you have for prospective participants who are unsure of whether to study abroad?
BF: Studying abroad is invaluable in your language and cultural studies. You cannot fully understand either without spending time overseas, and if you are looking to work with the language or culture you are studying, then living abroad is essential. That being said, I encourage you to prepare for a life-changing experience, which means that you will experience stress, discomfort, and frustration. But this is temporary. After a while, you feel some sense of adjustment, and that is when you have really begun to acclimate to your host country. Plus, in overcoming these difficulties, you grow to know yourself better and learn to be an independent critical-thinker. Students who study abroad always come back more mature and worldly than their peers who choose not to take that risk. You simply cannot get the same experience in the U.S., no matter how hard you try.