Matthew Marsland (Moscow Spring 2018)
Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship recipient Matthew Marsland writes about the importance of immersive overseas language programs like the Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program.
This past Spring, I had one of the most incredible experiences of my entire life thus far. I studied abroad In Moscow on the RLASP. An immersive language study program, the RLASP went above and beyond what I could have ever expected. I’ve been very interested in Russia and Russian culture since I was in grade school, and when I went to college I knew that Russian would form a major part of my studies. I began studying Russian my Freshman year and continued every semester, so when it came time to choose where to study abroad it was a foregone conclusion that I would study in Moscow. Without much second thought I applied, was accepted, and prepared to go off for my semester in Russia. I knew I would enjoy it and I knew I would learn a lot, but I never could have known just how truly remarkable and unique these few months would be.
Why was my trip so amazing? It’s difficult to put into words as there isn’t any one specific aspect of the trip that stood above all the others, but rather every part of the experience impressed in some unexpected and unique way. First and foremost, I was fortunate to be with a great group of Americans on the program and made friendships I know will last the rest of my life. We were all different, came from different universities, and there were less than a dozen of us. Not only that, but every class but one was with the same small group of Americans every day. In such a situation tempers are bound to flare, and tension is inevitable, but despite this we developed a friendly working relationship as a group, and as an individual I made some profound, meaningful, and long-lasting relationships.
Second, the academic program itself was unconventional by American standards, but more effective than I could have hoped. As I mentioned before, classes were small. In my case, very small. Our group was divided in two for classes. One group had four students, and the other had two: me and one other. So other than one morning and one afternoon class each day, all my classes were with a single companion who I believed to be a much better speaker and student of Russian, which, of course, intimidated me considerably. However, after a few weeks I realized that this set up was propelling my mastery of the language much higher faster than I could have ever expected. Even if during class I briefly lost our professor’s meaning, or the vocabulary became a bit too advanced, I could sit back and observe the other student’s interaction with the professor and learn by listening, and then chime back in when I felt ready. The learning experience in Russia is much more personal than it is in America. This can be jarring to some, but for me it was just what I needed. Our professors gave us personal one-on-one assistance with learning the language, taking into account in a real way where we were in our language study and the particular ways we learn best. I am confident that I went into this program with an intermediate at best understanding of Russian and emerged with an advanced and almost conversational proficiency.
Finally, living in Moscow particularly and Russia generally was an irreplaceable opportunity for immersion in the daily life of Muscovites and Russians. This is the most obvious yet potentially most rewarding part of the RLASP program: simply living in the target culture. However, unlike the academics this experience cannot be mandatory and if you fail to have it nothing will show up on your grades. It is entirely dependent on your own initiative. Early on in the program me and my friend decided that we would make it a priority to live fully in Moscow and Russia generally outside of class and outside of expat circles, this decision was a good one and provided us with the most rewarding possible experience. As often as possible we explored and experienced the city’s nightlife, cultural sites, historical places, and of course, tourist destinations. We also traveled to Saint Petersburg and Sochi, giving us an insight into two very different locations with their own quirks and characters. I believe that were it not for our commitment to live local life in Russia we would have come back with a thoroughly different perspective on life and culture in the host nation and a less dynamic understanding of the Russian language. You can study Russian language from anywhere on Earth, but there can be no substitute for fully immersing yourself in the culture and language you study.
Now that I’m back in America getting ready to go back to university for my senior year, I’m beyond grateful to American Councils and everyone involved in the RLASP program for an incredible semester abroad. Nothing can compare to study abroad in learning a language and understanding a culture, and RLASP is the best of the best.
About Fulbright-Hays Scholarships from American Councils
American Councils for International Education has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad, to provide scholarships for advanced overseas Russian and Persian language study. Learn more about the eligibility requirements here.
About Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad
The Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act, commonly referred to as the Fulbright-Hays Act, was made law by the 87th U.S. Congress under President John F. Kennedy on September 21, 1961. Senator J. William Fulbright and Representative Wayne Hays introduced the legislation, which represents the basic charter for U.S. government-sponsored educational and cultural exchange. 2016 marks the 55th anniversary of this landmark legislation. More information about Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad can be found here.