Laura Kurek (Moscow Fall 2014)
Alumna Laura Kurek reflects on her academic experience, how she was able to incorporate her interests from home into her study abroad program, and how students can get the most out of their study abroad experience.
When Laura first got to Moscow in the Fall of 2014, as a participant in the Russian Language and Area Studies Program (RLASP) her first impression was that the air "smelled so good." Coming from a Slavic background and having been a part of the Russian program at Georgetown for the past two years, Laura was already familiar with many aspects of Russian food, language, and culture, so she didn't find many things that went against her expectations of Moscow. She liked the feel of the city, the aesthetics, and if anything, was almost surprised that young adult Russians dressed exactly the same as young adults back in the U.S.
After arriving in Moscow, Laura was able to ease right into her academic program. Whether it was learning verbs of motion from her dance teacher or simply learning the "ins and outs" of Russian language from her grammar teacher, Laura enjoyed every aspect of her academic experience. Laura recalls,
Our lecturer for music was the director of a conservatory in Moscow and he would sing and play the piano almost every lecture, and every class was almost like a performance. I loved it, it was fantastic. Our video teacher knew the famous directors in Moscow and had an in to that whole subset of culture and I felt really lucky to have these people as our professors because they weren't just someone who had some exposure to English, but wanted to teach Americans.
While Laura loved her academic experience, she realized it was not an experience she could simply breeze through. She realized Russia was a new and unique country and seized the opportunity to totally immerse herself.
In Russia, you go all in. All of your classes are in Russian and it's a commitment; you're committing to live in a different culture. And that being said, you have to know that going in and have to know that things will be different and there will be things you don't like, as well as things you love.
Laura took her commitment seriously and worked hard to make Moscow her own. She explored the city, visited new cafes, made new friends, and found activities outside of class that matched her interests back in the U.S. As an avid runner, she knew she wanted to continue running while studying abroad, but was initially told it was uncommon for people in Russia to run outside. After expressing her interest to a Russian friend, it was suggested she should sign up for a marathon which was taking place in Moscow in two short weeks. Seizing the opportunity, Laura signed up immediately. Two weeks later she participated in the marathon on a sunny, 50 degree day in Moscow. As Laura ran the course, a group of Russian peer tutors from the program, as well as the fellow students on her program showed up to cheer her on throughout the course. Not only did it feel good to run again, but with an 8:1 male to female ratio, Laura felt she was helping promote the culture of running for women.
Laura's activities didn't stop at running. As a singer on campus here in the States, Laura knew she needed to keep up with her singing while abroad. She asked the resident director about opportunities to use and develop these skills. Based on his extensive knowledge of the local music scene in Moscow, the resident director was able to get Laura in touch with the Moscow Oratorical Society. Laura soon started practicing with their choir, meeting once a week to learn the Latin mass by Camille Saint-Saens from a very lively, fast-talking, and Russian-speaking choir director. Listening to the director describe and teach singing and breathing techniques opened Laura up to a whole new vocabulary. It also helped her continue an activity she thoroughly enjoys.
What Laura got out of her Russian experience was more than just a better understanding of the language. It gave her a wider perspective and increased her knowledge of both the Russian people and herself. Laura says that her time in Russia has helped her to be more vocal and comfortable in expressing herself. It also has provided her with a better understanding of the Russian culture.
The media paints countries in different ways... But you go there and whether or not you agree with how they think or what they think, you can understand why they think it, given the history and culture and the state of information flow in Russia. And that was just fascinating to me.
Now, back in the U.S., Laura has found that her time abroad has only further fueled her passion for Russia and the Russian language. As a student at Georgetown University, she is more excited about her Russian language class and wants to learn more about this fascinating culture. In the future she hopes to return to Russia after university to continue her study of Russian and ultimately follow a career that involves knowledge of the region, as well as use of the language.
For those who plan to study abroad in Russia, Laura suggests that students immerse themselves as much as they can into the local culture and language, visiting every cafe, museum, and site that the city has to offer and, of course, hang out with the locals more than the Americans. Most importunately, though, she advises students to put their all into language learning, and not be held back by their own fears of making mistakes.
"It is inevitable that you will be self-conscious at times about your language skills, but the fact is that everyone is. It's just a fact of learning another language. It's a very personal thing, language and how we express ourselves, but just fight against that feeling of self-consciousness because that will only hinder your language acquisition entirely and the more you kind of put yourself out there and make mistakes, the quicker you will learn, the quicker you'll master something that's really cool and really rewarding. It's such a rewarding feeling because language is tricky and never really ends."