I have often heard that a lot of students come to Russia for a full academic year, without having ever been outside of the US. I have also heard that this could lead to some rather intense culture shock/disappointment with Russia.
I had, before coming to Russia, spent a good amount of time outside of the States. When I discovered that in Vladimir I would have no running hot water for the first bit, I thought it was a really neat cultural experience. The people who had never been outside of America tended to view such obstacles as horrible. They also tended to quickly criticize the Russians for being nearly barbarian. I really can see that it was evident who enjoyed the challenges of living outside of the first-world, and who didn't.
Within the group of 13 students here in Vladimir, there is a wide range of how much exposure they had to foreign cultures, before arriving.
Below are some rough statistics that I gathered of my colleagues:
Excluding travel within the US and Canada (the 51st State)
- 2 students have been to more than thirty countries.
- Though only 2 students had previously been to Russia. One of which had been here on multiple other study abroad programs.
- Of the half that had been outside of the US, Mexico was the most common destination of their previous travels.
- That was quickly followed by France and the UK.
- About three had been to a former Soviet country before.
In all, I would tend to (strongly) side with the advice that if you haven't spent much time out of the US before, it might be best to go to Russia first on a summer program, or on a semester program at most (the ACTR offers both). I feel that Russia can really be overwhelming for a lot of people.
Though more than whether someone has spent time out of the US, I feel that their attitude is what matters most.
I spent my last two New Year's going to an economically depressed eastern Ukranian mining village, and I hang out in Vladimir on Uzbek construction sites... My idea of a good time is a little bit skewed from the norm. I didn't expect to leave the US and to arrive in a competing first world nation. A semester/year in Russia is not a semester/year in London or Paris. You will never have the experiences in London or Paris like you will in Russia.
I just throw that all out to be considered by prospective students.
If you have any questions about life in Vladimir/Russia/on the construction sites with the настояшии мужики...как я, please feel free to e-mail me!