So, my days are numbered in Russia (to be exact: 8 days, or 167 hours if you consider our departure time). And I can honestly say that I am ready to come home. I have had enough of life in Russia - for now. Really, I just want a break from language learning. As much fun as it is (really, it can sometimes be fun) I am ready to be back in the DC area.
It is not that I am "sick" or "disenchanted" with Russia. Rather, I am ready for a change of pace. The day-to-day grind of being in school has taken its toll on me. I want to unwind and be in an environment where I understand everything that is happening, all of the time.
Though, I equally feel that after 1-2 weeks back in the States, I will be bored of it and want to come back to Russia.
My advice to students coming here for a year (or semester, or summer) is to try to keep your enthusiasm for Russian perked as long as you can while you are here. Also (most importantly) be open-minded and optimistic. You will go nuts (or wind-up hating Russia) if you do not.
I was talking with my colleagues yesterday. Of the 12 of them, everyone is ready to come back to the US (even though some of them (the weaker ones!) returned to the US for Christmas break).
After you are here for a while (the length of time varies for every student) the enthusiasm and excitement/newness for/of all things Russian wanes. You need to have Russian friends/hobbies, that encourage your interest in learning the language.
A Russian girlfriend is the perfect means of maintaining that interest. You are learning the language with someone who is (less likely) to harshly criticize you. They are probably also more patient than the average interlocutor. Additionally, the motivation to learn is greater when you see the actual application of your language skills, and it is not just the theory of the language.
I will also say that, for me, working with the Uzbeks was awesome for my Russian. They don't speak at an elevated level (they don't sound like cavemen, but they equally aren't like Pushkin). I use all of the new vocab I learn with them. I also pick-up a lot from them. It also gives me the chance to practice dialogue and monologue speech (both of which an OPI tests for).
When I first got here I wrote down every new word that I encountered. I filled up 4 notepads in one semester. In the second semester I only filled one notepad, and I made a start on another one. This is not only because I was less diligent the second semester, but also because my Russian vocabulary was so bad when I got here.
The end of the semester in Russia is the same as in the US: Tests, BS/filler classes, anxiousness to get away from school/tests/studying.
That being said, it appears that I will be completing my BA this summer. So 4 days after my return, I will be starting classes again (sadly, no Russian language courses).
I have become certain that Russian language study is something that I will contine. It will be a life-long process. I was amazed when one of my Russian professors said his Russian had room for improvement. I couldn't begin to imagine how it could get better! (I mean, he is a professor of the bloody language!) But every (intelligent) language learner knows his weaknesses, and where he needs to improve.
That being said, I took my (final!) OPI today. I feel that I did better. When I find out my score, I will (as promised) post it on the blog.
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OK, so if I could do it all again, would I go to Vladimir? No, I wouldn't. I would probably have gone to Moscow or St Petersburg. That being said, I don't think that I would have ever had such a great time, with so many sincere and interesting people, had I been anywhere else. Though now that my time is up, there is still a lot that I wish that I could see still in Moscow.
Equally, life in Vladimir (and the people here) are not a lot like Muscovites (they tend to dislike people from Moscow). Though through-out my career, I will likely have minimal contact with people from the sticks. Most professionals will be Muscovites, etc. It would have done me well to better understand professional Russians and their behaviour, than how the back-water folks of Vladimir live.
Though (a BIG THOUGH) if I was coming for the summer or semester, I would come to Vladimir again. You will probably do the most for your language here.
If you are a wimp and want to live like an American in Russia, then go to Moscow/Peter. If you want a more authentic experience (or perhaps Soviet experience) go to Vladimir.
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Would I recommend the ACTR programs? I would. I have learned a lot. Grammar was the most valuable class. Phonetics was also great. While some of the classes have room for improvement.
My largest gripe is that you are on a study-abroad program where its like being on a high school field trip. If you show up late to school, they call and check on you. If you cut class, you get in trouble.
We have weekly excursions, you must go on 8 of them. I have been on 7. The last one (on Friday) is to Suzdal. I went on this exact same excursion last semester with the group. Additionally, I was there two weeks ago with my friends. The city is old and not terribly interesting (that is, unless you're into old uninteresting things). I know it was important a couple of hundred years ago, but you know how much impact that has on daily life in Russia today? None. None-at-all.
The ACTR is probably one of the longest operating study-in-Russia programs. It has been at it for atleast three decades. And the experience from all of that time is evident in how well structured the program is.
Though I don't like the paternalism of the program (i.e. docking your grade for skipping class, etc), I do see the upside of it. Russia is a big and strange place. It is fairly easy to get yourself into trouble. It can be comforting that their is someone looking out for you.
There is a link to the ACTR on the bottom of my blog page.
If you cannot afford an ACTR program (I was fortunate enough to win a full scholarship), look around.
I heard that Moscow State University's programs are good. I think that their website is cie.ru
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In the end I have no regrets for being here. I have learned a lot. I chose the path less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.