I began studying the Russian language at the beginning of my second year at Georgetown University, and I knew only after a few weeks that Russian language, culture, history, and politics was going to become my passion. I regretted not taking the language my first year as well, so I was actively searching for a way to continue learning that summer. I met the director of Crossroads Eurasia at a function with Russian diplomats at Georgetown in the winter, and he gave me his card to check out his website. When I saw what his program offered, I knew I wanted to intern in Russia with Crossroads Eurasia. This internship was one of few that I saw that required a homestay option, which I knew would force me to speak Russian, even when I didn’t necessarily want to do so. Conversations at the dinner table, not always instruction in the classroom, are where one really pushes the limit of his or her language skills.
Why did you decide to intern abroad with Crossroads Eurasia?
What made this experience unique and special?
This experience was unique because Crossroads Eurasia does not offer programs in either Moscow or Saint Petersburg. I lived in Voronezh, a smaller city where I was able to witness the “real” Russia. I knew an internship outside of a large metropolis would give me the opportunity to connect with Russians on a more intimate level, increasing the size of my personal and professional networks. The internship also offered different options for the work that one would do while in Russia. I chose, for example to teach students English and Spanish, while some of my colleagues worked at a youth summer camp. I know that the program has expanded after the two years since I had participated, so there are even more options for interns. I became more independent while abroad with Crossroads Eurasia, all while gaining measurable professional experience to put on my résumé.
How has this experience impacted your future?
My experience in Voronezh provided me with experience teaching, helping me get a job in that field after graduation. The experience I gained from travelling has been well received by potential employers, and has made for interesting conversation during interviews. On a more personal level, however, this internship demonstrated the true meaning of cultural exchange. I connected with dozens of Russians of various ages, and never ran out of ideas to talk about. I become very close friends with my host sister and some of my students and colleagues in Voronezh, and stay in touch with them through Skype and VKontakte constantly! Lastly, my experience with Crossroads Eurasia boosted my Russian language skills through the roof. I excelled in my classes during my next semester at Georgetown, and was sometimes even ahead of the classwork material! Even though I only formally studied the language for three years at the university level, because of my time in Voronezh, I felt as though I had studied for four.
What was the highlight of your experience?
The highlight of my experience in Voronezh was the relationships that I built with my Russian friends. I truly feel that my host family has become a part of my own family because of the way that they took me in as I was and cared for me as one of their own. They continue that love and care by Skyping and writing me, keeping me up to date with their life, as I do with them. My friends in Voronezh are exemplars of Russian hospitality, having helped me get around the city when I was lost, and having gone far out of their way to make me feel at home. I have been fortunate to return the favor when one of my friends visited me in DC last year, and I hope to help many others come to America soon. While I am fortunate to have a section of my résumé filled with a few impressive bullet points because of Crossroads Eurasia, the intangible, personal relationships are what truly stick out in my memory as a highlight of my time there.
What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering interning abroad in Russia?
Do it immediately! You will have an experience that you will never forget, and will make yourself stand out from competitors in your field. The only way to learn a language and culture or improve your existing skills is by living the Russian experience firsthand. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, and you’ll grow more than you could ever imagine.