Are you excited to learn Russian overseas, but want to experience a country other than Russia? If so, Ukraine is the perfect candidate.
Although many people believe that Ukrainians only speak Ukrainian, Russian is the native language for more than 30% of the population due to its Soviet Union past. Do not be fooled by this rather low statistic -- Russian and Ukrainian are equally spoken in urban areas, with most of the city population being completely bilingual.
On top of being surrounded by native Russian speakers, Ukraine is a country that's vastly unexplored by the majority of travelers. Ukraine boasts delightful cuisine, deep traditions, and unexpected beauty. Whether enjoying the Nutcracker at Taras Shevchenko Ballet Theatre or marveling at the Carpathian mountains, immersion in a rich culture while studying Russian provides a much deeper understanding of the language and its people.
There are many courses and program available for those interested in taking their Russian language learning to the next level. Whether you're a student or a college grad, there are programs for all ages, skill levels and interests.
- University Courses. University students learning Russian can apply to take a semester or year overseas. Not only are they able to take language-specific classes, but also all the other subjects in the Russian language. It's an intensive program, but it offers the ability to skyrocket language fluency.
- Homestay Programs. Living with a Ukrainian family that speaks Russian at home is a great way to have an immersive experience. Although it can be difficult to switch most aspects of daily life to a different language, homestay programs allow students to learn in a relaxed, informal environment. It gives direct experience of what it’s like to live in a Russian-speaking home, including enjoying blinchiki, thin crepes, for breakfast!
- Language Study & Volunteer Programs. One of the best ways to learn a language is to do some volunteering in the local community. Some volunteer programs provide language classes in addition to working, in order to help volunteers develop the skills needed to communicate with the people they are serving. There are local Ukrainian volunteering agencies that offer these services, or another option is to volunteer with an American organization such as the Peace Corps.
- Cultural Immersion. Immersion programs often combine language classes with excursions and cultural activities. These programs can vary widely depending on the student’s interests. There are programs are tailored for wine lovers or foodies, tennis players or chess players. Programs can be found for any interest and the point is to engage in normal activities to understand the culture and improve language skills.
Why Learn Russian Abroad
Russian is an extremely hard language to learn, especially for native English speakers. The grammar, pronunciation, and terminology is hard to follow and can be extremely daunting. However, studying abroad in a country where students are immersed in the language inside and outside of the classroom, provides a huge advantage and a higher success rate of developing competency in the Russian language.
Most programs, such as homestays, immersion programs, and language schools, do not require any previous knowledge of Russian. Knowing only "privet," or hello, can start students with a beginner class and have them work up to intermediate and advanced courses.
University courses are the only exception. Two years of Russian language is generally required to study the language abroad. Each university has their own qualifications since there is a possibility that other classes will also be taught in Russian, so a higher level of comprehension and communication is necessary.
Planning Your Trip
Ukrainian has generally been western Ukraine’s first language, while Russian is more prominent in central and eastern Ukraine. Therefore, Kiev and Odessa, which are both located in central and eastern Ukraine, are more suited for cultural immersion and Russian language learning.
Popular Locations to Learn Russian in Ukraine
Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, is the largest city with almost three million inhabitants. It’s a center for art, history, education, science, and even a World Heritage Site, St. Sophia's Cathedral. Byzantine architecture and golden domes can be recognized instantaneously.
There’s just as much to see outside the city as in the city with activities like swimming in the Dnieper, hiking the surrounding dense forests and day trips to beautiful towns. Like most urban areas, it’s a melting pot of people, culture, and language. Since most people in Kiev are bilingual in Ukrainian and Russian, it’s the perfect location for language study.
Odessa is another popular destination, not only for its famous nightlife but also for its beaches -- Ukrainians and Europeans alike flock to the sunny seaside during the summer months. Odessa was once a free port that accepted immigrants from all of Europe and their contributions in architecture have not gone unnoticed. Whether admiring the Renaissance Revival Bristol Hotel’s exterior or the Viennese Opera and Ballet interior, Odessa constantly inspires with its beauty.
Choosing a Russian Learning Program in Ukraine
Making the decision to study Russian overseas is no easy feat, so picking a program that fits your learning objectives is the first step to ensure a positive experience.
Think about what type of experience will bring the most benefit and effectiveness. Is it a cultural immersion program or private tutoring? Perhaps it’s a university course that will allow you to receive the necessary credits to graduate on time?
Another thing to consider is the financial affordability of the course. Most universities offer financial aid and some language schools provide private scholarships.
It’s also important to look into the program's assistance in connecting students to a community of language learners and opportunities to participate in activities. Having a supportive community relieves stress and loneliness that can be common when studying overseas.
Cultural Immersion in Ukraine
The nature of the word “Ukraine” in it of itself means edge or outskirts [of Russia]. Ukraine is one of the best places to learn Russian outside of Russian, not only because of the proximity to Russia physically but also culturally.
Although there are clear differences, both cultures eat similar foods and have similar cultures and traditions, like taking off shoes before entering the house or bringing a small gift of flowers or candy when welcomed into a home. The two cultures even celebrate the same religious or folk holidays, such as Maslenitsa in the spring.
By befriending locals and fellow students in Ukraine, students can learn more about the culture, practice their Russian, and participate in daily life.
Costs & Funding
Average Russian Language Learning Tuition in Ukraine
Tuition largely depends on the type of environment students want to learn in (university, group or individual classes) and how many weeks or months they study for.
For example, the language school NovaMova has tiered pricing where it’s most expensive to stay for a short amount of time (1 to 4 weeks) and is reduced if students stay for longer. For example, 20 classes per week for 1 to 4 weeks costs $215 per week, whereas tuition for 4 to 8 weeks drops to $204 per week.
The tuition for university courses is largely dependent on the university students are currently attending. For example, community college tuition is much cheaper than a public or private university. For specific tuition information, look at the education provider’s website or talk to the administration office.
Scholarships for Learning Russian in Ukraine
There are many organizations that provide scholarships for studying a foreign language. Some programs give financial aid based on academic accomplishments -- others are diversity-based and dependent on financial need or ethnicity of the applicant. Several great places to look for scholarships include FastWeb, Scholarship Portal, and Match25.
One organization that is known for study abroad aid is the Gilman Scholarship Program, which gives up to $5,000 for learning Russian as an American student. Students need to complete at least four weeks of study in a single country and must be receiving the Federal Pell Grant to be eligible.
Another sizable scholarship is the Boren Awards scholarship, which encourages the learning of less popular languages that are necessary for national security. In exchange for a $20,000-$30,000 scholarship, undergraduate and graduate students must participate in public service in the U.S. government after graduation.
For private scholarships, both the School of Russian and Asian Studies and the non-profit IREX provide scholarships for those studying Russian and plan to work in foreign policy.
Cost of Living in Ukraine
The cost of living in Ukraine can range between $500 and $700 per month. It is very low in comparison to most European countries, but average salaries are also lower.
In the city center, rent for a one bedroom apartment costs around $300 per month on average. Living outside the city center will be considerably cheaper and can lower the price by $100 per month. Utilities such as electricity, heating, cooling, and water can cost an additional $100 per month.
Eating out will naturally be more expensive than buying groceries. While a meal at a restaurant can cost between $4 to $15, a pound of fruit plus a loaf a bread is just one dollar. Transportation is equally cheap and can cost around $8 for a whole month of public transportation.
Visas & Other Relevant Information
For U.S. citizens, it’s not necessary to obtain a visa if the stay is for 90 days or less. If planning to stay longer than 90 days, a long-term visa is mandatory. For long-term student visas, several documents are required, such as a birth certificate, invitation letter from the institution, transcript of grades, and medical clearance.