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American Councils Study Abroad

About

American Councils offers study abroad and research programs to fit numerous academic and professional endeavors in Russia, Eurasia, the Balkans, and Asia. From language immersion and area studies, to the business and policy sectors, American Councils has a program to advance your education and career - in more than 19 countries and 25 languages.

Founded
1974
Headquarters

1828 L ST NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Reviews

Default avatar
Keely
9/10

First of all, something of a disclaimer: I received a massive scholarship for this program. Now, this goes both ways; my own experience was of a massive bargain, which I cannot imagine is shared by those who paid the full $8000 or so dollars, and is not the average experience; on the other hand, you can see that the scholarships for this program are very generous. I believe most of my classmates received some sort of financial aid. Personally, all told, I paid about $3000 dollars for this two-month program, including housing, a variety of daily language-learning classes, and many extracurricular lessons and excursions - although keep in mind airfare and food is NOT included, the first totaling something like $1000 each way and the second something like $500 for the two months (there is no school cafeteria, but as a college town, food is accessible and cheap).
Now for, in my opinion and that of all others in the program whom I asked, the best aspect of this program: the education. The teachers are actual Taiwanese people, almost entirely women, equally versed in the Traditional Chinese used in Taiwan and the Simplified version of China which I myself study (meaning that one can just as easily study one as the other), and who are all fluent in English and passionate about what they do. I've heard it often said that the best language teacher is one who does not speak the native language of their students, and certainly we all benefited from bans on speaking anything other than Mandarin, but I'd add the caveat that the best language teacher is the one who does understand the language of their students but refuses to use it. This bilingualism meant that as we struggled to translate phrases too literally from English to Chinese, these teachers could understand what our meaning was in English and tell us the proper Mandarin saying.
Aside from the classes one would probably expect - every weekday there's one on grammar, followed by another on new vocab and reading comprehension, and both focused strongly on speaking skills - there was also something of a poly-sci class held in very small groups (max, mine had three people) in which we discuss problems in the modern world that effect both American and Taiwanese peoples. On top of all that, to start off the day we had hour-long individualized tutoring sessions with graduate-school students working toward their teaching degrees who were just as talented as the full-time language teachers we studied under for the rest of the day. The teachers are so lovely, shockingly young - were any even in their thirties? - and a mix of strict and understanding that I've actually never experienced before. Although, I will say - you will spend most of your time studying. Be prepared: this is not merely an easy way to explore Taiwan!
We had many excursions, my favorite of which was a visit to a small island off the southwest coast where we snorkeled with endangered sea turtles. A warning: although I didn't really mind, every class, every activity, every excursion, is required (unless otherwise mitigated by health reasons), which many of my classmates found stifling. They often compared it to a summer camp rather than an academic program - although again, that was a complaint only about these extracurriculars and not about the rigorousness of the classes themselves.
Two months is a long time, and in a city without great public transportation, yes, it sometimes became a little stifling. I certainly was very homesick for nearly the entire trip. Many everyday problems will come up, which are exacerbated to a massive degree by being on the opposite side of the globe from your hometown in a city small enough that many businesses institutions survive without any or minimal internet presence (which makes looking things up very difficult) and surrounded by people speaking an entirely different language from your own - and in my case, using even a different writing system (remember, Traditional Characters!). Sometimes, yeah, when I asked questions of teachers and other program officials, they seemed confused by my inability to find things online and thus were not terribly helpful. So you will indeed need to be pretty self-sufficient. But hey, even those experience I would not trade for the world! A program like this is not merely about studying language in the controlled classroom environment of the weekday, but also the learning to how to navigate totally foreign situations totally on your own, without parents, without teachers, often even without friends or classmates to buffer to awkwardness that will inevitably arise as you repeat your drink order for the fourth time, clueless as to which word you are pronouncing wrong since the server is clearly not understanding.

How can this program be improved?
Sometimes program workers, in-country, and Taiwanese natives, seemed not to understand the difficulties that came up for us as foreigners - finding banks, withdrawing money, and everyday tasks like that were not really something that those "in charge" seemed really to be able to help us with.
Yes, I recommend this program
Default avatar
Natalie
9/10

When I signed up for a six months in Almaty, Kazakhstan, I knew it would be an adventure, but no one could have told me how much of an adventure it would be, and how utterly life changing I would find every moment. I made some of my best friends, made tremendous gains with my Russian language abilities, and learned that the world while being dramatically different, can somehow still be a familiar place.
Kazakhstan is a unique and beautiful place in the world. The excursions we took, official and unofficial, took us to Turkestan to see Muslim holy sites on the edge of the Uzbek desert, the planned capital city in Astana, the beautiful mountains and lakes outside Almaty, the Kazakh “Grand Canyon” and a funky little beach town, Aktau. I rode a camel and a motorcycle for the first time, and got lost at least once a week. Each place opened my eyes to how people lived, and helped me understand Kazakh, post-Soviet space, and current Eurasian geopolitics.
The friends and family that I had in Kazakhstan helped make Almaty a home away from home for me. Although their traditions and practices were different, we talked politics, religion, and history, as I do at home. My host sisters and I loved going to the movies and going shopping together. I learned how to be a good “Kazashka” from helping clean the family apartment from top to bottom to preparing Kazakh dishes and serving them for parties.
The food in Kazakhstan is different; Americans are often told the “horror stories” of Kazakh food: they eat horse, sheep heads, and drink fermented horse milk known as kumis. All of that is true, and none of it is as bad as it seems; I actually enjoyed the kumis I had! My favorite dish was plov (rice and meat cooked a very particular way—a must try). I got very used to drinking tea almost all the time and I miss the very fresh and natural fruits and vegetables that my host family would buy from the bazaar.
Academically, American Councils did an incredible job setting us up and interfacing with KazNU in Almaty. We had wonderful instructors who genuinely cared about our wellbeing as well as our education, and worked to ensure that our time in Kazakhstan would be wonderful and memorable. While their Soviet teaching style that predicated memorization over creation wasn’t always helpful, as we moved more towards advanced essay writing and reading more difficult topics, my Russian significantly improved. Moreover, speaking Russian all the time significantly improved my abilities to hold a conversation on anything from finding the nearest ATM to debating American politics with my host dad.
American Councils offers a very comprehensive and helpful Russian language program, that I would absolutely recommend for anyone looking to study abroad. The staff does an excellent job keeping students safe, as well as interfacing with Kazakh bureaucracy. They are kind, caring, and helpful. The teachers are absolutely the best Russian teachers I’ve ever had, and have made a huge difference in my education. My family and friends sold me on Kazakhstan forever—I can’t wait to find my way back!

How can this program be improved?
This program could be improved with more professional staff. While the staff took very real concern in our day to day lives, which really helped the feeling that there was someone there who cared, sometimes personal relationships impacted the staff's professionalism, which impacted the lives of the students. I was vocal about this while I was there--and there's a chance that it might have been changed, but at the time, it was something I had to deal with personally, and I found it frustrating.
Yes, I recommend this program
Default avatar
Anna
10/10

This past summer was the best summer of my life. With the RLASP program in Moscow, I spent two wonderful months learning about Russian culture and history while improving my language skills at least ten-fold. In the first two weeks, I learned more than I would in a whole semester back home. The first afternoon in Moscow, I couldn't read a menu. By the end of the summer, I was talking about political history. That's how good the academics and immersion process are with ACTR. My host family played a key role in encouraging me and getting me to practice my Russian, as well as exposing me to life in an everyday Russian household - pretty different from the States! But my summer wasn't all studies and hard work - we had cultural excursions every Friday that took us all around Moscow, plus a week-long Regional Field Studies trip to Karelia in Northern Russia. There was plenty of time to get to know Moscow on my own (and with friends), too! Classes ended at three, giving us all afternoon and evening to explore (in the summer, when it doesn't get dark 'til 11, that's a lot of time). There is always something going on in Moscow - concerts, shows, festivals (the Ice Cream Festival in July was much appreciated, especially since there's no air conditioning). All in all, the program gave me a chance to explore a new culture and country while teaching me so much about the Russian language and Russian history. I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

Yes, I recommend this program
Default avatar
Sydney
10/10

I achieved greater gains in speaking Russian than I could have hoped for in less than four months. The language classes were very small (usually 3-4 students per class) and so the wonderful teachers were able to give individual attention to each student in the program. I had a wonderful experience with my host, and I loved hanging out with my peer tutor-- both of whom helped to improve my conversational skills, and were always happy to suggest a new restaurant to try, or place to see in the city. I absolutely fell in love with St. Petersburg, I hope that I will be able to return (and travel elsewhere in Russia) soon!

How can this program be improved?
I would like to see the excursion/free days (currently on Wednesdays) moved to Fridays, allowing for more opportunities for short trips (to Vyborg, or Pskov for instance.)
Yes, I recommend this program
Default avatar
Victoria
10/10

I am so thankful and lucky to have found my study abroad program through American Councils Eurasian Regional Language Program (ERLP) in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Having developed an interest (edit: passion) for Russian and Central Asia and all things former-Soviet, I knew I had to take my studies of the region's languages and culture one step further and actually go study abroad in Central Asia. Since I had the most exposure to the Kazakh culture and language (I took a quarter of Kazakh at Stanford) I decided to apply to the ERLP after hearing about it from a friend who had embarked on the same program. It was a magical experience from the beginning: the pre-departure orientation in Washington, DC, was helpful and inspiring. Once I was in Almaty, however, I realized how much support American Councils gave me during the 8 weeks there. I met my host family the night I arrived in Almaty, and they were wonderful! My apartment was a short walk away from the Metro, which was a straight ride to the university, KIMEP, where I took my Kazakh language classes. Every week, I met with my peer tutor, an Almaty resident, also a student around my age, who spoke with me in Kazakh and Russian, took me to interesting places in the city, and answered any questions I had about the city, living in Kazakhstan, and about the culture there. During the program, we had a few excusions, such as one to Charyn Canyon (the Grand Canyon of Kazakhstan), to the Big Almaty Lake, a weekend excursion to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (read: AMAZING EXPERIENCE!), and another weekend trip to Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, which we took by train (it's a 12-hour train ride each way through the steppes of Kazakhstan, also an amazing experience that I highly recommend). During the week, I met with my Kazakh language professor each day for several hours of classes, and we even had lunch together everyday, which I recommend, as your language teacher (in whichever country you study abroad in) is a fantastic partner in helping you to know the country, culture, and language better. My professor was very kind and always wanted to know how I was doing, what I thought of the city, living there, and even was like a second mom, making sure I was drinking hot tea, eating enough, and sleeping enough! Overall, the experience of studying abroad through American Councils ERLP was fantastic and I would recommend it in a heartbeat to anyone interested in studying abroad in Central Asia and expanding their knowledge and experience of the language, culture, and history of this breathtaking region of the world!

How can this program be improved?
I honestly cannot think of anything I would change. Maybe, have more exposure of ERLP so that participants without friends who've already done the program can easily know about it and have the chance to participate in it. It's really worth it.
Yes, I recommend this program

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