American Councils Study Abroad

Program Reviews

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Haley
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

This entire adventure changed my life. I have been abroad many times before; however, this program provided a unique opportunity in which I was able to cultivate a deeper understanding for a language and a culture without the typical classroom frustrations/setbacks. From the hilarious and dedicated professors to my incredibly caring host family, everyone was so supportive and patient with us. I truly felt like a Muscovite by the end of August!
But going past my growth as a Russian student, I could easily tell that I had developed certain life skills I definitely had not left the States with. I previously had always felt uncomfortable going anywhere alone. I literally never ate at a restaurant or went to a museum without at least one other person, but while I was in Russia, I noticed that I didn't even really care. All I wanted to do was explore the things that interested me the most, and my passion allowed me to overcome that fear.

What was your funniest moment?
One of the funniest moments to me had to have been when we decided to go to a "Russian Banya." I'm not entirely sure what we were expecting, but getting asked if we wanted to be whacked with birch leaves after steaming off five pounds was definitely not on our minds. It was quite possibly one of the most uncomfortable experiences in my life, as we all sat in a hot room, sweating off about a year's supply of water. One girl was so miserable, she began crying. However, it was also one of the best bonding moments we all had, and the noodles we ate afterwards were delicious too!
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Finn
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The BRLI program is a unique learning opportunity that you cannot find anywhere else. It provides you with amazing learning instruction, taught by extremely caring and dedicated professors, while also allowing you to have a chance to see what the Russian business culture is like through an internship. The courses you take are specific to business. They are the same courses that fortune 500 companies enroll their employees in to learn the business language of Russia. This means the knowledge and experience you gain from this program can become an asset, not only a new bullet point on your resume but a cultural and business awareness that companies and professionals value all around the world. You will leave Moscow with a better language ability, enhanced knowledge of the complicated Russia Business world, and numerous memories.

What was your funniest moment?
My funniest moment was participating on a Russian game show. Through the university I met a Russian student who worked for a television company that was looking for foreign participants. I signed my name and a week later I was on Russian television. Although I made a few mistakes it was the opportunity of a lifetime. This trip allows you to see so many new things and meet new people, the possibilities of where the new acquaintances and knowledge can go are endless, it may lead to you being on TV or new business opportunities.
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Alex
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Preface:

The Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program (TISLP) is a relatively new program (established in 2016 by American Councils Study Abroad). Its purpose is to allow Chinese language learners to learn approximately one year of academic Chinese in two months or eight weeks. I was a participant in this program during the Summer of 2019.

My thoughts about the program:

The program promises what it states. You will learn one year of academic Chinese in two months. National Cheng Kung University's Chinese Langauge Center administers TISLP. The instructors are knowledgeable in their teachings and make it easy to comprehend the material. Also, they are super friendly. I did not feel embarrassed approaching my instructors if I had simple questions about Chinese. The staff works hard to support the participant's success. For example; part of the program's curriculum had a language performance night called "Taiwan Night". for the program to be successful the instructors were heavily involved to sure the students were saying their scripts correctly.

The program itself is very structured. For five days a week (Monday to Friday), From 8 am. to 2 pm (with a lunch break), you will be learning Chinese. There is a grammar class, a speaking class, and a discussion class. Almost every day, there will be new material to learn. The program gave me this 400-page textbook with 16 chapters, two dialogues a chapter and in each dialogue had new grammar structures and new vocabulary. Every day of class we learned a new dialogue, basically two chapters a week. That is a lot of Chinese learning. To give perspective on how much Chinese that was, in my Chinese classes back at my University. A course would review on average five chapters for the whole semester. The term intensive should not be taken lightly.

Another critical component of the program is the language pledge. A language pledge is a promise that the participant must speak the target language at all times. The language pledge tests the participant's ability if he/she knows the language. I struggled at first because I was one of the lower levels in the program, but as time progressed, My speaking and listening fluency increased to a considerable amount.

Life in Tainan, Taiwan

Life in Tainan, Taiwan, is a great place to live. The people there are super friendly. Besides, it is very affordable to buy food there. Twenty American dollars can potentially last one week in terms of food. Every day, I had amazingly tasty food. If you are a "foodie" Tainan is an excellent place to be.

Overall TISLP is an excellent program for a person that wants to improve there Chinese.

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Will
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I had an incredible eye-opening study and intern abroad experience in Russia this past summer, and I hope to one day return and see more of the country. Before participating in this program, I had completed a few internships and had studied Russian for a year, so I was mostly looking to add to my resume, explore a new business and work culture, learn about history and food, meet locals, and visit the sites. I'd say I accomplished a lot of that and more during my summer in Moscow.

While there, I worked at a contract research organization during the week and also participated in a weekly cultural class and optional two-hour language session with a professor from the host institution. The internship was an interesting experience, and I learned about a subject area that I did not previously know too much about in a foreign environment. The tasks and field of study weren't directly in line with my career goals, but I'd still say it was a worthwhile experience and great for building interpersonal skills and cultural awareness. I formed some connections with the people there, and we were able to share different things about our respective cultures and interests. Most of my tasks involved reviewing presentations, translating documents, and creating a presentation. Regarding the language classes, I enjoyed going each week, but I don't feel as if my skills improved dramatically. I mostly picked up on some new vocabulary and reinforced some of the grammar skills I had learned before I arrived in Russia. The weekly culture class was interesting, and during it, we mainly discussed our experiences at work, with locals, in our host families, at the dorm, etc. (We also had to submit a weekly assignment on different topics).

My favorite aspects of the program were being able to live with a host family and enjoying the culture and historical sites. The family I lived with was absolutely wonderful! We got along very well, and they took an interest in helping me with practicing my language skills through conversation. They also took me around to see the sites, museums, etc. I also went on walks with them around their neighborhood and other parts of the city. I even went on a side trip by train to St. Petersburg with one of my host family members, and he introduced me to his friends and family there! I was provided a private room and two meals per day (though the always offered more food!), I really felt as if I were part of the family. I'm fortunate to have lived with a great group of people. In addition, I was able to explore many museums, tourist sites, food markets, parks, restaurants, and more on my own and with other people in the program. It was truly an amazing experience!

Travel and money-wise, I had to arrange all of my transportation to the orientation and to and from Moscow, as well as any weekend trips I wanted to take. As far as my budget, I spent about $50 USD per week, excluding souvenirs and travel-related expenses (i.e. I had to buy a new suitcase), but it depended on the week and what I was I doing. I found most things to be pretty cheap, especially transportation and food (the metro is amazing -- fares are low and it goes everywhere quickly!). When I had to walk around alone, I made sure to do it during the day, or if at night, it was in brightly-lit areas or near people. Safety wasn't an issue, despite protests going on in the city (which we were told to stay away from). Also, American Councils staff there were on call if we had any issues or emergencies.

Overall, I would recommend this program to those who want a unique experience abroad, particularly in a place that is riddled with stereotypes, and are seeking professional experience (an interest in Russian culture and language helps, too). You will likely get more out of this program, though, if you already speak Russian to a high degree or at least have some command of the language because it'll make communicating and forming connections with locals easier. However, there is no foreign language requirement or proficiency level needed to apply or participate. I recommend living with a host family because those who lived in the dorm had some issues and unexpected inconveniences.

What would you improve about this program?
It would have been nice to know who I was living with more in advance of the trip because we weren't told about our host families until a couple of weeks before. Also, including built-in trips and excursions for our specific program would have been cool because we were mostly left to exploring on our own time. We were usually invited to go on excursions with the other programs in Moscow, but the program itself doesn't include any. In addition, I wish some of the important program materials, such as a packing list and program handbook, had been sent prior to orientation because I would have appreciated something to refer to while preparing to leave.
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Caroline
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

As a Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies major, much of my academic background and cultural familiarity pertaining to states that used to be members of the Soviet Union was very Russia-centric. I figured that interning in Yerevan, Armenia through American Councils would be an ideal opportunity to grow professionally, deepen my understanding of the Eurasian region beyond Russia, and have a chance to experience a different culture. I interned at the Startup Armenia Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides Armenian startuppers with resources and networking opportunities to help them grow their businesses. During my internship, I worked to aid Startup Armenia in expanding their reach internationally, conducting research on venture capital, angel investors, universities, non-profits, and international networking events that could potentially become future partners for Startup Armenia abroad. In addition to learning about international involvement in the economic development of Armenia's startup ecosystem through my tasks on the job, I had the fortune to be working alongside incredibly down-to-earth, motivated individuals, with whom I still keep in touch to this day. In addition to the internship experience, my time on the OPIT program was memorable and special because of the chance to live with an Armenian host family. One thing that I noticed very quickly in Armenia is the importance of family. While my host family on paper included my host dad, host mom, and their adorable four-year-old son, in reality, my host family included them, as well as my two host grandmothers, my host uncle, and all of their relatives, whom I saw frequently on our weekly trips to the family farm in the countryside. Being welcomed into their family, and memories including dinners with my host parents, spending time after work in my host grandmother's kitchen, and playing with my host brother, made my summer internship experience meaningful not just professionally but personally as well. The American Councils office staff was always extremely helpful and readily available, giving myself and the other American interns on the program with me a judgment-free zone to ask questions and address any issues during our weekly meetings. I would definitely recommend the OPIT program to anyone looking for a professionally and personally meaningful experience abroad.

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Chandler
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

This summer, I was lucky enough to study abroad at National Chengchi University in Taiwan through the American Councils' Tradition and Modernity in Taiwan program. During this month long program, I took courses related to Taiwan's history, politics, culture, and contemporary issues. This coursework was supplemented with daily language instruction centered around practical language application in addition to several cultural excursions. Places we visited during the program included Taipei 101, the National Palace Museum, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Tzu Chi Recycling Center, the headquarters of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party, and (my person favorite) Yilan aboriginal village. While in Yilan, we hiked through beautiful mountains while learning about the aboriginal peoples' hunting techniques. That night, a few of my friends and I sat down with a local family and conversed in both English and Chinese, discussing popular American and Taiwanese singers, and eventually teaching one another dances: we taught them how to do the cupid shuffle while they taught us a local dance of worship. We laughed, talked, and listened to music for hours. It is a night that I will never forget.

The Tradition and Modernity in Taiwan program provided me with invaluable memories, lifelong friendships, and a rich academic and cultural understanding of Taiwan. I would recommend this program to anyone who is looking to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new, you will not regret it! My experiences in Taiwan remain some of my favorite memories to date, and (if I could) I would definitely participate in this program again.

Cydnie
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

My experience interning on the Overseas Professional and Intercultural Training Program in Moscow, Russia, was an exciting and eventful one. This program was enjoyable in that you get to negotiate your hours with the company you intern for, get to go on excursions with students who are studying abroad on other programs through American Councils, and are guided through any feelings (both good and bad) that you may feel during your time abroad. I got to see much more of Moscow than I ever even expected.

I worked at a start-up company called CINEMOOD, and our office was located very close to the heart of the city. I was also in Russia during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which was also exciting to see the city buzzing with energy.

As a double major studying both Linguistics and Russian Studies, I was able to work with translating texts and files for our company. Overall though, I was more excited about being able to work in an environment where I could speak Russian every day. I've been studying the language for over 5 years, so getting the immersion and the practice allowed my language skills to skyrocket while still getting professional experience!

What would you improve about this program?
I would have preferred getting my host-family assignment a little sooner. I ideally wanted to be able to reach out and get into contact with them before I met them, and unfortunately was not able to do that.
Araxie
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to intern in Armenia through OPIT. I worked with Article 3, a local human rights organization. For my internship I researched, wrote, planned, and did video work for a project about the circumstances, effects, and continuations of Armenia's recent political revolution. I am a rising sophomore in college and I had really wanted to get some experience and insight into the non-profit field to inform my major and career decisions, so the opportunity to work here was very important and influential to me. I was able to meet a lot of people, not only in my organizations but also others in the field, which was very informative in helping me to learn about it.

In addition to the work component, I was able to live with a lovely host family in Yerevan for six weeks. They were really nice and did everything to take care of me and help me make my way around the city. I had told the program staff that I spoke a little Armenian, and they gave me an opportunity to practice with a host family that didn't speak much English (the others in my group got English speaking hosts, however). It was challenging, but a very helpful experience in the long run.

In addition to the work experience in this program, we took a class with a small number of assignments for university credit. The staff in Yerevan was very helpful and checked in with us a lot to make sure we were doing alright and see if there was anything they could help us with to improve our experiences. They also organized some free excursions for us with alumni of their Armenia-US exchange program, which was really fun and let us meet new people and see more of the country. In addition, they helped us to organize our own travel outside of program activities.

One of the best part of my experience was the internship group that I went to Armenia with. There were seven of us, all from different backgrounds, different parts of the US, and working in different fields, but we got along really well, and it was much easier to navigate the challenges of living abroad since I had American friends to talk with. In addition, our group went on two weekend trips together, which was really fun as well as making travel and seeing different parts of the country far easier since we had more people.

Finally, in terms of costs to this program, they offer scholarships for interns in certain areas. My internship did not qualify, but I was able to get a grant independently through my university because it was in the field of public policy and service. Overall, a really amazing experience that made the adventure of living and working in another country accessible, informative, and fun to do.

What would you improve about this program?
One thing that would be helpful is if we were able to get our host family information sooner, since we got it the day before we left. Also, I think it would be nice if the class assignments were optional because my university does not accept the credit anyway, so having to pay for the class was not helpful to me.
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Keely
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

What would you improve about this program?
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.
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Natalie
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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!

What would you improve about this program?
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.