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.