Norman, Katherine

Name: Katherine Norman
Location of Study: St. Petersburg, Russia
Program of Study: American Councils Study Abroad (ACTR)
Sponsor(s): William Devers


A brief personal bio:

I am currently a junior at Notre Dame studying Russian, French, and Portuguese.  I love playing soccer, although these days I only play casually and with the Mexican locals who play at parks near my home in Columbus, Ohio.  I was a member of the Notre Dame mock trial team during freshman and sophomore year and am also a member of the Notre Dame Literature Awareness club.  Despite the fact that I’ve decided upon language majors (and minor), I still have no idea what I want to do “when I grow up,” though, to my parents’ dismay, I may end up going to law school and becoming a lawyer.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

This grant is extremely important in that it will be funding a potentially once in a lifetime experience during which I will be completely immersed in a foreign culture and surrounded by those who natively speak the language which I am trying (desperately!) to learn.  Russian is easily the most difficult language I have ever studied and I truly believe that without the chance to study the language amongst those who actually speak it, I will never master it or even begin to approach the level of fluency that such an experience abroad offers.  Additionally, without this chance to earn the Russian credit and to improve my language skills over the summer, I will not have enough credit to complete the supplementary Russian major, which is certainly my goal.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

At Notre Dame, there was certainly much more time spent in the lower levels of the Russian courses focusing upon the written aspects of the language, such as grammar and vocabulary.  Though this is, of course, necessary and useful during the language-learning process, I look forward to a chance to converse much more frequently and to be thrown into situations in which the verbal aspect of Russian is demanded.  I am significantly less sure of myself when it comes to conversations in Russian as opposed to written assignments or exams.  Going to and living in Russia, where Russian will be used in all day-to-day interactions and activities will be extremely beneficial for me and for the development of my verbal/comprehensional skills.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. By the end of the summer, I won’t be nervous to enter into a conversation in Russian with native speakers.
  2. By the end of the summer, I will be able to speak and listen at a level of proficiency equal to or beyond those starting Advanced Russian I in the fall.
  3.  By the end of the summer, I will much better understand Russian culture and its similarities/differences to that of the United States.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

I certainly intend to throw my insecurities and any hint of shyness to the wind by jumping right into conversations and practicing speaking and listening as often as possible (as those are my weaknesses in Russian at the moment).  I plan to establish comfortable and friendly relationships with my host family and would also love to join an intramural soccer team at the university in Moscow (or if such a team isn’t offered, ideally I would find a group of Russians who would like to play just casually).  I will push myself to my full potential and take courses that challenge me from which I will truly learn.

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Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

Without a doubt, the greatest insight into the language acquisition process that I gained was also, perhaps, the most obvious: dive in, engage, and absolutely do not waste your precious time being embarrassed.  During my orientation in Washington D.C., essentially each and every pep talk, guest speaker, and skit was, with varying degrees of subtlety, imploring us to be confident and fearless in our attempts to master Russian during our short time in Moscow.  We were warned that the professors could only do so much with 8 weeks—that we could truly depend only upon ourselves to make any real progress with such a challenging language.  At the time, this all seemed like common sense to me and it didn’t strike me as particularly significant advice.  However, once I arrived, my eyes were truly opened to how spot on that idea of independently “taking the plunge,” taking the bull by its horn or, I suppose in Russian terms, taking the bear by its claws?  Most days that I was in Moscow, I would do my homework and then escape out into the city by myself, visiting random parks and cafes, attempting to give babushkas directions to metro stations I’d never of, and enjoying getting lost in the city during the majority of my personal excursions.  My internal compass has never been so well-honed.  I learned not to be shy to approach Russians to ask for directions in these frequent times of need (though, I must admit, I usually only had the guts to approach the babushkas and, even then, only those of the smallest statures with the largest bags).  But, quite seriously, I am 100 percent certain that I have achieved all of the goals that I’d laid out for myself before I departed, and more.  I feel ten times more confident with all aspects of my Russian, grew profoundly interested in Russian culture/history, and am already preparing to return for a longer period of time after I graduate from Notre Dame!

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

Aside from the language aspect of the whole experience, my summer in Moscow presented me with the opportunity to live in city amongst a society so very different than any I have ever experienced, and so fascinating. Everything about my time in Russia was exciting; every day was an achievement of some sort.  The opportunity to use Russian–this very complicated, extraordinary tool of communication–to accomplish anything, to convey an idea, to order mystery meat from a street stand, to connect with another human being in even the simplest exchange was incredibly satisfying.  Even when difficulties presented themselves, when the words needed just wouldn’t come, my experience with most Russians was extremely positive.  I found most Muscovites to be pleased and excited (and often, at least in my case, amused) to discover an American attempting to communicate in Russian, and in most cases very patient with the lapses in grammar and gaps in vocabulary.  The best advice I could give to someone considering studying language abroad during the summer is simply to put fear aside and to take advantage of the numerous opportunities to interact and to learn that will present themselves while abroad.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

I am continuing to take Russian courses here at Notre Dame and hope to earn a supplementary major in Russian by the end of senior end. I, without question, will return to Russia, either to teach English or to take more courses.  I am also considering entering the Peace Corps after graduation and would hope to be placed in a Russian-speaking community.  I believe there is a definite possibility that, without the SLA Grant experience, I would not have continued to study Russia seriously–as something to be incorporated into my future after Notre Dame.  Spending the summer in Russia is a challenge which I couldn’t be happier to have accepted.