One week ago I returned to my home in Pennsylvania after an amazing 6 weeks studying Russian in Georgia. It is striking how effective immersion is for language learners. I enjoyed pushing my limits with Russian as I communicated with my host parents, and it was very helpful to talk to my host sister who could correct my grammatical errors in English when necessary. At the same time, I understand the place classroom study has. The biggest challenge I faced was my vocabulary, which is appropriate for having studied for only two semesters but limited my abilities to speak in some situations. I am excited to start my Russian language classes at Notre Dame and hope to find a conversation partner to practice with outside of class.
I encountered many cultural differences in Georgia, some expected and some unexpected. I had read about Georgia’s relationship with Russia and was aware that Russia invaded their country in 2008, so the vigorous support for Ukraine and the west was expected. However, I did not realize how helpful it would be to learn several simple words in Georgian, such as hello and thank you, to win the respect of some locals who may look down on Russian speakers. I also expected to meet refugees from Ukraine and Russia who have fled the war. I ended up meeting a young group of Russians who had been living in Batumi since early March. I also had a conversation with a Ukrainian man who had been living in Batumi for several years. Speaking with them was so rewarding! Finally, I was surprised that Georgians never go out with wet hair, families often stay up past midnight, and nobody hesitates to voice their opinion.
My time in Georgia provided me with a great educational and cultural experience. It also changed how I see American life. I spent 6 weeks living in a very small apartment with 7 other people. When I came home and drove through my neighborhood, I was shocked at how large the houses are in comparison. I never felt cramped in the apartment so such a large living space seems extremely wasteful and unnecessary now. I also realized that this allows Americans to live more isolated lives. The small apartment provided enough personal space for me, but I was never more than a room away from someone in my host family. I believe this strengthened our family unity. If you are studying a language, I highly recommend applying for a summer language abroad grant. I made significant leaps in my language abilities while also experiencing a new culture that really changed how I see the world. The experiences you have abroad are impossible to have in the United States.