When I think back to my first memory of the first-week study abroad, it seems like a distant memory. I took a video of myself recording my first impressions, and the then me that is pictured seems shinier and fresher. It seems silly and cliché to say “oh I was so innocent back then” especially given that it was only four months ago, but there was so much I hadn’t experienced. It was a me who looked upon the world with a renewed sense of childlike awe where everything was “new” and “amazing” and “wow.”. Now I look at the world a little more weather-beaten with less “awe” and more of a feeling of stability. I can survive everyday life in Russia (& I suppose that in itself is its own wow).
I think I set impossible goals for myself at first. I wanted to visit every corner of Russia. I wanted to go to every museum, every estate, see every concert, hang out with only Russians… I wanted to be fluent in Russian when I finished. So I guess if I think about my goals in that large sense, no I didn’t really accomplish all of them as in I didn’t do everything but I did do a lot.
In Russian, I might not know a lot of words + still make stupid grammar mistakes but I can still have meaningful conversations about things that are important to me. Travel-wise, I’ve happily strolled through the grounds of almost every suburb of St. Petersburg—Gatchina, Pavlovsk, Kronshtadt, Pushkin… In Russia, I’ve also been to Moscow, Pskov, and Vyborg. Outside of Russia, I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to visit Estonia, Ukraine, and Hungary (with a tiny stop in Latvia). I’ve been to so many awe-inspiring concerts. I’ve seen works of art that have taken my breath away. Even though I didn’t hang out with only Russians, I still made friends in Russian and even tried dating.
I might not have accomplished everything (probably not even possible) but I still feel proud when I list everything and realize that yes, I’m very happy and satisfied with my Russian experience.
Personally, the biggest way I’ve changed personally is that I’ve become more comfortable being myself and making mistakes. From the very first day when I almost got shafted by a taxi cab driver in Moscow after making a wrong turn coming out to improvising being a glue monster in acting class to making a fool of myself in everyday encounters when I don’t know the words, I’ve made more mistakes than I can count. I think every mistake has strengthened me a lot as a person. I have confidence in myself to know that I can survive a very embarrassing experience and come out and still be me.
I’m a firm believer that 50% of language fluency is confidence and flexibility. I think it’s easy to get down on yourself for your stupid mistakes or in a classroom setting to feel like you’re behind your peers, but the classroom is such an isolated environment. In the real world, it is highly likely that your phone will break and you’ll have to go explain yourself and what happened to the phone store. This isn’t something you can study for. You’ll likely not have all the words you need. Things are unpredictable, but I’ve found it very exciting and reaffirming to find out that yes, I do know more than I think I do and I can make my ideas intelligible. I just have to believe in myself and not be afraid of experimenting.
Thus, in conclusion, my Russia experience has been a wild ride of missed bus stops, beautiful concerts, being confused like crazy, and pushing myself out of my shell. As a person, I don’t think I’ve become anything new. I’ve been exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking, but I am still me and every experience helps me to become myself even more.