Dreams of a Sophomore

In middle school, I had never left the country. Whenever someone asked where I would want to go, my answer was always the same: Russia. When applying for NSLI-Y summer in my sophomore year of high school, I articulated more clearly my motivations for study abroad, which still hold true today:

I want to participate in NSLI-Y because it is a unique opportunity for growth, experience and connection. Total immersion is the only way to learn a language intimately; NSLI-Y allows me to study Russian and this level of intensity.

Studying in Russia would stimulate enormous personal growth. I’d learn Russian more naturally and colloquially than I could in any domestic class, which would quicken future progress. However, I would not grow only academically on the program; studying abroad teaches skills like independence, resilience, courage, creativity, drive, reasoning, and communication that are invaluable at home, school, college, and the workplace.

NSLI-Y is an incredible experience. Of course, I would learn from classes, living with my host-family, and sightseeing. However, the best experiences are often the minute. I am excited to see a Russian grocery store, to exchange slang with a host-sibling and to wake up with a Russian greeting. I want to pursue Russian, perhaps professionally, and an experience like NSLI-Y is the best way to propel me towards linguistic opportunities with motivation, skills, and a competitive edge.

Inherent in the decision to learn any language is the desire to connect with others through words and culture. Studying abroad makes that choice real. While in Russia, I know I will develop cultural empathy and vibrant lines to people across and the globe. I want to spend my summer growing, experiencing and connecting abroad, returning a matured global citizen who dreams Russian.

From my letter to my host family:

Mama, Papa, Sestra, Brat; Tyota, Dada, Babushka, Dedushka:
I am so excited to meet you. Russia is just a place, albeit a beautiful and exhilarating one. It is the people in it who are the culture, the language, the opinions, and the faces; the smiles and relationships that touch and connect us. I want to become part of your life this summer even more than I want you to be part of mine, because for me this is not just an experience in my own timeline, but a chance to become part of yours…I want to learn not only Russian, but all about you as well, both as Russians and individuals. Thank you so much for letting me into you life.



Катя Кигана


7-1 Русский


Лариса стюардесса в Аэрофлоте. Американец пассажир, Джон, и Лариса говарют. Она спрашивает, “Вы говорите по-русский?” “да,” отвечает он. Джон знает Английски и Французский языки. Лариса говорат Английски хорошо; она спрашивает по-руссий, “ты живёте в Москве?” Джон понимает Москве. Он отвечеат “нет.” “ты живёте в Нью Йорке?” “да.” “Пепси, пожалуйста.” “да,” отвечает он. Джон говорит: “Я жнаю да и нет. Я понимаю Нью Йорке, Москва, и пепси. Я понимаю русский язик!” Лариса говорит, “Пассажир хорешо знает русский язик.”

I wrote this summary of a story we read at the beginning of 7th grade, when I had been taking Russian officially for one year. The story involves a stewardess who ask an American passenger simple questions. He doesn’t really understand, but is able to pull out cognates: New York, Moscow and Pepsi. She thinks he speaks Russian. Actually, it is a good message for studying abroad: focus on what you do know, and, to use the cliche, fake it til you make it.

It is obviously riddled with mistakes (I have typed it exactly as I wrote it then), most of them inconsistent, probably meaning I knew better but still had bad habits and did not take enough care to review it carefully, a problem that has continued to plague me in Russian to this day. However, it is a decent amount of language for only having one year of middle school Russian, including a vague attempt to conjugate and use cases. I also show signs of naturally mimicking Russian sentence construction: in English, we would say “he says” after dialogue, but in Russian it is usually the reverse order, “says he,” and indeed that’s the way I wrote it. This paragraph apparently warranted a upside-down stamp of a tiger and “wow!” written by my teacher at the bottom of the page.

Why Russian?

When I start to tell people about myself and eventually mention Russian, the two most common FAQs are “Are you Russian?” and, when I answer that negatively, “Why Russian?” Here is my attempt to explain from my application essay to the NSLI-Y 2013 summer program, written at the beginning of my sophomore year:

I can pinpoint the moment that quite possibly changed my life to a simple morning in fifth grade, when an unknown woman came into the classroom, made some kind of Russian joke and told us about Russian for Fun club. Having nothing better to do from 3:00 to 4:00 once a week, I signed up with a friend.

I was absolutely absorbed. I learned every word to “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” dutifully sang my alphabet everywhere I went, carefully printed out my family tree in block letters, heard with wide eyes of the trip the high school students took to Russia, listened, listened, listened, and collected my little Russian chocolate at the end of each day. I saved the wrappers because I loved reading the little printed letters, thrilled by every familiar word.

I still get that same thrill from Russian today. I fell in love with the language first, the culture second, and the prospects available from studying Russian third. Russia is in a truly fascinating state of being right now—it still is one of the most influential countries in the world. Certainly, the history, culture, and, of particular interest to me, the literature and current events are extremely rich. I want to use the Russian I learn.