Language is not a neutral entity. It forms opinions and attitudes. It can be used to degrade differences and inflict violence or to proclaim diversity and achieve recognition. I am a firm believer that the understanding of the “other” through language and culture is the key to future success in democratic development in the world. Thus, failure to speak the language and neglect the cultural differences of your opponents leads to a predictable defeat of spreading democratic values.
Prior to my study abroad experience, I had only taken two semesters of Russian language, which introduced me to the basics, equipped me with a solid foundation of vocabulary, and had me comprehending speech. However, upon arriving in Russia, I quickly realized that having a basic understanding of the language from a textbook and actually utilizing it to communicate with locals are separate battles. My immersion in the language quickly stripped my initial fear of speaking Russian, and soon enough I developed a feel for the language and am now able to follow complex lines of argument and participate appropriately and meaningfully in many social interactions with locals.
Studying the Russian language for me is not only an academic challenge. After graduating from Illinois Wesleyan University, I aim to enroll in a graduate program in international development where Russian as a language and Russia as a geographical and political entity will be the focus of my future academic inspiration. I have even been thinking about pursuing the field of library and information science, where my desire to conduct research in a discipline focusing on Russia and the Russophone world can be made realistic.
The knowledge and perspectives gained thus far from my study abroad experience and particularly my sustained study of Russian language has truly intensified this desire and commitment to developing and further advancing my language skills. Aside from my conversation and grammar classes here, my Russian History, Russian Civilization, and Presidential Elections courses have equipped me with a newly intensified desire to pursue professional training that could lead me to a career in any field dealing with Russia, including government, education, and human rights.
I am aware that the above information sounds quite polished and projects me as someone who knows exactly what they want in life and has a couple of strategies to get there. The reality is that I don’t know where “there” is, though I can tell you with certainty where my “here” is at the moment. I often cringe at the question, “What are you doing after you graduate?” and insist that I reword it first. (Brief nostalgia turn: It’s quite funny realizing that I am being picky about the diction of a simple sentence in English when I couldn’t even participate in the Month Song in kindergarten when I first moved to America. Hopefully I am making my mom proud.) Returning to the matter: The “What are you doing after you graduate?” question is built on the foundation of “what,” which implies that we should put on our soothsayer hats and reply with some official job title. The question that I prefer being asked is, “Who do you want to be after you graduate?” That question awakens all components that make up who I am and causes them to fight to get their turn to respond. In fact, by answering to “who,” we, the millennial generation, will most likely end up answering the “what,” however we will be dong this indirectly by first expanding on the person that we are each trying to develop. This allows us to explore possibilities in greater depth and removes the veil from the often covered timeline after higher education, that part of our lives (the rest of it) that has a deeper reward than just the monetary one we will receive from our careers.
Now you must be certain, from the revamped information above, that I must really have some answers in my back pocket. Well just like the nearly empty pockets that my family had coming to America, my current pockets are also bereft of anything valuable. I am more focused on living deeply and sucking out all the marrow from life, both during my study abroad experience and back at my home institution. I know that though my pockets feel empty of polished and impressive answers, I am gaining such knowledge that no one will be able to take from me. My education and adventures in Russia are recalibrating my previous prospects for my future and making sure that I find out who I would like to be before I get too caught up in becoming a highly marketable “what.”