Kyle Olsen '14

This past weekend, I was supposed to travel to Lithuania on one of my few trips outside of Russia. Domestic travel within Russia takes precedence over international travel; visits to Russian towns and cities are essential to my cultural experience and language development. After having briefly visited Latvia and Estonia, I planned on spending the weekend in Lithuania as my last “international hoorah” before the semester’s end. That is, until I made a mistake and missed my flight to Vilnius, Lithuania.

I am the type of person that believes that everything happens for a reason. Classes end tomorrow; therefore, this most recent weekend was my last opportunity to travel before the semester concludes. Up until that point, I had not accompanied my host mother and her family to their dacha. Although I was invited to go to the country home every weekend, I had not yet had the opportunity to go as I traveled every weekend to a new Russian town or city. I felt terrible about it – I felt that I was missing out on a great opportunity. However, I had purchased my plane tickets to Lithuania months ago and, thus, had to go to the airport. My mishap with the flight to Lithuania, however, finally gave me the opportunity to go to the dacha. And I am glad that it worked out the way it did.

Spending the weekend at the dacha with my host mother and her family was one of my best experiences to date. I met so many great people, ate traditional Russian food prepared at the dacha (including delicious shashlik), and shared a few drinks (perhaps too many) with my new Russian friends. Everyone was genuinely interesting in my study abroad experience and life back in the United States. Of course, some joked that I was an American spy, to which we toasted and shared a good laugh. After a long night of socializing, which lasted until the wee hours of the morning, everyone – and I really do mean every person – slept in until 1pm or 2pm the next day. When everyone finally woke up, we shared a big breakfast before engaging in our own forms of rest. I decided to devote the rest of the day to reading in the garden while enjoying the warm weather and the sounds of birds chirping in the distance. Later that evening, we took the nearly one hour drive back to Moscow.

I can visit Lithuania in the future. However, a weekend at the dacha with my host family was an experience that I just couldn’t miss. I am happy to say that I finally made it there.

A few days ago, I was riding the Moscow metro when two gentlemen entered the wagon. Considering that it was about 5pm Moscow time and, thus, nearing rush hour, the wagon was already filled with people. As I stood near the doors waiting for my arrival at the necessary metro station, the two gentlemen began to speak to one another – and in English. I immediately heard their Australian accents. However, English language does not serve as definite evidence of an individual’s tourist identity. After all, Moscow is a large, cosmopolitan city that many groups of people call home (although I must say that speaking English will raise some eyebrows, especially on the metro). Rather, these gentlemen gave off other clues: they spoke too loudly,  leaned against the bars located within the wagon, and didn’t properly move out of the way when others attempted to exit the wagon at their respective stops. In short, everything that they did was wrong, according to Russian standards and metro etiquette. Consequently, they attracted the attention of – and even stares from- Muscovites within the wagon. Muscovites and I knew that these two men were indeed tourists.

I couldn’t help but cringe every time these gentlemen did a wrong action or spoke too loudly. I wanted to gently warn them that it is considered rude to speak too loudly in a wagon. Nevertheless, I didn’t go through with that, concluding that they were not aware of metro etiquette and, thus, would be given a break by Muscovites who were also clearly aware of the tourist identities. Therefore, I remained quiet during my metro ride.

After I exited the wagon and began my on-foot journey back to my Moscow apartment, I came to this realization: that was me during the 2012 Summer, a time when I was new to Moscow, and everything in Moscow was new to me. Like the Australian gentlemen in the metro wagon, I too spoke loudly on the metro, oftentimes in English, with my friends. I did everything wrong, both on the streets and on the metro, because I didn’t yet understand Russian culture and etiquette. Now, after having immersed myself in Russian culture and society for nearly 10 months, Russian behavior and etiquette come automatically. I don’t have to think about my behavior- I simply do particular actions that are acceptable under Russian standards, because such behavior has now become part of who I am as a person. My reaction to the Australians was also automatic and inevitable because of this cultural transformation. After the event, I was proud about this realization of cultural transformation. I truly have immersed in the culture and, thus, transformed culturally, having adopted Russian behavior and etiquette.

For months, I intended to post pictures of my new apartment. Unfortunately, as the file is too large, I cannot post the “video tour” that my friend and I recorded throughout the apartment. Therefore, these pictures will have to do. 🙂

I love my apartment – the central location, kitchen, living room, large bedroom, etc. I couldn’t have asked for a better apartment in Moscow! Even better, I have the best host mother in the world. Really. She is a caring, social host mother with a shining personality and a great sense of humor. She’s also very outspoken about politics and about life during the Soviet era. Every conversation that I have with her leaves me fascinated and more knowledgeable about Russian life.

So, ladies and gentlemen, here they are…….. Step into my life:

At the end of February, it suddenly hit me that I only had a few months left in Russia. Even though I had seen 14 Russian cities by that point, I knew that there was still so much more to see in this vast country. I knew, and still realize, that it is impossible to see every corner of the largest country on earth in one year. Nevertheless, I thought I would make the most of my time here by visiting more Russian cities/sites. The luck of having classes three days out of the week gave me the time, and the opportunity, to travel. Therefore, I ventured outside of Moscow every weekend for the past five weeks, allowing me to visit Novgorod; Vladimir; Nizhny Novgorod; Yaroslavl; and Perm. One of the most memorable sites from these trips, and the subject of this blog post, is Perm-36.

The Soviet labor camp turned museum, called Perm-36, is a unique piece of political history. The USSR built “Perm-36, called ITK-6 camp, in 1946 as a logging camp in the forested region of the Ural Mountains near the Siberian border. Here, prisoners cut down trees throughout the year and sent the lumber down river during the spring thaw to help to help rebuild Soviet cities damaged in the war” ( People whose crimes ranged from murder to “political incorrectness” spent years in the camp. The camp officially closed down in 1988. Now a museum dedicated to the history of political repression, Perm-36 educates people today about this dark chapter of Soviet rule. To repeat what my tour guide said to me, the museum serves as one of many hopeful defenses against a duplication of this part of history.

As you may be able to guess, visiting the camp was a moving, depressing, and eerie experience all at the same time. I anticipated this before I arrived at the camp. But considering my interest in politics and Russian history, I knew that it was something that I had to see. Ironically, I departed from the camp with a weird sense of optimism. It was strangely comforting to know that this place exists, and that it will continue to teach others – especially the younger generation – about the history of political repression during the Soviet era. I know that some may argue that this physical representation of Soviet history should be destroyed, allowing the evil associated with its buildings to be left in the history books rather than the walls of a museum. “Tear it down,” some may say. “It’s all bad, and I don’t want to see it anymore. Let’s just get rid of it.” But that’s just it – you can’t “get rid of it,” because to me and to others, this is more than a museum. It is a reminder of how political rule can be manipulated, and how political power can then manifest into repression. This reminder, and the threat of repression, is indeed timeless. And to me, the museum and what it represents are also timeless. It is our hope that with this museum, and with a population that is well-informed about political manipulation, this part of history will indeed remain in the history books, never to be repeated.

Museum’s website:

Forty-one days. Thousands of kilometers. Ten cities. Seven trains. Seven hostels. Seven Siberian dogs. Three hotels. Three flights. Two Buddhist monks. Two weeks with a sore throat. A Russian banya. Dozens of train conversations with Russian citizens. An unknown number of buses and taxis.  Several layers of winter clothes.  The occasional task of retracing my footsteps after getting lost. One trip to a Siberian hospital. The everyday occurrence of asking myself, “Why are my feet still cold with two thermal socks and a heavy snow boot on each foot?” The irregular opportunity to let my family know that I am alive and well. Minus thirty-six degrees Celsius. One unforgettable experience.

My first academic semester in Moscow came to an end on December 21st, 2012. Up to that point, I had visited three other Russian cities: Suzdal (Vladimir), Kazan, and Volgograd. With the semester coming to a close, I knew that I had to do something unforgettable during my nearly six-week vacation. After both research and contemplation, I came up with three options:

  1. Return home to Los Angeles to spend time with family and friends
  2. Travel around Eastern Europe
  3. Enter the Russian freezer known as Siberia

The first option was quickly dropped from the list. Why? Did I not want to spend Christmas with my family and enjoy some warm weather before returning to Russia in February? The easy answer is “Well, of course.” I missed my family and friends, and the holiday reminders – whether they be Christmas music, lights, or trees – in and around Moscow made me think of them even more. However, if I returned home, I knew that I would quickly regret not taking this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see, explore, and experience new places. Next Christmas, I will appreciate my time with family and friends even more while looking back, with a smile, on my experiences abroad.

That left me with two possibilities. Honestly, I was torn between the second and third options. A part of me wanted to explore the great cities of Eastern Europe: Tallinn, Riga, Kiev, Bucharest, and others. The other part of me wanted to explore the real Russia that lie east of Moscow. Even after much contemplation, I was still undecided about where to spend my winter vacation. It was at this time that I happened to stumbled across a questionnaire that I completed for study abroad, a questionnaire that asked me to describe why I wanted to study abroad in “country x.” I was quickly reminded that my goals for study abroad were to improve my language skills and learn about Russian culture(s). After this, I knew that I had to head east to experience Siberia and the Russian Far East.

Before traveling east, my friend and I decided to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve in beautiful St. Petersburg. As it was my first time in Petersburg, I was like a “little kid in a candy shop;” but instead of a desire to try every piece of candy in the shop, I was eager to visit every landmark in Petersburg. Thankfully, I was able to do this while planning the rest of the winter trip and meeting some great people along the way. On the morning of January 1st, after a long night of celebrating the arrival of the new year in the streets of St. Petersburg, we boarded a flight headed to Vladivostok, Russia.

I can go on for hours and hours about the trip. I met so many great people, improved my Russian language, and learned about the Siberian branch of Russian culture(s). I learned how to ice fish from an elderly Russian ice-fisher named Nikolai in Vladivostok. I received a special “blessing” from a Buddhist monk at a monastery just outside of Chita. I walked on the frozen Lake Baikal and sampled omul, a fish that is endemic to the Russian lake. I went dog sledding in Listvyanka. I “stood in two places at once” upon visiting the Europe-Asia Border Marker outside of Yekaterinburg. I visited the site where the Romanovs were executed in 1918. I also grew out a beard which, unfortunately, neither looked good nor protected my face from the unforgivable Siberian winter. And there were many, many more unforgettable moments.

After the long journey, I settled into my new Moscow apartment and began the process of getting to know my new host mother. Furthermore, I transitioned back into an academic routine at the Russian university. And I did not regret my decision to travel east.  🙂

Cities visited: St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Chita, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Yekaterinburg, Ufa

This was my first Thanksgiving spent without family. There was no homemade pumpkin pie; no “turkey bowl” with the brothers; no competing with my older brother for the last drop of apple cider; no Christmas music at midnight or plans on how to outdo ourselves this holiday season with bigger, better Christmas decorations.

My American friends and I came to a conclusion: just because we are 4,500 miles away from the American mainland does not mean that we cannot attempt to recreate this holiday celebration in Moscow! Furthermore, we concluded that this was a great opportunity to share an American tradition with Russians and other international students. Here’s what happened:

It’s 5pm. There are 5 Americans, 4 Russians, and 1 Swede crammed into a kitchen in our friend’s apartment. The tasks are divided among the visitors. By that, I mean that the Americans take charge of the turkey and the stuffing, with the help of the Swede, while the Russians are invited to sit back, relax, and watch the comedy unfold.

I would have liked to report that everything went smoothly, that everything was ready on time, and that we all shared a delicious Thanksgiving dinner together that evening. But reality has a way of bypassing expectations. A crisis of faith was averted when we skyped one of the mothers back in the U.S., showed her the turkey via video chat, and said, “Okay, what do we do?” Thankfully, she took us through the process step-by-step while the Russian host mother was heard in the background yelling, “Translate! Translate what she is saying!” If it wasn’t for that video chat, the Russian host mother would have covered the turkey with mayonnaise and then baked it. Thankfully, this mayonnaise-covered nightmare was not on the menu that evening.

As you can guess, the turkey was not ready on time. Instead, we enjoyed stuffing, deviled eggs, microwaved lasagna, and Kristen’s delicious homemade grilled cheese. The Thanksgiving was a little unorthodox, but we laughed about the situation and had a great time preparing a Thanksgiving meal. The following day, we enjoyed a meal of delicious turkey and stuffing on our 19-hour train journey to Volgograd.

I can honestly say that I enjoyed the Thanksgiving experience with Russians and other international students. The entire situation was comical, and I am glad that we all came together to celebrate Thanksgiving. I also hope that, despite the few bumps on the road, our Russian and Swedish friends learned about American culture through the lens of the Thanksgiving holiday. Nevertheless, nothing replaces a Thanksgiving with family. So to all those who have the opportunity to spend the holidays with family, I say: enjoy it. Take it from me when I say that you really learn to appreciate the holidays with family when you spend the holidays away from family for the first time.

Hint: If you find yourself in Moscow during Thanksgiving, the restaurant Starlight Diner, located just off of Tverskaya Street, has a special, albeit pricey, Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. You can eat there, or you can take the food to go and bring it back home for a home-like Thanksgiving dinner! Of course, if you do that, you will miss out on all the fun described above.    🙂

Well, I voted! This came after online research; a trip to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow; document scans at the university; emails to the parents; and a final fax to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder. That was a long process……

It is interesting to be on the other side of the globe when such an important election is taking place. Political ads do not fly across my television screen. I am far away from the political debate that is taking place on the Holy Cross campus. The presidential bumper sticker is a mystery to me during this political season. Lastly, the phone bank volunteers have yet to call my Russian cell phone to encourage me to vote against “Obama’s plans for American socialism” or against “Romney’s war on 47 percent of Americans.” That last sentence reminds me of how lucky I am to be in Russia right now.

Thankfully, I have not been “in the dark” during this election season. In fact, being in Russia has given me more clarity on the election. Thanks to online streaming, I watched the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. I listened to commentators on Fox News, CNN, Al Jazeera and MSNBC. All this has been done without the distraction of political ads. But more importantly, I had the privilege of discussing the election with other international students. Listening to what individuals from Sweden, Germany, France, Russia and other countries have to say about the candidates has been an experience and a privilege. Hearing foreign perspectives on the candidates, American domestic politics, and world affairs has provided me with a well-rounded, albeit complex outlook on the election. I also listen to Russian talk radio when I do my homework. Therefore, I listened to my fair share of Russian perspective on the election. In the end, I feel that stepping outside my country’s borders has allowed me to develop a well-rounded outlook on the candidates, an outlook that developed after considering the perspectives of those dwelling outside of the United States.

If you are out of the country during an election season, don’t fear! Many voting districts allow you to fax or email your ballot. Furthermore, the local U.S. Embassy will have an American Citizen Services Unit that can assist you with your election needs. Happy voting!

  • Kazan

  • October 28th, 2012

Last week, my longtime dream of visiting Kazan – the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan – came true. I have always been fascinated by this “Third Capital of Russia” because of its bipolar identity. The city, with its Russian and Tatar influences, is somewhat caught in a limbo state between Orthodox Russia and Muslim Tatarstan. Perhaps more fascinating is the fact that Muslims and Orthodox Christians, as well as ethnic Russians and Tatars, are living side-by-side in relative harmony. So, needless to say, I had very high expectations for the city. Thankfully, Kazan went above and beyond my expectations. The privilege of sharing this experience with two of my friends made the experience even better.

On Thursday (October 18th) evening, Rachel, Yohan (our new friend from Sweden), and I boarded a train from Moscow to Kazan. It took us 13hr (9pm to 10am) by train to reach Kazan. The train ride itself was an experience. On the way to Kazan, we chatted with two individuals who lived in Kazan. They were fascinated by us simply because we chose to study abroad in Russia. Then a fight broke out between ten or so guys at the other end of the car. Earlier, I noticed that they were drinking on the train; therefore, I assumed that alcohol was to blame. Two female crew members rushed to the back of the car in an attempt to settle the dispute. Another lady, who was sitting a few seats away from us, rushed to the other side of the train in tears. Finally, a young man of Central Asian descent was led to a holding area near the restrooms. What happened?! Our two new friends from Kazan informed us that the man had a knife and threatened to kill everyone on the train for the glory of Tatarstan. Soon after, the train came to a stop, and two Russian police officers entered the train, arrested the man, and then escorted him off of the train. It was 3am by this time. So I decided to climb to my overhead bed and get some shut-eye.

Upon arrival in Kazan, we took a bus to our hotel to check-in and free ourselves from our luggage. Then we headed to the Kazan Kremlin. Words cannot even begin to describe the beauty of the Kremlin. It’s something that you have to see to experience for yourself. I was particularly in awe of the Qolshariff Mosque, which is the largest mosque in all of Europe (that is, if you exclude Istanbul from this list). The rest of the trip was filled with exploration of the city by foot, trips to a Tatar and WWII museum, strolls through Victory Park, and meals at Uzbek and Turkish restaurants.

In the end, I loved Kazan. It’s a beautiful, clean city with several museums and a surprisingly decent nightlife scene. I was sad when we had to catch our Sunday evening train back to Moscow. But once again, the train did not fail to bring enjoyment. I chatted for hours with a man named Abdukadir, who is a doctor from Tajikistan. He told me all about his life in Tajikistan and how he decided to flee to Kazan when the 1992 civil war began in Tajikistan. He has lived in Kazan with his wife and three children ever since. He ended up buying me tea and giving me his contact information so that I can contact him whenever I decide to return to Kazan or visit Tajikistan.

Lastly, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between Moscow and Kazan. For starters, Kazan is much cheaper than Moscow. Although that isn’t saying much simply because Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world, my wallet still appreciated the temporary change of scenery. I would certainly advise you to visit Kazan because it doesn’t break the bank like Moscow does. It’s certainly a great place to buy souvenirs for family and friends! Finally, the people in Moscow and the people in Kazan are certainly different. As I stated earlier, Kazan has a huge mix of Russians and Tatars. But unlike the people of Moscow, who always put on a “stone face” and never smile, the people of Kazan weren’t afraid to smile at strangers. Furthermore, the people of Kazan – whether that be on the train, in a restaurant, at a museum, or on the streets – were not afraid to strike up a friendly conversation with a complete stranger. The people of Moscow, on the other hand, tend to keep to themselves when they are on the streets. Although Moscow holds a special place in my heart, my arrival in Kazan was a warmer, more welcoming experience compared to my initial arrival in Moscow. Perhaps this is because Moscow’s social standards are different than those of Kazan.

In conclusion, if you have the opportunity to visit Kazan, then go! I know that I will return to Kazan again someday……

Today marks my 44th day in Moscow. With that, I am determined – no, I am prepared- to cross the threshold from tourist to Moscow resident. However, one man hinders this transition. Oddly enough, he establishes this metaphorical barrier from beyond the grave, a barrier that has greatly postponed my transformation from amateur tourist to experienced resident. This man is none other than Vladimir Lenin.

Allow me to explain – as a former summer study abroad participant and a current resident of Moscow, I have done my fair share of “touristy” things. I’ve explored the inner walls of the Kremlin. I’ve engaged in evening strolls in and around Red Square. I know the ins and outs of Arbat Street like the back of my hand. I might even be able to navigate through Gorky Park with my eyes closed.

The Lenin Mausoleum is a different story. I attempted to visit the tomb on five different occasions and failed every time. Even though the mausoleum’s website says otherwise, the tomb is always closed or under construction whenever I attempt to visit Papa Lenin. Therefore, the Lenin Mausoleum is like the final frontier of my tourist stage in Moscow. It is the last “touristy” thing that I must cross off of my list before my transition.

This past Saturday was my most recent attempt to visit the leader of the Bolsheviks. But once again, Papa Lenin made me wait another day. In frustration, I decided to take a picture with the Lenin impersonator standing just outside of Red Square. This was my consolation prize for my early morning trip to the center of the city. As far as I am concerned, that was good enough for me to leave my tourist stage in the dust and embark on my new role as a Moscow resident. There will, of course, be future attempts to visit the tomb. But in my book, I can now begin a new stage in my study abroad adventure. I can now move away from tourist hotspots in and around the city and begin to visit places that attract local residents. The Facebook page “Secret Moscow” will be a great source for me. The page itself “is for Muscovites to share secrets of their city with their fellow Muscovite residents!” Sounds great to me!

If you find yourself in Moscow and happen to show up at the Lenin Mausoleum when it is closed, do not be discouraged. Keep trying! I suppose that several failed attempts before reaching the fruit is all part of the experience. You WILL be able to see the tomb if you keep trying. Perseverance does pay off. I am just waiting to cash in for my perseverance…..

*Below: Alongside the Lenin impersonator were Stalin and Pushkin impersonators. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take pictures these two individuals as well! Warning: be prepared to pay 100 rubles to each impersonator for a picture. I for one found the investment to be well worth it.  🙂

One of the questions that I am always asked is if I prefer living with a host mother to living in the university’s dormitory. I had the privilege of experiencing both: I lived in the dormitory during the six-week summer study abroad program, and I currently live in an apartment located just a few metro stops away from the university. Both options have pros and cons, and the pros and cons will certainly differ from one individual to another. In the end, it all depends on what you want out of your study abroad experience. When you have your study abroad goals set in mind, you will choose the option that best suits your needs. Here are my thoughts on the topic:

University’s dormitory: This is a great option for those in search of that “international” experience. The Russian State University for the Humanities has two types of dormitories: one for international students, and another for Russian students. However, the dormitory for Russian students is located several metro stops away from campus. Therefore, if you choose the dorm route, you will be living with students from across the globe. This is definitely an exciting option – you are essentially living in a little “United Nations” community with students from six out of the world’s seven continents (*the penguins of Antarctica have yet to set up a study abroad program in Moscow). The university dormitory also has its social benefits. It’s easy to meet people when you live in a student dormitory, and numerous parties take place in the dormitory on the weekends. Lastly, if you live in the dormitory, you have the luxury of rolling out of bed in the morning and essentially landing in the classroom. However, I do not advise doing this as Russian students typically dress in a more formal fashion than students in the U.S. If you look like you just rolled out of bed, you will definitely stand out – and you may attract some negative looks from your Russian classmates. At least you’ll have those extra couple minutes of sleep under your belt! I must warn you, however, that the Russian university “closes” at 1am every day. Therefore, if you decide to go out on the weekends, you have to consider the university curfew. However, you can often change the guard’s mind if you buy him a beer or a pack of cigarettes on your return to the university. (I didn’t tell you that…..)

Homestay: Of course, I can only speak about my own homestay experience. I’ll tell you a story that conveys my experience with my host mother…… Two weeks ago, just days before my first day of classes, I woke up in the middle of the night with chills and a sore throat. Even with two blankets and a heavy sweatshirt, I couldn’t manage to stay warm. I thought I had a fever. I finally fell back to sleep, only to wake up around 11am with a headache, a sore throat, and a stuffy nose (sorry for that image). I then went into the kitchen and saw my host mother. I immediately began to tell her about my symptoms, which was good practice for my Russian. What happened next will always stay with me: she gave me cold medicine, put lemon in my tea, and rubbed vicks-like cream on my throat and around my eyes. She then kindly lectured me on the need to eat honey by the spoonful before giving me a pair of warm socks to wear. After waking up from a nap later on in the day, I returned to the kitchen and found freshly-made blini (Russian pancakes) on the kitchen table for me to eat when I woke up. For several days after that, she continued to ask me how I felt.

So what can I, or any of you, draw from that experience? The answer is that the homestay option provides you with someone that cares and will look out for you when you are in a foreign setting. This is not to say that the friends that you make will not take care of you as well. But the homestay is different – it provides for that maternal (or paternal) care that you may need when you are in your new setting. Story:  just last night, I decided to stay in the apartment rather than go out. I was reading in my room late in the evening when my host mother knocked on my door and asked me if I wanted tea. I kindly said no because I did not want caffeine late at night. I decided to join her in the kitchen for a glass of delicious hot water. I followed her into the kitchen and saw that she made blini for the both of us to enjoy as a late night snack. We ended up sitting at the table for an hour discussing poetry and both American and Russian literature. Needless to say, I didn’t regret my decision to not go out. To me, this was what study abroad was all about: to learn about Russian culture and truly live alongside native speakers. This is why I chose a homestay. This is why I came to Russia.

Conclusion: If I had to do it all over again, would I still choose a homestay? The answer is YES. On an objective note, the homestay helps you to improve your language skills outside of the classroom. You will also have the opportunity to sample so many different Russian dishes prepared by your host mother or host father. However, on a more subjective note, I wanted to immerse myself in Russian society and learn about Russian culture from the inside. I just couldn’t accomplish that by living in an international dormitory. I already had so many unforgettable conversations with my host mother, and I look forward to more of them in the future. I also have to take the metro to and from the university every day. Mind you, there are some days when the last thing I want to do is ride the metro cramped alongside hundreds of other equally annoyed people. But for all those ups and downs, I get to see things that I wouldn’t have seen by just walking 20 seconds from the dormitory to the classroom. Just like every other resident of Moscow, I take the metro to my destination. I actually feel like a Russian and step into the shoes of a Russian every time I take the metro to the university.

In conclusion, the homestay option is perfect for me as it helps me to achieve the study abroad goals that I set for myself. Think hard about what you want out of your study abroad experience. When you know what your priorities are, you will be able to choose the option that best helps you to achieve your goals. Good luck!