Madison Bruce and Aidan Miller: Russia

Over summer vacation, I had the opportunity to travel to Voronezh, Russia, and teach English to young Russian professionals with Interaction Club. Along with the opportunity to teach English, I was also able to study Russian at International House Voronezh.

My experiences during the process and my journey through Russia were overall positive. I found out about the teaching opportunity from my Russian professor, Anna Kuchta, who encouraged me to apply to the program because of my great love for Russian culture and for teaching languages. The first step of the process was filling out a short application and writing an essay, followed by a phone interview with an alumnus of the program. I was asked questions, for example, about my teaching style and how I would handle the challenge of a language barrier. After my application was accepted came the most stressful part: applying for a Russian teaching visa, which I needed to have a week before the internship began.

My schedule during the week was rather strict. Every morning, from Monday to Friday, I studied Russian along with other international students. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons, Aidan and I planned for our English classes, then taught in the evenings. We jointly taught three classes that varied in levels of English proficiency.

Madison and Aidan visited Goto Predestinatsia, Peter the Great’s naval ship.
Madison and Aidan visited Goto Predestinatsia, Peter the Great’s naval ship.

Our secondary mission was to share our perspectives with our students and open their minds to different ideas, in the hope of breaking down any preconceived notions about Americans. Our classes spanned different topics, from comparing American business culture to Russian business culture and international travel, to social issues such as gender roles and the environment. As the weeks went on, both Aidan and I became very close to our students, considering ourselves a tight-knit group of friends.

While living in Voronezh, I stayed with a host family: a young mom, Alena, her 10-year-old daughter, Talia, and their cat, Pusha. I lived in the northern part of the city and had to rely on the city’s privatized bus system to get to classes and work every day. This was quite difficult as there was no set bus schedule for the buses and I would need to wait a while for a bus. But while I was waiting at bus stops and walking through the streets of Voronezh, I spoke to and fell even more in love with the Russian people. Like most Russians, the people of Voronezh are somewhat reserved, but once they get to know you , they will share their souls and stories with you.

On the weekends, I spent my time immersing myself deeper into Russian culture and making new friends. The beautiful thing about Russia is that their government creates wonderful recreation parks for its citizens to enjoy, so I spent many evenings and weekends at these parks with my Russian family and friends. One excursion I found most memorable was my trip to Divnogorie, the chalk hill churches of western Russia. Other excursions included touring the replica of Peter the Great’s naval ship, Goto Predestinatsia, spending time at a Russian dacha (summer house) with my students, and swimming in the Voronezh River with my Russian family. While I did not spend an extensive amount of time in any major city, Voronezh is amazing and beautiful, and, in its own way, one of Russia’s best-kept secrets. Voronezh will always have a place in my heart and I cannot wait for my next visit to this beautiful city.

Madison Bruce (madison.bruce@student.shu.edu)

Aidan stands in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.
Aidan stands in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

This summer I had the opportunity to spend five weeks teaching English in Russia. Although I do know classmates who made similar trips for the purpose of learning the Russian language, I spent the majority of my time there teaching English instead. Choosing to experience Russia as a teacher as opposed to being a student was a choice that made my time abroad truly unique.

The internship began with an application to Crossroads Eurasia. I stumbled upon their website and was attracted to the variety of programs and reasonable prices, offering internship positions as camp counselors, translators, and teachers. I studied abroad once before in Germany and I couldn’t help but notice how much more affordable traveling to Russia was. Based on my own preference, I chose to apply for the teaching program, filled out an application, and waited until the day I was emailed for a phone interview. From there, I had my information relayed to organizations in Russia looking for English teachers, and wound up being selected by an NGO located in Voronezh called the Club of International Communication, or InterAction. After that, I had to take care of a lot of logistics (i.e., visa application, plane tickets, medical forms, etc.). At the end of the day, though, taking care of the annoying details was well worth it.

Upon arriving to Moscow, I immediately found myself surrounded by the Russian sights I had dreamed of seeing: St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Bolshoi Theater, and the Kremlin, among others. I had an afternoon to see as much as I could before I took an overnight train south to the city where I would be teaching. No matter how much I enjoyed Moscow, I found Voronezh to be the city that I plan on making a special trip to visit again.

A great part about this internship is that you get to live with a host family as part of the program’s cost. I can’t help but feel that I had one of the best host family experiences possible. My host family treated me as one of their own and shared with me everything about the Russian lifestyle. For example, they took me on excursions to historical churches, monasteries, museums, and castles within Voronezh and the region. They also cooked for me and taught me how to make Russian dishes like pelmeni, talked to me about their culture and family history, and had me experience banya, a Russian bath house or sauna. I lived with a couple and their two young sons, but also spent time living with other members of their extended family. My host uncle said to me that what was important to him was teaching me about the “soul” of Russia, and I am thankful for being able to say that I know it much more than I did before living there.

Aidan learning to make pelmeni, or Russian dumplings.
Aidan learning to make pelmeni, or Russian dumplings.

The most important part of this trip, however, was the work I did as a teacher. I worked alongside two other student-teachers, and we jointly taught three separate classes of young business professionals. Each class had different skill levels when it came to speaking English. The challenges of teaching a class, especially one that doesn’t speak English proficiently, are numerous, but the rewards were just as great. Being able to share my culture with people who haven’t had many opportunities to travel was very special, and being able to assist someone in learning our difficult language was also challenging, but fun. My interests in the field of Diplomacy will not likely lead me to teaching as a career, but I am thankful for the experience I gained while teaching abroad.

If anyone is interested in applying to this program, contact me and I will be more than glad to tell you about my trip! – Aidan Miller (aidan.miller@student.shu.edu)

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