My career with Russia was started when I haphazardly met my Russian professor in 2006 and boldly agreed to study abroad in Russia. However, my future was truly solidified when I realized my dreams and received a Padnos Scholarship to study in Saint Petersburg. Having been there before on these study abroad trips I sort of knew what to expect; however, my experience turned out to be so much more than that, both professional, academically and personally. While in Saint Petersburg I taught English at a few private clubs, mainly hosting conversational sessions with young professional Russians. Here I met two of my best friends, Maksim and Masha, with whom I still communicate today, and now only in Russian. Furthermore I met so many other foreign students who were also studying Russian. I soon learned that the world was full of people who shared similar interests with me and with whom I could talk for hours about the peculiarities of Russia and the world in general. Some of these people grew to be my best friends, and I am grateful that I was able to go to Russia and meet them; I just recently visited my Norwegian friend in Oslo.
My time in Saint Petersburg was not just spent on friendships, though if it had been, just that would have fulfilled me. But professionally, the city provided some interesting internships and volunteer opportunities, such as the teaching I mentioned above, which expanded from a rich wife of a business man, to ten year old kids studying in a private French school, to liberal mothers, who spent the majority of our class time breast feeding and taking care of their kids, but from whom I learned so much about parenting and child health. Furthermore, I had a temporary internship at the Saint Petersburg State Academy of Theater, where I spent a fair amount of time drinking tea with the employees and watching the student productions. But most importantly these opportunities gave me confidence in my Russian language skills. And with these I passed an oral interview for a Fulbright Fellowship. In April, I screamed upon receiving my acceptance package. In July, I met the other twenty-five excited and energetic Fulbright English language teachers, and in August I departed for Astrakhan, Russia on a whole new and crazy adventure.
Now I am exactly six months into my English Teaching Assistantship here in Astrakhan, and it has truly been a great experience. Each day I am learning so much about Russia, the world, and myself. My language is excelling beyond my comprehension and I am striving for personal growth in other sectors. I teach at a local university, where I, being twenty-three years old, am practically the same age as my students. I also go to two local high schools, where we do fun little games and other language activities. This semester I plan to get more involved in the local community and hopefully set up an American cultural lecture series, both in Russian and English. Outside of my teaching endeavors I am studying Russian privately and have also taken up Turkish.
After receiving the Fulbright in May I deferred admittance to Georgetown University’s Masters in Arts program in Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian studies. I received acceptance into this program about the same time as the Fulbright, and I was also shocked. Truly, my Padnos scholarship and time in Saint Petersburg helped me achieve both of these feats, which I saw as unattainable. So thank you, Mr. Padnos for helping me have a great time in Saint Petersburg, but more importantly for assisting me in gaining confidence in myself, my skills, and my potential to do great things in the world. Have a wonderful 90th birthday, and as the Russian’s always do, let’s toast to your health: “на здоровье!!”