During the summer of my freshman year, I went to St. Petersburg, Russia to study Russian language for two months. A small group of students from my Russian class went on the trip, and we attended the language institute every day. A typical school day consisted of three classes: grammar, reading, and speaking, and the classes were led by both institute staff and our own professors. At the end of the summer, I came home with three distinct highlights from my experience.
1. I felt much closer to the friends and professors I'd spent time with on the trip
When I came back to school to start my sophomore year of college, I was excited to be back in a classroom with the same students from the trip, and one of the same professors. We knew each other's personalities, Russian skill levels, and inside jokes, and the atmosphere of the classroom was much more lively as a result of that camaraderie. In addition, we were eager to continue studying with the same professor who had traveled to Petersburg with us; we trusted her and loved her serious yet kind teaching style. She always brought delicious Russian snacks for us from home and made the whole class feel at ease.
2. My Russian language abilities had improved significantly
While we studied in St. Petersburg, we were encouraged to speak in Russian as much as possible, whether with our host families, friends, or professors. We forced ourselves to apply many common conversational phrases multiple times a day at coffee shops, restaurants, home, school, parks, and museums. After a while, the embarrassment and awkwardness started to fade, and the language started to sink into our brains, allowing us to speak faster and make casual jokes in Russian. After I returned home, I tried to seek out other opportunities to keep speaking Russian so I wouldn't lose the progress I'd made. I spoke Russian every day with my fencing coach, shopped for Belochka candies at Russian delis, and asked my friends to call me once a week and speak Russian for an hour over the phone.
3. I was inspired to keep studying or working abroad during future summers in college
After my experience in St. Petersburg, I wanted to keep spending my summers studying or working in other countries. In the subsequent summers after my freshman year, I spent two summers conducting neuroscience research in the UK and one summer as a journalist in Poland. With each trip, I made more memories, more friends, and gained an increasingly open view of the world and traveling alone. To anyone who is debating whether to study abroad or stay home, I would highly recommend getting out of the country and seeing something new. You'll gain more than just amazing memories.