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The Russian language and academic study abroad programs – interview with successful Boren Scholars

The Russian language and academic study abroad programs – interview with successful Boren Scholars

We continue introducing to our readers the students enrolled in “Learn Russian in the European Union” academic study abroad programs at Daugavpils University. This time, we did an interview with Conor and Philip – US students and Boren Scholars. They told us about themselves, how they paid for studying in the USA and studying for programs abroad, and how they managed to get one of the most prestigious scholarships in the USA – the Boren Awards Scholarship.

Learn Russian in EULearn Russian In EU: Tell us about yourself, where you study, what your specialty is, as well as your program in Daugavpils.

Conor: My name is Conor. I am studying at the University of Washington. My specialty is international relations. I am studying in Daugavpils for a year, where I will be focusing on East European studies.

Philip: My name is Philip. I study political science at the University of Chicago. In Daugavpils, I chose to study political science throughout the academic year.

Learn Russian in EUTell us about your universities. Why did you decide to study at this university and why did you choose the specialty that you are currently studying at your university?

Conor: University of Washington is a large and prestigious research-oriented public university located in Seattle, Washington. I large reason in choosing this school was because I am a Washington State resident which means I pay, what is called, in-state/local tuition. Even though the cost of studying for local students is still huge, compared to the price of going to universities of a similar prestige in a different state, studying here is far cheaper. I chose my specialty for two reasons. Firstly, when I was little, I lived in Switzerland for two years and studied French. Secondly, I am interested in history, namely European history. When I was choosing my major at the University of Washington, my father recommended international relations to me because of my passion for history and because he thought it would lead to a valuable and interesting career.

Philip: The University of Chicago is a private university of about 6,000 undergraduate students. I chose to study there because it is a good university and because I have family that lives in Chicago. I chose to study Political Science because I am very interested in international relations. In my first year of university, I had the opportunity to start working for a professor in the Political Science department there. I did research on terrorism and conflict around the world and realized that this research interested me.

  I am fluent enough in Russian, but my goal is to speak fluently in the professional sphere, about international relations. I think Russian is an international language. Currently, in the USA there is a lot of support for the study of Russian language, especially in the form of large scholarships, fellowships, and grants. 

Learn Russian in EUWhy and how long have you been studying Russian? What has become the most difficult for you to learn the Russian language? How do you rate your level of Russian now? Have you been to Russia, in which cities?

Conor: I study Russian in order to learn more about Eastern Europe, and I follow the principle – in order to understand the region of the world, you need to learn the language. I also like classical music. Now I can say with confidence that Russian composers are the best in the world. The most difficult thing for me in learning Russian was the verbs of motion and correct stress. For example, “I study – he studies”, it is very difficult (я учусь – он учится). In my opinion, I am fluent enough in Russian, but my goal is to speak fluently in the professional sphere, about international relations. I think Russian is an international language. Currently, in the USA there is a lot of support for the study of Russian language, especially in the form of large scholarships, fellowships, and grants. Earlier, when I was studying French, I found that similar funding was hard to come by. Yes, I have been in Russia. Last year I lived in Moscow and also spent some time in St. Petersburg, Vladimir and Nizhny Novgorod.

Philip: I chose to study Russian for several reasons. Firstly, Russian is an important and useful language. I also wanted to learn more about Russia and Eastern Europe. I think that if you speak Russian, then a very large part of the world opens up for you. I have been studying Russian for a little over one year, and I agree with Conor that the most difficult thing in Russian is the changing stress and grammar, as well as the use of soft and hard signs. I have never been to Russia, but I hope that I will soon have the opportunity to go there.

I study Russian in order to learn more about Eastern Europe, and I follow the principle – in order to understand the region of the world, you need to learn the language.

Learn Russian in EU What do you think motivates students and why do they want to study abroad? Does your university help you find a place to study abroad, or did you look for it yourself?

Conor: In my opinion, many students choose a study abroad program based more on where they think they will have the most fun. They often choose programs regardless of the locations connection to their educational interests or where they can improve their language skills through cultural immersion and instead choose the place with the best social scene. Most universities have their own study abroad programs or provide you with recourses to find a study abroad program. However, if you want to find a program that really speaks to your interests and is focused on language apprehension and cultural immersion it is the responsibility of the students themselves to find these programs. For example, I searched for, and found this program myself.

Philip: I also think that many students want to go to a warm country, for example, Spain, Italy, France, live there for a whole semester and do nothing but have fun. However, other students understand that this is still a good opportunity to gain knowledge. I found this program myself and had to decide and do everything on my own initiative. However, my university also has a study abroad office as well as advisors who helped me craft an application for the scholarship I received.

The Russian language and academic study abroad programs – interview with successful Boren Scholars

For example, the United States government prioritizes the study of the Russian language, because it is important from the point of view of national security and politics.

Learn Russian in EULet’s say that you have already found a program and want to go to it. What are the possibilities of obtaining funding for studying abroad? How prestigious is it to get a scholarship and how can this affect your future career?

Conor: At public universities scholarship funding is competitive and often hard to come by. Universities try to provide funding and opportunities to those students who need it the most like those from low-income households. Universities, NGO’s, and government agencies create competitive scholarship programs for students who not only excel in their classes but also are also very passionate about a subject. If these are state-funded scholarships like Boren Awards Scholarship or Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship, then they help students who specialize in important fields of study and especially in fields that the country finds essential to its national interests. For example, the United States government prioritizes the study of the Russian language, because it is important from the point of view of national security and politics. The private sector also has an interest in language study because they are always looking for students who know Russian, Arabic, or Chinese. To receive a scholarship is very prestigious. I received a FLAS scholarship and it helped me a lot when applying for Boren, because it allowed me to show my interest in Russian culture and in the Russian language. These two scholarships were helpful in my most recent application, which is for a research Fulbright.

Philip: I totally agree with Conor.

Learn Russian in EU Both of you managed to get a Boren scholarship. Why did you choose this scholarship, how long did you prepare to submit the application, and also what was the most difficult in preparing the application?

Conor: In order to prepare an application for a Boren scholarship, I had to write 2 essays. It was hard work. 3 months before applying, I sent messages to my professors who I hoped would agree to be my letter of recommendation writers. It is important that you have strong recommendations from teachers who know you personally. Teachers take the recommendations very seriously. Sometimes they will tell student to write a recommendation him- or herself and then the teacher will sign his name at the bottom. This displays a mediocre relationship between teacher and student, since they do not want to spend their time writing a letter for the student, and In this case, it is often better to choose a different teacher. If the teacher sees that you are a good student and is interested in helping you get the scholarship, they will try to write a good recommendation. From the beginning of a student’s time at university, they should always strive to stand out amongst their pears and create a good relationship with their professors. Maybe someday you will need a good letter of recommendation from one of them.

Philip: I spent four months working on my application to the Boren scholarship. The most difficult aspect was writing the 2 essays. I rewrote them many times and had multiple people edit and provide feedback on them. Two recommendations from university teachers were also needed.

!In order to prepare an application for a Boren scholarship, I had to write 2 essays. Two recommendations from university teachers were also needed. From the beginning of a student’s time at university, they should always strive to stand out amongst their pears and create a good relationship with their professors.

The Russian language and academic study abroad programs – interview with successful Boren Scholars

Learn Russian in EUIn your opinion, why was your Boren application successful? What can you recommend to a student planning to apply for a scholarship?

Conor: Conor: I believe that my application for a Boren scholarship was successful, because I had a fairly high cumulative GPA, and I also received a FLAS scholarship. In addition, I studied Russian in Moscow, I went to a Russian film club, conducted research on cyber security in Russia, and also received three recommendations from my teachers who I am very close with. My track record displayed a deep and professional interest in Eurasian studies. I believed these factors helped me. I recommend the same to other students. Engage in various studies, show in-depth interest in the subject, and in the target language(s). This was actually my second time applying for a Boren Scholarship. The first time I was unsuccessful. After an extra year of study and by deepening my interest in Eurasian studies, my application for the Boren scholarship turned out to be stronger and much more convincing thanks to the acquired knowledge.
I received a Boren after two years of study, several research projects, and a summer in Moscow. But Philip, after just one year of studying the Russian language, was able to get a Boren scholarship. When I met Philip for the first time in Washington, I was even a little angry when I found out that he had only studied Russian for a year and was already able to receive such a prestigious scholarship. However, this shows that the committees awarding these scholarships have different criteria that often changes.

Philip: I think I got a scholarship because I had two very good recommendations. I received the first recommendation from a professor of political science and international relations, with whom I worked for three years. I received another recommendation from a professor of the Russian language, with whom I had a very good relationship. It seems to me that this was the most important factor. I would recommend to students interested in the Boren Scholarship that you need to have a very clear idea of why you are interested in your target language, what you hope to get from studying abroad, and how this will help further your career. For example, I had a desire to study the Russian language, to understand the relations between Russia and the USA, as well as between the USA and the Baltic countries. In the essays I had to show that I already had a strong grasp of these topics but could learn a lot more from studying Russian and Political Science while in Latvia.
According to the terms of the Boren scholarship, after graduating from university you must work for the government for one year. Therefore, it is also very important that you have a good idea of exactly in what capacity you would want to work.

According to the terms of the Boren scholarship, after graduating from university you must work for the government for one year. Therefore, it is also very important that you have a good idea of exactly in what capacity you would want to work.

Learn Russian in EUYou study in Daugavpils already several months. Tell us about your impressions. What surprised you the most, what caused the difficulties, what did you like most? Is there any progress in the study of the Russian language and specialized subjects?

Conor: In Daugavpils, you get a powerful impression of the similarities between Latvia and Russia. I’m already used to everything here. The difficulties were that I had to constantly speak Russian to new people, but I like it. Also in Daugavpils, I like the old Soviet architecture, especially in the region known as Chemistry. Daugavpils’s Soviet history is prominent throughout the city. Daugavpils is a Russian-speaking city located in Latvia and it is part of the European Union. In my opinion, this cross over of various influences is very interesting. I have found that studying here has been very beneficial for me.

Philip: Most of all I was surprised that there are Latvian inscriptions everywhere, but everyone speaks Russian. The biggest difficulties were in constantly speaking Russian and starting to talk with strangers. But I think that I have become much better at understanding Russian. I enjoy living in my Russian-speaking family with Zhanna and Vadim. This is a very good practice of the Russian language, because every day I have dinner, drink tea and speak Russian for an hour and a half at least.

The Russian language and academic study abroad programs – interview with successful Boren Scholars

Learn Russian in EUHave you made new friends in Daugavpils? In our opinion, your group is very friendly.

Conor: Yes, of course. We found many new friends not only among American students and our conversational partners, but also among local Latvian students.

Philip: Yes, I’ve met many Latvian people. Twice a month we play board games with other students from the university.

Thanks for a very interesting interview! We hope that Conor and Philip’s interview will help students who are thinking about learning Russian in Daugavpils, as well as preparing an application for a Boren scholarship!

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