This summer I traveled to Russia for six weeks on one of the W&M Summer Study Abroad programs. There were ten students and Professor Corney in our group, and we stayed in St. Petersburg for five weeks and Moscow for one week. While in St. Petersburg, we took Russian language courses at Herzen State Pedagogical University and a Russian history/culture class with Professor Corney. In Moscow we took Russian language classes at Moscow State University and went on field trips around the city with our teachers.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was my homestay in St. Petersburg. I stayed with a Russian couple in an apartment on Vasilevskiy Island. My room was gorgeous and had its own balcony overlooking the River Smolenk, from which I watched many sunrises, sunsets, and fireworks! My host mom Ekaterina was genuinely interested in helping me practice Russian, and she taught me new words each day. She also was an amazing cook; at every meal I had more food than I could possibly eat, and all of it was delicious. Ekaterina also gave me suggestions for places to go (monument parks, museums, a flower festival, etc.). I feel like living in a homestay gave me cultural opportunities that I never would have had otherwise.
One of my favorite things that we did as a group was go to the old building of the Mariinsky Theater to see the opera Boris Godunov. I’ll admit, when Professor Corney said that he had bought tickets for us to go to a four-hour historical opera all in Russian, there was a lot of skepticism in the group. However, we all left the opera talking about how much we loved it and how glad we were that we had gone!
One of my favorite things that I did independently was go to the Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art. They had many interesting displays of art by current Russian artists, several of which were interactive. It gave me an interesting insight into how Russians view their own country. The museum also had cartoons in Russian about Malevich’s Black Square coming to life and wreaking havoc, which I still watch on YouTube sometimes because they’re funny and perfect for practicing Russian!
Overall, I had an amazing time on my study abroad trip to Russia this summer. I highly recommend the trip to anyone who wants to learn more about Russian language, culture, or history!