Student Studies in Moscow as an Ambassador of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth Scholarship

This summer John Barton ’17 participated in a competitive six-week immersion program in Moscow, Russia. John was one of 14 American high school students who were named ambassadors and finalists in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Russian Language & Culture Program, a U.S. Department of State full scholarship program in collaboration with the Russian American Foundation and the internationally renowned Moscow State Academy of Choreography.

The NSLI-Y program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in collaboration with American Councils for International Education and provides merit-based scholarships for eligible high school students to learn less commonly-taught languages (Arabic, Hindi, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Persian/Tajiki, Russian, and Turkish) in summer and academic-year overseas immersion programs. The scholarship covers all program costs for participants including travel, tuition and related academic prep, language testing, educational and cultural activities, meals, accommodations, and much more.

Launched as part of a U.S. Government initiative in 2006, NSLI-Y seeks to spark a lifetime interest in world languages and cultures among American youth. The program’s goals are to develop advanced linguistic skills and related cultural understanding and enable its participants to advance a positive international dialogue and compete effectively in the global world.

John, currently the MFS Model UN Co-President, read in a newspaper about another student who participated in the global program and decided to apply. Before the summer, he never studied Russian before, but he “thought it would be the easiest language to learn.”

After a series of interviews, John was awarded the scholarship, along with students from Arizona, California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and El Salvador.

On June 22, the students began a pre-departure orientation in New York City to receive basic language training and learn about some cultural activities beforehand. Three days later, John flew to the Russian capital city for six weeks.

“Our primary focus was academic, as we were studying the Russian language with four-hour classes every weekday,” said John. “But we also experienced Russian culture. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we would meet with a youth group of Russian teens who would walk with us around Moscow. We visited art museums, like the Pushkin Museum; tried different restaurants with Russian, Ukrainian, and Georgian food; and watched performances like Russian folk dancing and the Moscow Ballet. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we visited companies for tours and Q&A sessions with a speaker. We mostly saw American companies, like Bloomberg News, with bases in Moscow, but it showed us the business opportunities in Russia.”

Gorky Park, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Lenin’s Mausoleum, the Kremlin, and Saint Basil’s Cathedral were the favorite sites he visited.

To help supplement his in-class language instruction, John also stayed with two host families.

“I loved my host families,” said John. “With my first family, I stayed at a dacha, or a rural summer home. Most Russians have dachas. The second family I stayed with lived in an apartment in Moscow. Russian culture is really interesting, but I thought I adapted easily. Life was so similar to here. I really enjoyed meeting Russian people and interacting with them. They’re much different than they are portrayed in the media. They are much friendlier. There’s not as much anti-American sentiments as I previously thought.”

After John returned stateside on August 6, he completed his post-program surveys, language proficiency test, and oral interview and felt his Russian linguistic abilities vastly improved since the beginning of the program.

Reflecting back on the experience, John stated, “It was the best thing I’ve ever done, and I don’t like to make overgeneralized statements.”

John hopes to continue studying Russian, along with politics and international relations, next year in college.