A Weekend with my Russian Host Family

Perhaps one of the best ways to be immersed into a language and culture is through living with a host family abroad. Fortunately, in summer 2019 I was able to study abroad in Moscow to learn Russian language and culture via the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program. During the week we stayed at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography, more famously known as the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. During the weekends however we would spend time with our host families.

After daily classes and homework assignments, it was a nice departure from routine to spend time with our host families. Throughout the program, I lived with two host families. My first host family included my host mom and sister who had just graduated with a Master’s in Psychology (#GirlBoss). I also stayed with another NSLI-Y participant, Kaitlyn! Our host family had prior experience hosting American students, so they knew some of the best attractions in Moscow for Kaitlyn and I. Our host sister spoke English more fluently than our host mom, but overall, our ability to communicate with both of them was better than I anticipated.

Kaitlyn, our host mom, and I took a picture at the end of Zaryadye Park, which had a glass bridge that gave a wide view of Moscow

To overcome language barriers, my host mom found creative ways to communicate with Kaitlyn and I around Moscow. During one of our outings, we visited Red Square, where the lives lost during World War II were being honored. Although the topic likely exceeded her English, our host mom gave Kaitlyn and I a historical breakdown of the various monuments at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier via a long paragraph of text on Google Translate.

A view of Zaryadye Park from the glass bridge where you can see the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral and other monuments near Red Square.

I also recall being impressed by our host mom’s creativity when we decided to wait in line for Vladimir Lenin’s Mausoleum. The line was incredibly long, so our host mom encouraged us to go explore other parts of Red Square while she held our spot in line. After a half hour exploring the nearby area, my host mom called me. Rather than hearing her on the line however, an Englishman’s voice replied. He told us that our host mom wanted to let us know that we should reach the front of the line in around ten minutes.

While the moment was confusing at the time, once we returned to the line I realized what had happened. My host mom found the nearest English exchange student that could quickly translate some Russian to us so we could return in time.Thinking about the alternative to this situation -- my host mom calling me and attempting to tell me the same information in Russian and broken English-- my host mom’s quick decision was probably the most efficient one.

One afternoon, we visited a park that was previously owned by a Russian Tsar. The vast estate included an elaborately designed dacha, as well as a few other attractions.

My first Russian host family definitely gave me a closer look at the average middle class family in Russia. In addition to providing practice with our language skills, my host family stay also gave me practice in regards to practical skills. While living with my host family I briefly learned how to live and navigate Moscow just like an average Russian, which is useful for when I (hopefully!) return to Russia and when I have to navigate an unfamiliar environment in general.