Obies Using Languages: Will Watkins ’16

Will is double degree student majoring in Russian and Violin and spent last spring semester abroad in Russia studying Russian as a Second Language.

I spent last semester studying through the Bard-Smolny program in Russia. One of my favorite parts of the semester was living in St. Petersburg: it’s a beautiful city made up of a collection of islands and bridges. Our program included cultural excursions to several cathedrals and museums, and during our free time many of us went to such attractions as the Hermitage, which has the largest collection of paintings in the world.

While it may seem obvious, one of the most challenging parts of studying abroad was constantly using Russian. I was used to preparing my thoughts ahead of time for a class, but speaking with my host mother first thing in the morning always caught me off guard. I learned very quickly that I had to express myself in a timely manner, or else I would be dismissed as an inept foreigner. This extra pressure, while at first intimidating, definitely pushed me to improve my Russian in ways I hadn’t experienced while still in the US. The same was true of our classes at Smolny: it was draining at first just to take in lectures in a foreign language, let alone take notes and ask questions. But despite all of these hurdles, no part of the semester ever felt impossible, and it was exciting to try something challenging and new every day — even if it was only buying bananas at the store.

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