Lesnoe Ozero Blog

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Home Away From Home

Published: February 25, 2017

Visiting Boris and Valya's home in St. Petersburg
Visiting long-time staff members' home in St. Petersburg.

Lesnoe Ozero has been my second home for 10 years as both a villager and, more recently, a staff member.  This fall, it was finally time to strike out on my own for a semester abroad in Russia.  Honestly, choosing a program for going abroad can be intimidating. Based on the recommendation of some of the Lesnoe Ozero staff, I found a program that perfectly fit my needs.  I chose to go to Vladimir through the American Councils for Teachers of Russian(ACTR). This was just one of the many ways my time in the Russian Villages enriched my experience in Russia.

If Lesnoe Ozero is my second home, then the staff and villagers are like my extended family. A fun, smart, at times zany family that includes some of the most incredible people I have had the pleasure of meeting.  Because I had this “family” waiting for me in Russia, what might have been an intimidating trip felt like coming home. Through ACTR, I not only had the opportunity to live in Vladmir, but travel all over Russia. In St. Petersburg, I was able to catch up with some of my old counselors, and I was welcomed into the home of long time staff Boris and Valya, our camp babushka and dedushka.  I even traveled thousands of miles across the country to visit a camp friend who was studying in Vladivostok.  Travel in Russia is not always the easiest, but my years at camp allowed me to travel with ease. My instructors in Vladimir were amazed with how comfortable I was travelling on my own across a foreign country.  Thanks to Lesnoe Ozero, there wasn’t a city I traveled to where there wasn’t an old friend to visit.

Of course, the strong language foundation I had built at Russian camp helped me enormously in Russia, but perhaps even more important was what I had learned through Lesnoe Ozero’s unique cultural immersion approach. In Vladimir, I lived with a host family.  My first day, we sat down and talked about what I like to do with my free time and what kind of food I like to eat.  They loved that I ate just as much blini as they did, while drinking just as much tea and kompot. To break the ice, I showed them pictures of the balalaika classes I had taken and subsequently taught at Lesnoe Ozero.  They were amazed that I even knew what a balalaika was, let alone how to play one.  From that point forward whenever there was a professional balalaika player on TV, they would call for me to come so I could listen.

As many people do, I was quite nervous before I embarked on this adventure.  In the end, I discovered that everything I had learned at the Lesnoe Ozero prepared me to make the most of my time in Russia, and I had the experience of a life time.  Now looking back, I don’t know why I was ever nervous. If you want a true Russian immersion experience that will prepare you to get the most out of traveling to Russia, Lesnoe Ozero is the best!