From Russia, with love: MLC grad discusses his love of languages and working abroad

November 7, 2018

robert parent standing in front of a colorful onion-domed building lit-up at nightAn essay by Robert Parent (Russian 2017)
(To read this in Russian, click here.)

My freshman year of high school I began taking Spanish to satisfy the US language requirement for applying to college. By the end of my sophomore year of high school I was spending up to 3 hours each day studying Spanish, as I had developed a love for the language and was addicted to the thrill of being able to translate a text from Spanish to English or have a conversation with one of our Spanish exchange students in Spanish. I also found the grammar itself, being distinctly different from English with gender and various new tenses, to be completely fascinating.

I quickly realized that if I enjoyed learning Spanish that much, then I would probably enjoy learning another language. Having learned Spanish rather quickly, I wanted a challenge, so I signed up for my high school’s beginner’s Russian class. It was taught by our school’s librarian from St. Petersburg, Russia. It was soon all too obvious that I had received the challenge that I wanted. Russian was incredibly difficult, but I started putting in more time and effort into it, got a handle on those difficult Russian cases and verbs, and by senior year decided that it was time to add on another language.

My high school did not offer German, but I petitioned to do an independent study on the language during my senior year with the help of a faculty mentor. My request was approved, and my senior year of high school became a whirlwind of Spanish, Russian, and German. I was even able to spend a month with one of our German exchange students at his family’s house in Stuttgart, Germany.

Russian was easily the most challenging of these languages, so before even beginning the college application process, I knew that I would be majoring in Russian. I looked at schools specifically for their Russian departments, and ended up applying early decision to the University of Rochester, having been extremely pleased at what I learned about their Russian program while visiting the school during college visits.

I started my freshman year taking Russian and German classes (for a German minor), and couldn’t have been happier with my schedule. The Russian program would of course go on to become something of an academic family for me while at the University of Rochester, and I believe a large part of that is due to the incredible experience that I had in my first Russian class at the University of Rochester, which was taught by Professor Laura Givens.

Not being able to go a single year without beginning a new language, I spent the second semester of my freshman year doing an independent study with linguistics Professor Scott Paauw to learn Indonesian. Professor Paauw spoke Indonesian fluently, and had said that he would gladly tutor anyone who had a desire to spend a semester learning the basics of the language.

The summer after my freshman year, I spent a month in St. Petersburg with UR’s Summer in Russia program. It was nothing short of magical to finally be able to put to use the skills that I had developed in Russian over the course of my academic career. I instantly fell in love with Russia. Its people, and its culture. I enjoyed my experience in St. Petersburg so much that summer, that less than a year later I was back in Russia again, this time to do a semester-long program during the second semester of my sophomore year.

During my junior year the main focus of my language studies was Chinese. I had begun taking Chinese the previous year before setting off for Russia, and continued studying Chinese with two intermediate classes the first semester of junior year, before relocating to Taipei, Taiwan to study Chinese intensively for a semester. Studying in Taipei was an amazingly different cultural experience from the European one that I had known in Russia.

My senior year I began taking Portuguese. Portuguese is a beautiful language and very close to Spanish, so I dived into my studies pretty deeply, trying to take as much advantage as I could of the UR Portuguese program during my final year at the university. I was very pleased to be awarded one of the MLC Book Awards for Portuguese.

My other big accomplishment senior year was being one of the first inductees of UR to the Dobro Slovo National Slavic Honor Society.

Through a recommendation from the UR Russian program, I was hired as an English Instructor at the American Home in Vladimir, Russia (about 2 hours east of Moscow). I’m currently in my second year working here, and very much enjoying my experience. I teach children, teenagers, and adults, and can safely say that I’ve learned just as much from my students about Russian culture and life as they’ve learned from me about the United States. Some parts of the experience have been challenging, like finding and renting an apartment using only Russian, but I know that after living my life as a functioning adult here in Russia, I can probably make it in most places in the world.

As for the future, I hope to attend Leiden University’s Russian and Eurasian Studies Master’s program in the Netherlands starting fall 2019. I’ve submitted my application, and am hoping to soon receive a positive response from the university. Upon (hopefully) completing my Master’s degree, I would like to work as a consultant and offer my Russian linguistic and cultural knowledge to businesses or study abroad programs trying to establish themselves in Russia.