Back to SummaryMiguel Boluda - Student Profile
Internship: Moscow Times Newspaper
One of my favorite memories while I was in Moscow was when I celebrated Moscow Day during my second day in the city. Because one of the program staff members was there at the airport to pick me up the moment I got to Russia on the previous day, and then accompanied me to my home-stay, I was able to feel very comfortable in my new environment right away. Therefore, by day two, I was already eager to go out and experience a little bit of what would become my new home for the next three and a half months. Another program student and I went to Moscow State University to watch the biggest laser show in the entire world. We ended up running into two other Stanford students in the crowd of tens of thousands and we all enjoyed a terrific first night out in the city, and these awesome experiences continued one after the other for the entirety of my time abroad.
My initial decision to apply to study abroad at the end of my freshman year was somewhat hastily made. I knew that being able to have the study abroad experience was one of my top priorities while in college; I just did not know which program would be the right one for me. I also was struggling to identify what my major should be, so I thought studying abroad early sophomore year might assist me with that process. Several of the programs required some form of language proficiency or catered toward specific majors, which is what led me to apply to Moscow - one of the best decisions of my life, by far.
There are so many moments that I remember vividly during my time abroad, such as my second to last night in Moscow when I visited Red Square for the last time and simply gazed at the Kremlin, the luxury shopping mall called “Goom”, St Basil’s Cathedral, and the giant Christmas tree and ice skating rink set up in the middle of the square. Or the snowy day when a bunch of other students and I took a trip to a friend’s dacha, the summer home that the majority of Russian’s own outside of Moscow, and grilled Russian food and bonded with new Russian friends. Or the time when I got to attend an evening reception at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, also known as the Spaso House, which ended up being the occasion where I made my first, and closest, Russian friends. To put it bluntly, my time abroad in Russia resulted in more memories and moments than I could summarize in even a 50-page book, and I could not be more pleased with my decision to go abroad and the experience I had while I was there.
One specific asset of the program that took my experience to the next level was the opportunity I had to stay with a host family. The family that the Moscow program picked for me could not have been a better fit, and because I was able to feel comfortable with my living situation as soon as I got to Russia, I was able to begin enjoying my quarter all the quicker. My Russian father and mother were my first friends when I got to Russia, and very soon became my second family, helping me buy my metro pass, showing me how to get to school, and taking care of me when I was sick. They allowed me to gain a truer sense of Russian history, culture, and current events through every single conversation we had, whether during meals or while tidying the apartment or whatever - conversations full of stories and obviously much more personal than what can be read in a history book. They encouraged me to take chances, to go participate in Russian events, to go out and experience Russian culture, and so much more.
The internship I was able to have also played a huge part in why I had such an amazing experience. While working for The Moscow Times, not only did I get to experience what a real-world journalism environment is like as a possible communications major, but I was also able to attend numerous exciting events throughout the quarter. In October, I received a VIP pass to Moscow Fashion Week and got to attend several shows and hang out with some really important people in the fashion industry. On a different note, another time I received access to an exhibit opening at the main geological museum in Moscow, which was attended by many important people in the State Duma. The new exhibit was comprised of hundreds of minerals that one of the high-ranking Duma members had to donate because he lost his position, and therefore, his office space. Between the interviews with government officials, watching the presentations, and attending the reception, it was quite a surreal experience.
Another great part of studying abroad was that I was able to travel to other nearby cities that I would probably never have traveled to independently of being in Moscow. One weekend, the program took a trip to St. Petersburg, during which we were able to see many neat sights, like the Hermitage and Kazan Cathedral. It also was a great trip because it allowed me to realize how incredibly different the city was from Moscow. I realized that St. Petersburg could easily be described as a European city; with colorful buildings, lots of canals, and countless tourists; whereas Moscow was strictly “Russian.” Other than St. Petersburg, I also traveled to Kiev, Ukraine for one weekend. It soon became lots of fun to travel to some of the major Eastern European cities and be able to compare them with each other, and also see how the cities outside Russia have changed since the fall of the Soviet Union.
One of the things I was most nervous about when I was preparing for Moscow was the fact that I did not even know the Russian alphabet. I would arrive in the country not knowing how to read a sign or pronounce a phrase, even if it was written down for me. However, the 3-week language intensive program that takes place before the quarter starts for those who do not know Russian was extremely beneficial in furthering my proficiency in the language. I underestimated how quickly the teachers would be able to have us reading and speaking, and then understanding basic phrases in Russian. I enjoyed studying Russian not only because it was exciting for me to finally learn a new language, but also because there were immediate positive effects as I became a better Russian speaker. For example, the better I could speak Russian, the more likely I was to get a cheaper price while bartering in a market, the more likely I was to be able to make other Russian friends at the university, or the more likely I was to have successful days in the city in case I needed to communicate with someone and ask a question. The program has a very successful language curriculum, which contributed to the positive experience I was able to have while abroad. I was also able to skip right into second-year Russian upon my return to campus.
At first, I was quite hesitant to commit to a quarter in Moscow - I had only been outside the United States once in my life on a trip to the United Kingdom; I would be throwing myself into a city and country that I knew next to nothing about, with not even the ability to pronounce one letter of the alphabet; I would be living in an environment much different than Stanford, requiring much more responsibility than during freshman year; and the list went on and on. However, in hindsight, it is hard to imagine a different program or setting in which I would have had an experience as fulfilling, exhilarating, and eye-opening as that which I enjoyed in Moscow. By the time I had to come back to the U.S., I felt well on my way to becoming a Muscovite. I had grown to appreciate and love the city, with all its assets and flaws, tremendously, and it became hard to think about returning to America.
Many people I have spoken to often consider Russia to be a dying or fading country, having reached its peak during the Soviet years and now lacking an importance in world politics outside of a few, distinct matters. However, this could not be further from the truth. There is perhaps not a better, more exciting time to study in Moscow than over the next couple of years. Although sometimes it is not as apparent to those not familiar with Russia, over the past decade there has been a slow but steady shifting in the ideology and views of much of the Russian population, which is just now starting to be manifested in a much more physical sense in the country, most notably seen through the most recent elections and the subsequent protests. Furthermore, this change can be seen not only in the political sense, but also economically, as Moscow continues to progress with Skolkovo, its soon-to-be equivalent to the Silicon Valley, and culturally, as many Russians feel ready to move in a new direction from that of the past two decades following the Soviet collapse. In short, these current changes in Russia are captivating and the ability to study abroad in Moscow during a time in Russian history such as this is truly incredible.
In general, every experience I had while in Moscow was a worthwhile experience. Even during the times when I might have had a rough day or gotten lost in the city, those moments became memorable, meaningful experiences. Those as simple as shopping in the Russian grocery stores, the walk to school every morning, taking the famous Moscow metro, eating at random restaurants, or riding the overnight train to St. Petersburg and Kiev all became valuable, positive moments that I am lucky to have had. I definitely underestimated the effect going abroad would have on me. Not only did it challenge me to understand and appreciate a very different culture and way-of-life than my own, but I also grew to appreciate my life in the U.S. much more too. My experience in Moscow was fantastic to say the least and I think that if the possibility arises for one to spend a quarter in such a city, especially with the great program and all the opportunities available through it, then it should be considered with great care.