Russian Language and Jewish Studies – Studying Abroad for the Last Semester of College

Author: Samantha, Florida, USA

As I approached my last semester of college, I was desperate to study abroad. Many plans were changed and canceled with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet my craving for out-of-classroom learning never lessened. As a Jewish woman, I have pursued Judaic studies and Jewish history to supplement my two major-based courses in International and Russian Studies to connect my academic interests with my cultural memory. After researching abroad programs through my university and Eastern Europe, I quickly realized that the Learn Russian in the EU program was perfect for my interests.

First, it allows a distinct level of flexibility and immersion to explore and deepen my knowledge of the Russian language at my own pace. The program administrators also offered to tailor my semester schedule to a shortened period so my university would approve the program, even offering one-on-one classes. Second, Learn Russian in the EU is in Daugavpils, Latvia—a city with significant history. Thus, an abroad trip here permits both language study and research opportunities.

Yet now, with this abroad program, I can use my independent time to ask and answer questions about the history of my people in this country. Daugavpils’ Jewish history is an imperative component of the city’s history and trajectory. Yet Holocaust Studies in this region are underrepresented in the United States, as are Judaic perspectives on Russianness within American Russian Studies degrees. Thus, I arrived with a drive to witness this history. The Learn Russian in the EU program has unequivocally supported my research topic – Jewish Music in the Daugavpils Ghetto – by connecting me to people, places, and resources beyond my expectations. As a result, I am invigorated, excited, and learning more than I believed possible. I hope that more Jewish students participate in this program to witness, honor, and remember what once was a thriving Jewish city.

As I write this reflection, I am approaching my third week in Latvia. While the language acquisition process and the independent research have challenged me and fueled my curiosity, I have also experienced truly delightful extracurricular activities. For example, I attend a weekly conversation club within the American Window, helping Latvians improve their English phonetics and intonation. I am also quickly becoming a regular at a few wonderful restaurants, where I meet up with students studying from other universities for meals between classes. And, with Latvia’s outstanding location, I am taking time to travel around the country and the European Union. I’m working hard and having a blast!

In sum, while studying abroad can be challenging and draining, coming with both an academic and passion project has kept me engaged and excited. I highly encourage readers to think about how your time in Daugavpils can become yours. Whether that’s research, joining a dance class, or making travel Tik Toks – yes, someone in my group is doing each of those things – an intentional side project broadens the study abroad experience.

In my next blog update, I’m excited to report on weekend adventures around Latvia, COVID pass and pandemic-related experiences, and my newfound, slightly thrilling secret for language learning!