Meet Jack Fischer, a sophomore majoring in physics with minors in Russian and Economics. Jack is this year’s recipient of the Early Achievement in Russian award (an award that recognizes the most outstanding student of First- or Second year Russian). Below Jack shares his past and present travel plans and explains how riding the trans-Siberian railroad sparked his interest in the Russian language.
How did you become interested in Russian? I became interested in Russian when I was riding on the trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow to Irkutsk. I wanted to speak to other passengers, but I didn’t know the language well enough at the time. Russian isn’t very difficult, despite it’s appearances. After you get used to the alphabet, it’s quite similar to other Indo-European languages like Spanish and French and has many cognates. I would highly encourage others to study the language and make them aware of these facts, as I believe many people are too scared to study Russian to due its perceived difficulty.
When was your first trip to Russia? Last summer, my old cross-country and track coach from high school invited me to go to Russia. He taught Russian at my high school during the day before coaching in the afternoon, so he was planning on taking some of his students on a two week trip across Russia and through Mongolia and China. At first I was apprehensive, because I had not taken any Russian in high school or college. Despite this, he won me over and our group left in early June with plans to spend a few days in Moscow. Afterwards, we took the trans-Siberian to Irkutsk and stayed in Listvyanka, a small town on Lake Baikal, which was my favorite part of the trip. Then, we returned to Irkutsk and took another train through Mongolia to Beijing. From there we flew home, circumnavigating the globe in just under two weeks.
What are your current study-abroad plans? While I certainly enjoyed Siberia, I decided to return to Moscow this summer for a language learning study abroad. I enjoy getting lost in large cities and meeting new people, so I felt that Moscow would be the best place for that as it has millions of native Russians and many foreign migrants from the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries. I also have to take an online class this summer and I thought that Moscow would have better internet access compared to some of the other possible study abroad locations in Russia. My goal for the summer is to take the TORFL (Test of Russian as a Foreign Language) exam and pass at the intermediate level, which should be challenging but doable if I work hard.
Do you think you will be able to apply Russian to your future professional career? In terms of my future career, I can’t ever see myself working for someone else. I tried that with two summer internships and felt trapped for the entire duration of both. My ideal business to run would be related to or based on importing or exporting goods, which would allow me to travel frequently and use Russian and many other different languages every day. Languages have always been a passion of mine, and I strive to find ways to use them daily. Russian is definitely one of my favorites.
What advice would you give to students who are just starting to study Russian? Push yourself and speak often. Languages are meant to be spoken and I believe speaking is the best form of practice. You won’t always be comfortable learning and speaking the language, but it is better to try and fail than not try at all. Every language learner has made embarrassing mistakes. In my opinion, we learn the most from those mistakes because embarrassing moments are the hardest for us to forget.