Star Student: Alex Glavin
Thanks to a scholarship, this College Prep junior spent the summer learning Russian in Russia.
Photos courtesy of Alex Glavin
Thanks to a U.S. State Department scholarship, Alex Glavin got to spend the summer in Russia, learning the language and soaking up the culture. The College Prep junior can now hold a conversation in Russian.
Diablo’s summer high school intern, Tova Ricardo, caught up with Alex at his Lafayette home to find out what it was like living and studying in Russia.
Q: Why did you apply for the State Department Scholarship?
A: When I first heard about it from a family friend, it sounded really interesting, because there weren’t many options that I’d heard of to study in Russia—especially because my school doesn’t offer it, and I hadn’t encountered much Russian language. The [program] also offered Turkish, Korean, Persian, Hindi, and Arabic, as well as Chinese, which I study at school, but [I knew] learning a new language would be much different.
Q: What got you interested in Russia?
A: My grandpa on my mother’s side is part Russian. Also, it’s such a vast country, and I haven’t gone in depth about it in my history program at my school. And I wanted to know more about it because it plays such a key role in European history.
Q: Your original summer plan was to intern in a lab. Why did you change you mind?
A: My STEM program teacher told me to go to Russia because I could always do an internship later. She always said that it is important to challenge yourself and put yourself out there. You might get a B in a class or not do as well as you wish you would, but if you’re pushing yourself, I think it is more important than getting an A in every class when you're not necessarily trying new things.
Q: How well do you speak Russian now?
A: I’m not fluent, but I am able to hold a basic conversation. I actually had to do an oral proficiency interview, which was a post program interview to see how much I have learned. I went into the program not knowing Russian at all, so the staff wanted to see how much I learned. And because it is a State Department–funded program, they needed to have proof that it was working.
Q: Tell me about the classes you took while you were in Russia.
A: The classes were quite intensive, because you are going there to learn Russian, so all the classes were held almost entirely in Russian. Some of the people had known a little bit of Russian beforehand, but even they were having a hard time. But the teachers were really good.
Q: What did you do outside of school?
A: After our classes, we would walk to a cafe for lunch, and then we would have cultural activities. We would go to different places in the city, like the Hermitage Palace that dates back to the Imperial Russian time period. During the activities, a lot of the host siblings would join us, so that was a way for us to interact with Russian teenagers.
The host families added to the experience because at their houses, you had to keep speaking Russian with the family. After the first week or so, we were trying to learn about each other and our cultural differences, but later, we got really close and went to the park a lot. I know that some host families swam or went out to dinner, so it was another way to learn about culture and also be able to practice the Russian we were learning.
Q: Where else have you traveled?
A: I traveled quite a lot when I was younger. When I was in fourth grade, I lived in China for a year because my dad got a job there. It was much easier to travel to other countries that are nearby, such as Japan, Cambodia, and Thailand, because they are so much closer than if you are in America. It was about a two-and-a-half hour plane ride to Thailand.
Because I was so much younger at that time, I didn't have a sense of the history of places I visited. For example, while in Cambodia I didn't know about the after effects of the Vietnam War and the impact still today. I was really interested in the beautiful temples and can still remember them today
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I will be looking for a major in the area of hard sciences, especially chemistry. I want to go to a school that is more science-oriented. I am also interested in chemical engineering, but I want to find a way to incorporate it with Russian.
For information on applying for the State Department’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth Scholarship, visit their website at nsliforyouth.org.
Editor's Note: Tova Ricardo is a sophomore at Bentley High School in Lafayette, with a keen interest in writing and literature. She is a tenth grade representative in Student Government and plays on the Women's Varsity Soccer Team.