Student Spotlight: Flagship Student Kurtis Yan

This summer, Flagship student Kurtis Yan traveled to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he studied at Al-Farabi National University on the Russian Language and Area Studies Program (RLASP). Students in RLASP live with host families and study Russian language at universities in post-soviet countries. Read what Kurtis had to say about his experience:   

 Only when I landed in Almaty at midnight, June 17, did the realization hit me: I really was in Kazakhstan. I felt excited and nervous to spend two months in a country I’d never visited and had no idea what to expect. But, I already knew that my time in Almaty would be filled with surprises.

 Attending class everyday was definitely a struggle due to the hour-long commute. I had to wake up bright and early to walk to the bus stop from my host family’s home up in the hills of the city. While I definitely wished I lived closer to the university, I didn’t mind the walk since I always got a beautiful view of the mountains. Our cohort definitely agreed that the hospitality was an unexpected welcome. “Aggressive hospitality” was the best term we could think of for the treatment we received from our host families’ care. I remember my host brother getting upset at me for washing the dishes and my host sister not letting me heat up my own dinner.

 Outside my host family, I absolutely loved the city and all that it offered. Developing a routine was very comforting; I’d attend class, grab lunch with my friends, go to a nearby gym, then head to a cafe to load up on caffeine, hang out, and do homework. Of course, we’d break our routine for special occasions, such as watching the new Minions movie in Russian or visiting the Green Bazaar. Either way, it always felt comforting to do more of the same or try something new with friends in my cohort.


Kurtis with his host family

Of course, the classes were very different compared to any I had taken before. My grammar and reading classes were a challenge, and the homework accompanying these classes had me seated at my desk for hours every night. But in the end, all of this was worth it, and I felt my Russian language skills improve so much by the end of the program.

 The great thing about this program was that learning didn’t stop outside the classroom. Whether I’d visit a restaurant, encounter locals in a store or on the street, or just walk around the city, I was always exposed to something new. I learned so much from just conversing with my host family or with those who had never spoken with an American in their life. About a year ago, I didn’t know any Russian, and there was no way I could have imagined my Russian skills improving so much since then.