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In April of 2017, when I was 9 years old,  I made a decision to go to my mom’s birth country to study her language and culture. I’ve traveled to foreign countries before and visited Kazakhstan every other year since I was 7 months old, but this time I chose to go to Kazakhstan as an exchange student for an extended period of time.  My plan was to go to school and study the Russian language while staying for 2 months with my grandparents in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  This was my first trip without my parents and I was really nervous.
	My grandmother, who is a school teacher,  was visiting Texas with her students on an international field trip in April of 2017. My mom took me to Texas so I could go with my grandmother and her students back to Almaty, Kazakhstan. As I boarded the plane to fly abroad, I felt anxious, excited, and giddy all at the same time.  The plane flight was 26 hours long and super exhausting! And the next several weeks were a blur: I had to adjust to the time difference, food, culture, language, and expectations. I was enrolled in Archimed school where I had to take Russian ELA classes with 8th graders to practice my Russian and learn to write and read it. It was rather strange being in class with 8th graders, especially since I was only a 4th grader at that time. 
The biggest challenge was definitely learning how to converse in Russian. Hearing the foreign language being spoken around me and not knowing what people were saying was challenging at first. I didn't know if they were talking about me or didn’t understand what students were laughing at when they were conversing in Russian or Kazakh languages.  So, I felt a bit left out at times.  Looking back, I definitely think it motivated me to study the language harder.  My grandmother and the 8th grade ELA teacher spent many hours working with me on my language skills. I tried really hard to learn Russian, but I would get frustrated when I didn't say the word right, couldn’t translate a sentence correctly, or read it properly. My jaw hurt from speaking and reading Russian language all the time!

It took me several weeks to get used to all the changes.  Everything was so different from what I’m used to: the food was different, the language was different, the schools were different, even the shopping malls were different. People walk a lot in that city; so we walked to school, stores, theatres and other places and only used trolleys, buses and cars when we were in a real hurry.  The city was massive and was surrounded by snow-covered mountains which were way different from the landscape that I was used to. The food had a richer, fresher taste, and meals were cooked at home from scratch.   As weeks passed, I made new friends. I also started to get comfortable reading Russian paragraphs, speaking some conversational sentences, and understanding a little bit of what people were saying around me. It was a huge improvement and accomplishment!  Two months passed fast.  I missed my family back home, and so it was time to go back. I was grateful to have this cultural experience but was excited to come back home.   The opportunity to live in another country not only gave me a new perspective on Russian culture but it helped me to learn a new language, gave me the confidence to experience new things, and make new friends.  I would love to do it again sometime soon!

© Sage Chaney. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.