The student news site of Western Albemarle High School - Crozet, VA

The Western Hemisphere

The student news site of Western Albemarle High School - Crozet, VA

The Western Hemisphere

The student news site of Western Albemarle High School - Crozet, VA

The Western Hemisphere

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Future Polyglot to Travel to Kyrgyzstan for Russian Language Study

Moak+will+attend+the+College+of+William+and+Mary+following+her+year+in+Kyrgyzstan.
Credit: Annabelle Mackey
Moak will attend the College of William and Mary following her year in Kyrgyzstan.

Many WAHS students pursue their unique talents and passions in various forms. For senior Helen Moak, she has pursued language study in many forms. Whether it be pursuing Spanish during high school and studying abroad in Seville, Spain, or studying Japanese through the High School Diplomats and Summer Residential Governor’s School programs, Moak has become quite the polyglot. Now, Moak will pursue yet another language, Russian, by studying in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on a gap year through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program.

The NSLI-Y program is a highly selective State Department sponsored program that offers full scholarships for students to pursue study in critical languages abroad. Currently, NSLI-Y offers its language programs in Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Tajiki Persian, Russian, and Turkish. 

When describing her motivation for participating in NSLI-Y, Moak said, “I learned about this program through an exchange student we had last year, Loona, who was from Estonia. I got really close with her over the course of the year, and I learned a lot about post-Soviet countries like Estonia and Kyrgyzstan … So, she inspired me and got me interested in Russian and learning about Soviet economics and Soviet politics.”

On the program, Moak will receive approximately four hours of daily Russian instruction through the American University of Central Asia as well as cultural activities sponsored by NSLI-Y’s implementing organization, American Councils. Moak will also be housed with a Kyrgyz family in a home stay, but she will not be informed about her specific housing situation until a couple weeks before departure. Exposed to a new culture and living environment, Moak has no prior experience with the Russian language, however, due to the nature of the program, Moak will be completely immersed in Russian.

“I know a good number of people who go into these programs don’t have prior knowledge, just because it’s not accessible and a lot of schools don’t have Russian here,” Moak said, “I am in the process of learning right now just so I can have a baseline so I’ll be able to communicate with my host family and peers.”

Beyond language immersion, Moak is excited to immerse herself in the natural environment of Kyrgyzstan as well.

“Kyrgyzstan is really known for its natural beauty. It has a lot of national parks and mountain ranges. I think something like 85% of the country is mountainous. If you look up the pictures of Bishkek, the capital city, you’ll see these gorgeous mountains. I’m super excited to learn more about the nomadic culture of Kyrgyzstan and its roots, so I’m super excited to see all the beautiful nature and learn about that part of its history,” said Moak.

As part of her language immersion experience, Moak will integrate her extensive knowledge of languages in Japanese, Spanish, and soon Russian in order achieve multilingual fluency and further her passions and career goals.

“[The languages] all have a different letter system. Spanish obviously uses our Roman-esque system, Japanese has three different alphabets, and Russian uses Cyrillic, so they’re all different language families… You’d still find similarities between them that you wouldn’t expect,” Moak said, “For example they use the same word for bread in Japanese as they do in Spanish because bread was first brought to Japan by Portuguese explorers. So, just learning about all these different historical connections and the way these cultures interact is really interesting to me.”

How Moak plans to use these language nuances and similarities in the future is another story: “I’m interested in going into foreign service and international policy,” said Moak, “I’m not entirely sure with what my career path is going to be, but I do want to look into that, and having a broad knowledge of languages and cultures is really helpful for that.”

More specifically, Moak has been fascinated by environmental science and hopes to utilize a foreign service career as a catalyst for implementing change in environmental policy.

“I’m in the ESA program here and I’ve always loved nature. Climate change, as we all know, is a really big issue facing this world, and I think it’s something that diplomats and countries are going to have to have a lot of collaboration on in the coming centuries. It’s something that really affects everyone and is a global issue,” said Moak.

Language learner today. Aspiring environmental diplomat tomorrow. Whatever her path may be, Helen Moak plans to use her Kyrgyzstan travel experience and Russian language skills as a launching pad for her career.

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About the Contributor
Annabelle Mackey
Annabelle Mackey, Assistant Editor
Annabelle is a sophomore in her second year in Journalism, where she serves as News Editor. Regarding school activities, Annabelle is involved in Model UN, We the People, and the United Students Coalition at WAHS. She is also a member of the WAHS Marching, Symphonic, and Jazz Bands. Outside of school, she can be found listening to music, playing trumpet, or keeping up with the news.
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