Imagine that it's just before eight in the morning. Your staff meeting has just ended, and you and your Russian co-counselor are on your way to get your 15 eleven-year-olds out of bed and to the morning exercises and breakfast. You've got a whole day planned out -- a basketball tournament in the morning, then lunch, then an English class and hike to the woods in the afternoon, and finally a short theater skit for the evening campfire. The days are long, the sun is shining. It'll be one hell of a day...
...It's been a week since your group arrived; your step counter is hitting 25,000 almost daily and the language barrier was tough during the first couple of days. But you've found a rhythm; a nap in the mid-afternoon and tag-teaming with your partner throughout the day. You speak English with the kids, but you've spoken more Russian since you arrived than during your whole academic career...
...You know that it will be hard to say goodbye. You have already promised a few kids that you will visit next year, and you've spent so much time with the other counselors that you feel like you've known them for years. Indeed, that vkontakte account you created for fun a while back might now actually prove handy...
You will live and work at the International Youth Center (IYC), a not-for-profit located in the small town of Nerekhta, about an hour's drive from Kostroma. IYC runs educational and recreational programs, although it's best known for its English-language summer camps. These are highly sought-after for their small size and atmosphere, which leaves kids excited to learn foreign languages and explore the world outside of Russia. More than half of campers every year are returnees from prior years.
The environment is easy to adapt to. The center sits on a leafy campus and has sports facilities, communal spaces, and dormitories for the children and the staff. The facilities are modern, and basic chores like cleaning and laundry are taken care of. A small convenience shop sits close by, though you will rarely need it as meals are served several times per day. The rhythm of the camp's daily activities revolves around the children.
Day-to-day, the main focus of your work will be to supervise a group of children as they take part in structured daily activities. Besides the kids, you will spend a lot of time with the other counselors, Russian and foreign. The Russians you meet will likely be university students on their way to degrees in pedagogy or child development. The foreigners will be students like you, with an academic interest in Russia or the Russian language, aiming to do something fun and useful at the same time. Living and working together, you will spend enough time together to form lasting friendships.
The living arrangements are in shared rooms with bunk beds. The rooms are split up by gender, with up to four people sharing a room and a bathroom. There is also a common living room to relax in, once the kids are in bed.
Working in Nerekhta ended up solidifying my decision to study Russian. The counselors and campers were eager to befriend us and teach us words that we wouldn't learn in a classroom. Overall, it was great, and I saw more of Russia then than I did on my study abroad program in Russia later on.
Kasia K. (George Washington University)
Spending time at a Russian summer camp is one of the best introductions to Russia you can find. Located near Kostroma on the "Golden Ring", our summer camp program will show you how personable and relatable Russia is. You will get to know it in a friendly, supportive, and structured environment.
On a resume, the camp counseling position shows that you are serious about getting to know Russia and the region and are willing to challenge yourself to do so. As working with children in a foreign language is a huge challenge, it is also a testament to a high level of commitment, creativity, and perseverance.
For a longer stay, this program can be combined with teaching English.