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Russian Major Learns Subtleties of Slang in Moscow

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Morgan Iddings in Moscow

Morgan Iddings expected some culture shock when she traveled from Notre Dame to Moscow for an intensive Russian language immersion. The first-year Russian student faced an added challenge when she realized her host mother didn’t speak a word of English.

“It was terrifying—I was really caught off guard,” Iddings says. “Nevertheless, I ended up having a great experience.”

Funded by a Summer Language Abroad (SLA) grant from the College of Arts and Letters’ Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, the summer 2010 trip to Moscow has already reaped significant benefits.

“I ended up using the Russian when I was in Bulgaria over winter break studying changes in consumption patterns among households,” says Iddings, a Russian and anthropology double major in the College. The University’s Nanovic Institute for European Studies, which funded Iddings’ initial trip to Bulgaria, recently awarded her the Katie Murphy-Mahon Grant for Russian and East-Central European Studies for a return trip to continue her research.

Iddings also earned a scholarship from the U.S. Department of State, which is allowing her to return to Russia during summer 2011. “They only accept 10 percent of their applicants,” she says, “so being a part of SLA made me a lot more qualified.

“The intensive nature of the classes in Moscow helped me work out problems I was having,” she says, noting that, in textbook Russian, people often wouldn’t understand what she was saying. “As soon as I walked out of the classroom, I could use what I learned. I could see and feel the difference immediately.”

The classroom education, however, was just one piece of Iddings’ SLA experience. “The cultural proficiency was a significant [outcome] of me going to Russia,” she says. “I became familiar with a lot of non-verbal communication. I also learned words that I could never find in any dictionary.”

By the end of her stay in Moscow, Iddings felt more confident both linguistically and culturally. “I became a lot more familiar with the colloquial and slang words, and by understanding the small words I was able to communicate more effectively with my host,” she says. “It made me realize how important the slang words are in a culture. It makes a huge difference in how people understand you.”

That, says Iddings, simply cannot be learned in a classroom. “It’s worth applying to the SLA because if you get funding to go study something you’re really passionate about, you’re never going to forget it. It’ll be an incredible experience,” she says.

“Having the opportunity to go abroad has enriched the education that I’ve gotten, especially in the Russian department, and it’s already helped me be more competitive with future programs.”

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Originally published by Eileen Lynch at on June 29, 2011.