Friends School Senior Earns State Dept. Scholarship to Study Russian

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Friends School senior Benjamin Sherbakov poses with Russian children’s TV character Cheburashka. Photo via Benjamin Sherbakov.

Even as U.S.-Russia relations remain tense and politically fraught, one Friends School of Baltimore senior will immerse himself in the latter country’s language during a trip to the other side of the world.

Benjamin Sherbakov, a member of the Friends Class of 2018, has received a National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) scholarship from the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for the 2017-2018 academic year. Sherbakov will live in Moldova and study Russian.

The NSLI-Y program began in 2006 with the goal “to improve Americans’ ability to communicate in select critical languages to advance international dialogue and increase American economic global competitiveness,” according to a release. The program today aims to increase understanding and dialogue across cultural lines.

Sherbakov will spend the entirety of his senior year in Moldova, but will still graduate with his class at Friends in June 2018.

In an interview, Sherbakov said he originally applied to study Russian abroad during his junior year, but was not accepted, which he described as “kind of crushing.” But his heart was set on studying abroad at a young age. He reapplied and, to his excitement, was accepted.

“As a high schooler, you’re still a dependent,” he said. “So you’re still part of the family and you receive this experience that’s quite unique and that you can’t replicate at any other age. So I was set on doing it in high school.”

His path to study Russian language and culture is fitting, given that Sherbakov himself is half-Russian. He said he’d heard stories about his family’s native country frequently from his grandmother, who helped raise him.

When applying for an NSLI-Y scholarship, students apply to a language, not a specific country. Despite the fact that his chosen dialect was Russian, he was picked to study the language in Moldova.

Sherbakov explained that although Moldovan is the country’s national language, enough people speak Russian in the capital city of Chișinău, where he will be living, that students of Russian are able to navigate.

The scholarship will cover many of Sherbakov’s expenses, including his travel to Moldova, visa costs, university classes in Moldova and more.

“It’s a very generous program, and I’m excited because this is what I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “And now I can do it. And I can be fluent in Russian and use it in my career.”

Sherbakov is considering studying Russian in college, though he’s also interested in international relations and, further down the line, a career in public service. He joins a cohort of other previous Friends students who participated in the NSLI-Y program, including Katrina Keegan and Connor Hardy, both of whom studied in Moldova as well.

“I’m really looking forward to being immersed in the culture that’s different from my own and just gaining a new perspective of the world,” Sherbakov said. “And then again, I’m also looking forward to being fluent in Russian.”

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