Feature News

North Central College welcomes YEAR program students from Russia to campus

Oct 14, 2019

Exchange students look forward to exploring American culture during study abroad experience

The transition to college can be a challenge for any student, let alone if that transition includes a 5,000-mile journey from Russia to Naperville, Ill. North Central students Adelya Gafarova ‘21 and Anaita Andikkhou ’21 have had to adjust to much more than new dorm rooms and class schedules. They have immersed themselves into an entirely new culture, not to mention the food.

As participants in the Year of Exchange in America for Russians (YEAR) program, Gafarova and Andikkhou are soaking in their time at North Central and, above all, are looking forward to exploring American culture and cuisine, especially Chicago-style food, like deep dish pizza and caramel and cheese popcorn. The YEAR program offers exceptional students from Russia, ages 18 to 20, an opportunity to study in America for one year. During their stay, students work on improving their English language skills while immersing themselves in the local culture. 

“I studied in the United Kingdom and that made me want to explore more cultures,” said Gafarova, who came to Naperville from Kazan. “That is why I decided to come to America to improve my English.” She found the YEAR program through her university and the U.S. Embassy’s website. Gafarova is studying Chinese in hopes of pursuing a career as a Chinese-English translator.

“I studied in the United Kingdom and that made me want to explore more cultures. That is why I decided to come to America to improve my English.”

Adelya Gafarova

Andikkhou, who is from Moscow, is studying political science and wants to pursue a career as a lawyer in international law. She found the YEAR Program on social media and knew it would help her achieve academic and professional goals. “My academic goal is to improve my English skills especially in professional communications,” said Andikkhou. “Proficiency in English is very important right now in Russia if you want to have a good job and a good salary.” 

Gafarova and Andikkhou are making the most of being on the North Central campus. “There is a lot to do here. A lot of student activities,” said Gafarova. North Central events and programs support the YEAR program’s objectives of diversity and inclusion and give students opportunities to learn, share and grow during their time on campus. 

A study abroad program that is a true exchange of ideas

YEAR participants take undergraduate level courses and have flexibility in their choice of study. They can continue within their chosen major, as well as American studies, and they can choose electives that offer exploration into new disciplines. Students are selected based on academic excellence, proficiency in the English language, maturity and their ability to overcome cultural challenges they may face while studying in America. During their time in America students gain exposure to the American workplace and are involved in community service projects.

Recently, Anaita and Adelya led a Russian gastronomy session at the Center for Global Education’s annual Intercultural Understanding Retreat in Lake Geneva, Wisc., sponsored by the International Club. “The YEAR Program has given me the pleasure of working with Anaita and Adelya, two wonderful students who are taking full advantage of the comprehensive liberal arts education offered at North Central College,” said Jesus Velasco, director of the Center for Global Education, International Student Services and Engagement.

The YEAR program works both ways. Not only are Gafarova and Andikkhou afforded the opportunity to learn about American culture, it’s a chance for them to share their own experiences.

“I want Americans to know that I am an ambassador for my country and to learn a little more about Russian culture,” Andikkhou said. Gafarova added, “I want people to know Russians are not cold people.”

Andikkhou and Gafarova admit that their initial experience at North Central has been a bit of a culture shock. “Americans smile a lot; it depends on the person of course,” she said. “It is part of American culture to be very friendly. Everyone is smiling and it’s very different in Russia.” 
Some of these cultural differences have proven to be a bit uncomfortable at times, but both Gafarova and Andikkhou agree that the food has lived up to its billing. “We have tried deep dish pizza, that was so good,” said Andikkhou. Gafarova added, “And Chicago-style popcorn—caramel and cheese popcorn together is delicious.”