Reconnecting with Her Roots: UA Student Plans Summer Study Abroad Trip to Moscow

For students at the University of Arizona (UA), a study abroad experience can take many forms and represent diverse motivations. With more than 200 programs to choose from, students may expand their athletic ability in Australia, examine Latin American studies in Guatemala, or sharpen Arabic language skills in Jordan. But for Melinda Arakelova, a political science student at the UA, traveling to Russia this summer embodies a lifelong journey to explore her family’s homeland.

“I was inspired to go to Moscow because I have family there, and I want to reconnect with my roots,” said Arakelova, who is finalizing the process to study in the Arizona in Russia program.

As the daughter of Russian immigrants, Arakelova’s life was profoundly shaped by their experience traveling to the United States. They arrived at a pivotal time: Arakelova’s mother was late into her pregnancy when she, along with her husband, parents, and eldest daughter, made the journey to America.

“My mother was very late into her pregnancy with me and almost not allowed on the plane,” Arakelova reflected. “My parents struggled immensely being in a foreign country, not speaking the language, having no money, being pregnant, and having a five-year-old to take care of.”

Arakelova, who has never traveled overseas, said navigating the study abroad process was straightforward. She first met with Senior Study Abroad Coordinator, Danny Vander Ploeg, to help guide her through the appropriate steps.

“I first like to get a feel for a student to see if they are choosing a program that is appropriate for their needs— both academically and personally— that will ultimately further their career goals,” said Vander Ploeg.

“For Arakelova, traveling to Moscow to grasp the Russian language made good sense, both personally and professionally.”

Arakelova is applying for the Gilman Scholarship Program, an undergraduate grant that enables U.S. citizens to study abroad. Vander Ploeg points to this program as a unique opportunity to take advantage of global language needs, as defined by the U.S. Government.

“The Gilman Scholarship Program has what is called a Critical Language Bonus, meaning additional funding is available for travel to countries where the State Department has established language needs, such as Russia,” Vander Ploeg explained.

For UA students hoping to study abroad, the experience can be affordable for those who take time to research scholarship opportunities. There are also programs that cost the same or less than a semester in Tucson. For Arakelova, researching funding opportunities was a small price to pay for the trip of a lifetime— a trip deeply entrenched in devotion to her family.

“About a month after my family landed in the United States, I was born. When my mom went into labor they got lost trying to find their way to a hospital. When they finally got to one, they were unable to communicate with the doctors,” said Arakelova.

“Soon after they began saving for a car and when they purchased one, it was stolen. The hardships they faced to give my sister and I a good life is inspiring. My parents always wanted me to visit Russia to meet the family they left behind 20 years ago.”

Arakelova will have the opportunity to not only perfect her Russian language skills, but also to learn about Russian history— something close to her heart.

“A few years ago, my family was torn apart by the death of my grandfather, who served in the Soviet military during WWII and spent a year and a half in a concentration camp in Germany.”

Studying in Moscow is a chance for Arakelova to enhance her understanding of her family’s struggles in an authentic context, while also bolstering her academic and professional goals— an experience she hopes to treasure for a lifetime.

Vander Ploeg hopes all students who are intrigued by study abroad take the first step.

“I want to encourage students to come talk to us if they are at all interested; never assume it won’t work, because in most cases it does.”

Program Details

The Arizona in Russia study abroad program is an outreach effort of the Department of Russian and Slavic Studies at the UA College of Humanities, and the GRINT Center for Education and Culture in Moscow. More than 3,500 students from more than 100 institutions have used this program to immerse themselves in the Russian language and culture. The program runs in the Fall, Spring, Summer, and a for a full academic year.

Get Started

There is still time to study abroad for the summer. The summer application deadline is February 15th. Study abroad coordinators offer online Study Abroad 101 sessions. You can also attend a walk-in session with an adviser, which includes quick, general questions and typically lasts about five minutes.

A Program for Everyone

With hundreds of programs around the world during the semester, year, summer, and winter, there is a program for everyone. Students can start their journey here.