December 11, 2013

Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking: Exchange Builds Confidence

Prior to the academic year Aaron spent in Russia as a National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) participant, he had only given a few speeches to an audience – in English. A native of Portland, ME, Aaron never imagined that during his year abroad he would speak in Russian to an audience of World War II veterans.

When Aaron began his year in Russia, he and other NSLI-Y students visited a youth center. Although he barely knew any Russian, Aaron befriended the center’s director. Each week, he returned to practice his Russian with the director. It was during one of these meetings that Aaron expressed his interest in Russian military history.

“After talking about World War II and the differing views of the war, [the director] asked me how comfortable I would be talking about my perspective in front of an audience. She asked if I wanted to be a guest speaker at a conference on the battle of Stalingrad. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse – despite my fear of public speaking,” says Aaron.

In writing his speech, Aaron drew on phrases and vocabulary he learned in his language classes, which in turn increased his Russian language comprehension skills.

Despite his nervousness, Aaron successfully delivered his speech in front of the audience. “Having my name announced in front of all those people was nerve-racking. When I saw all of the proud veterans in that front row, displaying their medals and green, pressed jackets, I realized how similar they looked to my late grandfather. He, too, fought in World War II; his pride was similar to the pride of these veterans. I wanted to convey that.”

Aaron is now attending Macalester College in St. Paul, MN where he is majoring in Russian Studies. “I started NSLI-Y with the goal of learning a critical language to open up doors for me in the modern, globalized economy. As it turned out, Russian proved to be a gateway into a fascinating new culture. The connections I made and experiences I lived will stay with me for the rest of my life and have greatly affected what I want to do with my life.”

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