Critical Language Scholarship Program | Maria Folvarska
U.S. Flag   State Department Seal   A Program of the U.S. Department of State

Maria Folvarska

Maria Folvars­ka is an alum­na of the 2016 CLS Russ­ian pro­gram in Vladimir, Rus­sia. She is cur­rent­ly a senior at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Chica­go major­ing in his­to­ry and math­e­mat­i­cal com­put­er sci­ence and minor­ing in French and Russ­ian. She moved to the Unit­ed States from Slo­va­kia with her fam­i­ly when she was two years old and grew up in the sub­urbs of Chica­go. When Maria is not study­ing or work­ing, she loves solv­ing puz­zles of all kinds, hik­ing, gar­den­ing, and spend­ing time with friends and family. 

Why Russ­ian?

Com­ing from East­ern Europe, I’ve always been inter­est­ed in explor­ing my Slav­ic roots. Pur­su­ing Russ­ian was a way for me to achieve this. More­over, the Russ­ian lan­guage has allowed my his­tor­i­cal research to flour­ish as it has opened new avenues of pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary sources that I would have oth­er­wise been unable to lin­guis­ti­cal­ly access. As you can tell from my two majors — his­to­ry and com­put­er sci­ence — my pro­fes­sion­al goals are still in the process of being explored. I do know that I plan to use Russ­ian dai­ly in my future pursuits. 

Com­mon Roots

Specif­i­cal­ly as some­one with Slav­ic back­ground it was amaz­ing to be in Rus­sia. Every day, I would com­pare and con­trast Russ­ian cul­ture to Slo­vak cul­ture or Rusyn cul­ture – some things were very sim­i­lar, oth­ers were com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. One thing in par­tic­u­lar that mys­ti­fied me was when I real­ized dur­ing our folk­lore class that one of my favorite Slo­vak child­hood songs/​games, called zlatá brá­na (gold­en gate), had a ver­sion in Russ­ian: Золотые ворота. For days after­wards I won­dered whether some­thing I had assumed to be Slo­vak in ori­gin had tru­ly orig­i­nat­ed from the his­toric Gold­en Gate land­mark in Vladimir. 

Cul­tur­al Immersion

Dur­ing my time in Rus­sia, my host mom planned a small cel­e­bra­tion for her birth­day in our apart­ment. As we were all sit­ting along an exquis­ite­ly pre­pared table over­flow­ing with my host mom’s superb cook­ing, each guest gave a toast and we all took a sip of our wine in hon­or of it. I took this moment in, observ­ing this spe­cial tra­di­tion. Even­tu­al­ly, every­one at the table had spo­ken, and all eyes turned to me. I pan­icked a lit­tle. I wasn’t expect­ing to be a part of this pro­ces­sion of toasts. I looked at my host mom and began speak­ing to her. Although, my Russ­ian wasn’t as elo­quent as that of the pro­fes­sors I was sit­ting with, I moved my host mom to tears with my expres­sion of grat­i­tude for her kind­ness and gen­eros­i­ty. Accord­ing­ly, this birth­day cel­e­bra­tion was a sig­nif­i­cant moment for me – it made me real­ize the pow­er in the ges­ture of speak­ing in Russ­ian. It also made me real­ize that no longer was I sole­ly an observ­er of Russ­ian cul­ture as I was in the US, I was now prac­tic­ing it. 

Words of Wisdom

I would def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend oth­ers to study Russ­ian, as it opens the door for oppor­tu­ni­ties in Rus­sia as well as oppor­tu­ni­ties in East­ern Europe and Cen­tral Asia. More­over, learn­ing Russ­ian helps break this invis­i­ble wall we have built between the Unit­ed States and the for­mer Sovi­et Union. My favorite Russ­ian word is гулять, which means to walk or to hang out. In Vladimir, I would always go on walks with my lan­guage part­ner and friends. As we walked, we talked – we dis­cussed Russ­ian and Amer­i­can cul­ture, edu­ca­tion, and the sim­ple triv­i­al­i­ties of dai­ly life. It was a won­der­ful feel­ing to just roam around and bond not only with my new friends, but also my Russ­ian host city, which shall for­ev­er remain spe­cial to me. 


Alumni Profiles

Maria Folvarska
Maria Folvarska
Russian 2016
Vladimir, Russia

See More Profiles


Posted Date

March 28, 2017