Local dancer spends summer in Russia

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By Aviva Loeb
For The Essex Reporter 
The participants of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth summer language-immersion program pose for a photo together in Moscow, Russia. The dancers spent three weeks training in New York City before traveling to Russia together to study at the Bolshoi.  COURTESY PHOTO | JAYA PUGLISE

The participants of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth summer language-immersion program pose for a photo together in Moscow, Russia. The dancers spent three weeks training in New York City before traveling to Russia together to study at the Bolshoi.
COURTESY PHOTO | JAYA PUGLISE

While most might think twice about going to Russia right now, that didn’t keep 15-year-old Jaya Puglise

The Underhill teenager spent six weeks studying classical ballet and Russian language in Moscow, Russia this summer. During the school year she trains at the Vermont Ballet Theater School in Essex.

Puglise was part of program that partnered with the Bolshoi Ballet. The program is described as being “highly competitive” and only accepts 15 people a summer. It is sponsored through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), a program through the state department.

NSLI-Y was established in 2006 to “promote critical language learning” according to the NSLI-Y website.

The main purpose of the trip was to teach youth Russian language and cultural exchange.

She said she was a little scared to be in Russia during the time.

“We were there when that plane got shot down,” she said. “That was scary because we had to fly back.”

Given the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, her group was instructed to avoid demonstrations about Ukraine.

They enrolled in the Smart Travelers Abroad Program (STEP), which sent emails every time there was a demonstration.

She said on the first day she took the metro there a huge metro derailment.

The group was chaperoned by Elizabeth Ewaskio, who helped the students with everything from adjusting to life in Moscow to helping them if they didn’t feel well.

This was Ewaskios first time chaperoning a NSLI-Y trip. She has been teaching Russian for the past few years at the university level.

Ewaskio said that the conflict in Russia underscored the importance of the program.

“I reminded the students of the importance of person-to-person diplomacy,” she said, adding it was a great opportunity for the students to show a positive face of America.

Ewaskio said through the program she got to know Puglise very well.

“It was gratifying for me to watch her grow,” Ewaskio said. “I was impressed by her openness and willingness to learn the Russian language, which is not an easy one to learn.”

Despite everything scary, Puglise said she was able to enjoy herself and kept very busy.

“We had [ballet] class every day except the weekends,” Puglise said. “After lunch we had four hours of Russian.”

She said all her ballet classes were taught in fully in Russian.

Before the leaving for the program she had to spend three weeks training in New York City, taking ballet classes at the Bolshoi in Russian.

She said she got used to taking class in Russian when she was in New York so it wasn’t much of a challenge when she got to Moscow.

However she did face other challenges. On the weekends the participants were placed with host families. Puglise said that she was the first person in the program to ever have to switch host families.

“I had this awful family,” she said. “They would only speak English to me.”

Puglise said that Ewasko spoke to the family and they still refused to speak any English with her. She said her second host family was amazing and she was with another girl form her program. The family took them to see lots of museums and landmarks.

Ewaskio said that Puglisee handled herself very well and got along well with the group. Despite being one of the youngest on the trip, she said she showed maturity.

“I’m really excited to see how this experience plays into Jaya’s life down the road,” Ewaskio said. “She did Vermont proud.”