Spanish and functional fluency in Russian…at 17

  • Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Logan Dwyer

What do you do when your Spanish teacher, a few months into the school year, tells you she has taught you all she can and that you should look into learning another language?
Well, if you are Logan Dwyer, you learn Russian.
Dwyer, now 17, of Summerville, and a senior at Pinewood Prep in Summerville, spent his summer in Russia as part of the U.S. Department of State National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y)
The initiative, says Dwyer, focuses on languages that play a large role in international relations and national security but are not commonly taught in the states. In addition to Russian, these include Hindi, Arabic, Persian/Farsi, Korean and Chinese.
Three years ago, Dwyer lived outside of Columbia and went to A.C. Flora High School. It was his Spanish teacher there who suggested an additional language. So, through a friend of a friend, he began learning Russian, which is not only a new language but an entirely new alphabet as well – the language uses the Cyrillic alphabet.
So Dwyer spent an hour or two every week for seven or eight months, he says, learning Russian. Then he moved to the Lowcountry and his lessons became far more occasional, he says, via Skype.
“Russian seemed interesting,” explains Dwyer. “It certainly had enough literature and history for me not to get bored.”
When he began, he says, it only took a few hours for him to figure out the alphabet via an Internet search.
Now at Pinewood, which only offers Spanish, he is the only student going for the AP Spanish test this year, he says.
He learned from his Spanish teacher about the state department program but it was after the application process had closed for the year. The following year, he says, he applied but didn’t get in. He applied again this year and was awarded a scholarship.
“Maybe it was because I had more extracurriculars,” he muses, “and a little more Russian language experience.”
He took preliminary tests to see what his level was in Russian and they determined him to be at the highest of the test levels. “On par with native speakers and students who had taken three years in high school,” he explains.
He is just relaying what the test level his  -- according to him, he is not completely fluent but “functionally fluent” meaning he speaks, reads and understands well enough to communicate in Russia.
The state department, says Dwyer, takes care of everything including transportation, visas, food, education and medical insurance.
But first, says Dwyer, he had to go D.C. first for a two-day orientation run by the state department at the American Councils.
The orientation covered such things as How to Stay Safe in Russia which included such things as – don’t draw attention to yourself; – carry yourself like a Russian (head to the ground, not loud and boisterous…especially for women); – don’t drink tap water; – don’t mention homosexuality; and basic hygiene suggestions.
And then it was time to go.
Dwyer says he was sent to Kazan a few hundred miles east of Moscow. He notes there were 60 young people who went to Russia of which 20 went to Kazan – eight girls and 12 boys.
“I stayed with a host family who were very nice,” says Dwyer, “and they fed me a lot.”
(The family consisted of a mother and father only at the time he was there as the daughter was at College in Canada.)
He was placed in the highest level class at the азанский национальный исследовательский технологический университет - or Kazan National Research Technological University – an offshoot of the university Lenin attended, says Dwyer. There were six in his class.
He attended school for four hours every morning where he studied grammar and speaking – both public speaking and pronunciation. Topics in school covered such things as “how to win a Nobel Prize”, science and art in Russia, Russian writers and literature.
One of the books he had to read, in Russian, was A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
In the afternoons, they got to explore the city and have some cultural experiences, he said.
The program is the equivalent, says Dwyer, of 120 hours of intense submersion. The submersion comes because, according to Dwyer, very few people spoke English in the city of 1.2 million. “Maybe only a total of about 30 English speakers at any given time in Kazan,” says Dwyer, “and 20 of those are in the program.”
Kazan is the third largest city in Russia and its sports capital.
“Most people assumed I was Russian, they had no idea I was American,” says Dwyer. “Most of the people my age didn’t have an issue with me being an American,” he says.
We had some history and ecological science, went to historic and cultural sites of the Tatar people, the local ethnic group in Kazan who speak yet another language – Tatar,
says Dwyer.
At the end, he says, his professor tested them and he had earned a 5, which is the equivalent of an A in America.
The son of R. Gregg Dwyer a psychiatrist and Deborah Dwyer a criminal justice professor at Claflin Unversity in Orangeburg, Logan also has a sister, Parker, who is a sophomore at Pinewood. “She is not into languages,” says Dwyer, “She’s into marine biology.”
In addition to his “spare time” study of Russian, Dwyer’s “increase in extracurricular activities” includes fencing, volunteering with the Rescue Squad at Lincolnville Fire and Rescue, teaching CPR and Advanced First Aid, going through EMR (Emergency Medical Response) training, a member of the Model U.N. Team at Pinewood (which won the Winthrop Cup), member of the Quiz Bowl Team (state champs and competitor at nationals), chairman of the Honor Council at Pinewood, a tenor in the school choir, member of student government and on the Robotics Team.
He is, he says, applying to Cambridge (in England), Harvard, Yale, Middlebury and USC.
“I know I can afford USC!”
“I am applying to Cambridge, instead of Oxford (also in England), because it has a really good financial aid package for foreign students…Oxford doesn’t.”
Dwyer doesn’t think he would want to work for the state department but might like to work with NCIS. His dad worked with NCIS for a while he says.
But, he says, if he keeps up with his linguistic studies and decides he wants to apply to work at the state department, it [the Russian program] should help him land a job.
In fact, Dwyer is excited about applying for the state department’s yearlong program as soon as the application process opens. The program would begin in August of 2014.
“I would take a Gap Year,” says Dwyer.
What does he want to study in college?
“I hope to continue…in college…and pick up a few more languages.”
What does he want to be?
“A linguist.”

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