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A World of Language

BYU undergraduate explores the Russian-speaking world—starting with Ukraine.

Hall visiting Latvia in 2022.
Photo by Faith Hall

Many undergraduates anxiously await the day they can cash in their hard-earned savings for a relaxing vacation. For some, this looks like a week alone with the beach and a good book; others picture themselves tasting fresh gelato in Italy before spending their day exploring various Italian cities. When it comes to BYU undergraduate Faith Hall (Family Studies, Russian ’24), however, this vacation looked a bit different. Throughout her years at BYU, Hall has visited Ukraine, Latvia, and Georgia, doing humanitarian work and exploring the unique cultures and customs of each country.

Hall was born and raised in Utah, but dreamed of one day getting to know her family living in Ukraine. Her desire to know more about them inspired her to study Russian, with a goal to use it in her personal and professional life. After completing beginning-level Russian courses at BYU, Hall finally made it to Dnipro, Ukraine, in 2019. While there, Hall was introduced to a myriad of new perspectives and left Ukraine with a deep appreciation for her place in the world, and the ability to find beauty in lifestyle differences. More importantly, her trip allowed her to make lifelong connections with Eastern European culture, marking this as the first of many visits to Eastern Europe.

In 2022, Hall went to Riga, Latvia, to participate in a study abroad through the Kennedy Center. While there, she lived with two different host families, allowing her to become immersed in Latvian culture both in the home and at school. As a result, Hall began to learn about the threat against language and culture in small countries. Through this personal experience, Hall came to understand the importance of every language because each—whether widely spoken or not—represents “an entire world view and generations of people [from thousands of years ago].”

Hall continued her travels to Tbilisi, Georgia, in 2023, where she worked alongside Russian activists who left Russia to help Ukrainians seeking refuge. Though many Ukrainians reject support from any type of Russian organization, she explains that in Georgia, it was different. She noted that “it was really beautiful to see how that brotherhood [between Ukrainians and Russians] grew out of such a horrible thing.”

Working closely with the Ukrainian community in Georgia encouraged Hall to further this commitment of service—this time in Kazakhstan. Recently, Hall received a scholarship from the Boren Awards (a program focused on helping students studying languages of national interest go abroad) to fund an abroad experience created entirely by her. This award will help her travel to Kazakhstan and work with human trafficking victims as they get back on their feet. She plans to start on this project in December 2024 and return in the summer of 2025.

Hall visiting Georgia in 2023.
Photo by Faith Hall

Overall, Hall relishes not in traveling itself, but in the life-changing experiences each country has provided her. She hopes her knowledge of different languages and cultures will allow her to work intimately with families to strengthen them across the globe. Hall elaborates, saying, “I’ve seen really beautiful ways for people to be families that aren’t the cookie-cutter version of what a family is in Salt Lake City where I grew up. And I’ve seen different ways of being human and living and having a beautiful life, and it’s opened my mind a lot.”

Though these experiences haven’t been what she expected, Hall has seen their impact in her life and wouldn’t have it any other way. She encourages undergraduates to step outside of their comfort zone and to see the world, saying, “Do the crazy things because it’ll be really hard, and then it’ll become part of you, and it’ll become so beautiful.”

Check out the Kennedy Center website to find a study abroad program fit for you!