Would a school year abroad (Moldova, learning Russian) be detrimental?


5-Year Member
Feb 4, 2015
I would love some insight on this! Here's what's going on:

DS is a current sophomore/rising junior in our small town in Texas. Stats are:

*Top 10% of class
*4.25 GPA (5.0 scale)
*Varsity Cross Country, Team District Champions, Regional Qualifier, State Qualifier, 2 varsity letters, team captain
*Varsity Powerlifting, Varsity Bass Fishing, JV football, JV track
*Class President - freshman, sophomore, just elected for junior year
*Student Council
*National Honor Society
*Congressional Medals (Bronze and Silver) for community service
*Top 97th % on PSAT
*Current SAT is 1320

The issue:

He's been offered a full scholarship from the US Department of State to study Russian in Moldova during the 2017-18 school year. The scholarship is through http://www.nsliforyouth.org/
He would not be taking classes as an exchange student - he would be at a university learning Russian.

If he goes, he would still be able to graduate on time the following year. He would likely stay in the top 10% of his class (or close to it) when he comes back. Becoming a Navy Officer through the USNA is his ultimate goal.

He's taken Pre-AP Algebra I/Geometry/Algebra II and Pre-AP Biology/Physics/Chemistry.
If he goes to Russia, he will not take AP Chemistry or AP Calculus AB until his senior year.
He will give up Class President and the opportunity to compete for National Merit Finalist.
The transcript that he'd send with his application to USNA in the Fall 2018 would only have his freshman/sophomore classes on it.

But - he'd come back fluent in Russian and with an awesome life experience.

Would spending a year learning Russian be looked at as a positive thing in the USNA application process (he wants to major in Engineering and minor in Russian)
-----or would it be a detriment (because of no classes junior year)?

He wants to keep moving toward his goal of USNA, and I worried that this might mess him up!
I would estimate his current resume doesn't make him stand out from the field. A year studying in Russia utilizing a State Department Scholarship is a clear differentiator. I don't think it will guarantee his admission, but it will make his resume stand out which fits into the diversity criteria they are looking for.

I would take advantage of it because it is a tremendous opportunity (assuming he wants it) not because it helps/hurts his chances at USNA.
Clearly different than others who do the traditional HS thing -- that can be good and bad. I think the big issue will be showing academic qualification, and the overseas study will not help. On the other hand, the life experience will certainly make him stand out.

I wouldn't rely on the advice of those here, but instead have DS reach out to Admissions, directly or through his BGO (if you don't know who the local BGO is, Area Coordinators are identified online). I would actually recommend the BGO route, as it is more likely that he /she will remember the issue when DS applies two years from now since the Regional Admissions Officers rotate through pretty quickly.
This really is a fascinating question and, I believe, a first for these boards.

On the negative side, he would only have 3 years of actual high school prep. And, USNA would have no grades to review for the year prior to his application. He has no junior teachers to recommend him. And there is the potential he'll be "rusty" after returning from Moldova such that his first semester senior year grades might suffer.

On the plus side, as Cerberi notes, it is a very different activity that will differentiate him.

I think, at a minimum, he would be treated almost as a college applicant in that USNA would not look at his application until his first semester grades are in and would wait for recs from his senior year teachers. That's not a total negative, BTW, but something I would expect.

I suggest your DS contact Admissions and discuss it with them. They should have some down time in late June and July and I can't imagine this is the first time THEY have dealt with this issue.

A second point . . . USNA may be his goal today. Lots of things can happen along the way, including changed desire, medical issues, etc. Thus, you're correct in not wanting to burn bridges but giving up one dream in the hopes another dream will materialize may not be the way to go.

[Cross-posted with OldBGO -- Great minds think alike!]
I would take advantage of it because it is a tremendous opportunity (assuming he wants it) not because it helps/hurts his chances at USNA.

Exactly this. Universities (Academies included to a large extent) are looking for interesting and qualified applicants, not applicants that spent a lot of time trying to look interesting on their resumes. If your son wants to do the Russia thing, then he should do it and he should own it. He'll have no trouble explaining it in interviews if it was his passion. It's possible that the Academies won't care or will hold it as a negative. However, I would say to you what I tell all young lawyers who ask me how to handle interviews. Go and be yourself when you meet with a new company (or university, here) because if you don't and you manage to fool them into hiring (accepting) you, they will expect the person you were pretending to be to show up. What will you do then? In all likelihood you will be miserable and will have forfeited the chance for the company (or University) to have done you the great favor of letting you know that in advance.
Pouring over these reposes- thank you all so much! I'm looking up contact info for his BGO now. DS is at school, but he can email his BGO from there.
Regardless of whether it helps or hurts USNA, he should take the offer and study abroad. There is no doubt in my mind that it WILL help with college plans B, C, D, and E. I hope an NROTC application is on his to do list as well.
NROTC is definitely concurrent Plan A - I can't figure out who to contact to ask about how this situation would impact his NROTC application. If anyone can point me in the right direction, I'd be forever grateful!
I can't figure out who to contact to ask about how this situation would impact his NROTC application

I would begin with the NROTC recruiting officer at the campus of the college he is applying to. It may be difficult as school just ended, but often the college websites may disclose their email.

I am the unofficial, self-appointed expert on all matters related to study abroad, exchange, gap year, etc. I am also the strongest advocate for any of the three. My DS commissioned as a 2LT from AROTC in May 2015. He did a Rotary exchange in Brazil his junior year HS and a gap year, also Rotary exchange, in Taiwan. He tried to get a NSLI spot for his gap year, but was turned down because of his age. Rotary was happy to have him back. After Sophomore year of college he received a Project Go scholarship to study Russian in Ukraine.

Let me give you several random considerations. They may or may not be applicable to your DS or to applying to an SA.

-I absolutely agree that the decision should not rest on whether or not it hurts his SA chances. ROTC is a back-up.

-Before going do a full accounting of EVERYTHING a HS junior needs to take care of in preparation for graduation and beyond. My DS practically killed himself Senior year because of the year he missed. It was nothing but AP's. NOTHING transferred from Brazil. The only class that transferred was PE, based on a letter the Brazilian school wrote at his request. He had to have it in order to graduate.

-Probably more important than foreign language fluency (I'll get to that in moment) is your DS's willingness to be ripped away form everything a redblooded small town Texan holds dear: An American breakfast, friends, church youth group, prom, visiting colleges, sports, his car, girlfriend, bonfire with his buddies in the backyard...For all their bluster about wanting to be independent, adolescents still craft their own comfort zones.

-He will have a whole lot of time on his hands. Will he dwell on what he's missing or he is self motivated enough to fill in those gaps left by being away from home and school for a year. My DS loved tennis and was able to play at a club in his town. He self-studied calculus well enough to take the AP exam without ever taking the class.

-PSAT Maybe it has changed, but several years ago, the only PSAT score that would qualify for NMSQT was one taken Junior year. The closest test site to my son in Brazil was a 5 hr. bus ride. We had to arrange with the school who found a family for him to stay with. If it is offered in Moldova you'll need to arrange it. This is the kind of initiative your DS will need to practice to fill in the many hours of free time he'll have.

-Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and a former Soviet Republic. There are Russian troops occupying a separatist territory called Transdnistria. Just like in similar regions in Georgia and Ukraine, the Russians are intent on the keeping the place unstable. Moldova lies right on the fault line of geopolitical tensions in Europe. It is definitely an interesting time to be in a very interesting and complex place. My guess is that students will be kept on a short leash.

-Any facility with a foreign language, particularly for an American, is both good. It will get you noticed. However, fluency is another story. The term is wildly overused. It won't be achieved in a classroom. It will only be achieved by depriving oneself of the opportunity to use English...over and over again. Yes, many Moldovans speak Russian. Also, many don't and don't want to. Some do and still don't want to. This was my DS's experience in Kiev. Ukrainian is very similar to Russian. Moldovan is considered a dialect of Romanian which is in a totally different language family from Russian. My point is, unless your DS is living with a native Russian speaking family with no English, he will need to seek out Russian speakers at the expense of time spent with his American classmates. An enterprising person in that situation might additional say, "As long as I'm here, I'm going to try to pick up as much Moldovan as possible."

This may not have sounded like a note of encouragement, but it really is. The single most important aspect of the experience abroad is its testing of a kid's desire to learn and his/her ability to adapt. These are qualities that we strive for in our kids and that are sought out by colleges, employers and the military. I'll guarantee you one thing if he goes to Moldova; He'll have plenty of material for the inevitable "What is a challenge you faced and how did you overcome it" essay question.

Wishing him the best of luck!
From the NROTC application side of things, a situation like this could play well. The boards do like seeing students who have spent a significant amount of time abroad. The experience would have to be well articulated on the application, and be paired with strong grades and standardized tests scores at home, but it could actually set an applicant well for something like an
LREC scholarship. It's also a selective process to get accepted for something like the exchange program mentioned above, which also speaks well of the applicant. One of our incoming freshman this fall spent a full year abroad in Italy and it certainly didn't hurt her application.