While I had lived abroad previously and traveled extensively, my Alfa Fellowship Program year was the first-time that I had ever stepped foot in Russia. Not only that, but I only had a very basic knowledge of Russian language at the time of the start of the program. However, I knew that for an aerospace engineer working in the space industry, an experience living and working in Russia would be invaluable in order to better understand the nuances of the long-standing space relationship between the U.S. and Russia, nuances that have included both competition and cooperation over the last few decades.
My goal for the Alfa Fellowship Program was to achieve a greater international perspective of my field, look into the healthy competition that exists among countries to spur innovation from the non-U.S. point-of-view, and gain a better understanding of international science and technology policies, specifically space policies. Going into the Alfa Fellowship Program, I already had an understanding of U.S. science and technology policy and initiatives, but I wanted to see how Russian science and technology policies and technological motivations are shaped by comparison.
So, I took a leave of absence from my engineering job, I arrived in Moscow, and as promised, a taxi driver holding a sign with my name on it met me outside of the baggage claim area at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. He immediately started asking me questions about American politics, to which I responded as best as I could in my very limited Russian. This was just the beginning of a long series of conversations I would have with my Uber and Yandex drivers throughout the year. It turned out to be the best language practice I could have. Thus, began my journey as an Alfa Fellow, and I have never looked back.