понедельник, 16 марта 2009 г.

Reflection

As I was sitting on the couch of a friend last night, I tried to reflect on a trip that became one of the most unbelievable experiences of my conscious life.

People often asked me how I managed to sleep 1.5-2 hours a night on average and still smile and be full of energy, and the answer is very simple: I could not get enough of this trip, and enjoyed every single second of it. If anything, our conversations with our friends from St. Petersburg made me realize how fortunate, lucky, and privileged I was to be participating in such an adventure. From their perspective, integrating such an event into a language program is fascinating, alluring, but also somewhat incomprehensible due to the fact that they did not imagine it was possible for a school to provide its students with such a remarkable opportunity.

I vividly remember the question I received from Sasha Koustov after describing life at Conn during our formal discussion, which was: "Is is really that good?" The perspective that I gained during the trip makes me even more confident in the resounding "Yes" I was going to give as an answer. I am not quite sure what I have done to deserve such a gift, but I am forever thankful for having received it.

For that, I would like to say: THANK YOU SO MUCH, Prof. Lanoux, for providing me with the most diversified and enlightening set of experiences in addition to an additional motivation to excel in Russian, and THANK YOU, classmates and Anichka, for sharing this wonderful trip with me and for being such amazing travel companions.

суббота, 14 марта 2009 г.

До свидания, Россия!

I'm about to leave Russia for the tenth or eleventh time--enough to begin to lose count. The first time I visited Russia in 1988, I was the age of most of the students on this trip. Clearly it was a transformative experience, although I had know idea at the time how much it would shape my future life and present career. What I learned from that experience was that every assumption I had held to that time had another, "Russian" dimension: what it is to be a good friend, to have a bad day, to take a class, to encounter the police--nearly every aspect of life had another way of being, a "parallel universe" in Russia. Even the basic building blocks of daily life--bread, house, street, store--conjured up different concepts in my mind during and after my first stay. And I realized how many parallel universes there must be in different cultures, each with its own social codes, material reality, assumptions. For those better traveled than I was at age twenty, that goes without saying, but for me it was a revelation.

During this trip I've met a number of people who have asked why we're here. When I explain that this trip is a practicum for the elementary Russian sequence at our college, people smile in awe at the lavishness and logic of visiting the country of the language you are learning. And I realize what a remarkable, wonderful experience this is, and how lucky I am to be able to teach this class the way I feel it should be taught.
Especially after having gone on a bus tour of the city several days ago, we have all been having so much fun exploring the neighborhood around the apartments where we are staying. This morning, Bianca and I woke up early to go get coffee. We walked down, with our coffee, past Saint Vladimir's Church, a beautifully ornate yellow church with black onion domes that we had only seen from the window of the bus before. We also walked past another beautiful church, one with a golden dome and an immense, pillared facade, that Sergei had told us about on the tour. It feels so strange to be casually strolling past such historical buildings, but I love it. All of the buildings here, even apartment buildings, put American cities to shame. Walking down the street is sensory overload; no two buildings, it seems, are the same. Also, it is so wonderful living next to so many bakeries/cafes. Even when we don't understand what pastries we are ordering, that just means that we end up having delicious breakfasts that we never would have thought to intentionally buy.

пятница, 13 марта 2009 г.

Days in St. Petersburg

Although I am not awake at dawn, as I once was in Moscow due to jetlag, I can still hear the sounds of this magnificent city coming to life. It sounds much more like New York City to me than Moscow did, the beeps, the general buzz of cars and the occasional growl of a moped or a small angry car trying to get through the traffic.

Last night a few of us went to this rather large department store that I cannot remember the name of now, but I imagine that it is a palace turned into a department store of epic proportions - from the fur hats (which I am still wondering whether I should buy one for mum), to the neatest little lamps that they sell in the home goods that I really liked but I could hear a voice in my head telling me that only the elderly ladies here like them on their dark wood round tables, cvoered by a square of lace and daintily put into a corner to lit the tea table...so I resisted. But it was hard! But it is was a great store, if not a bit expensive.

We've been to many a palace here, and today we are going to one of the best I believe - Catherine's Palace. I have seen the amber room, but I am quite sure that some of us on the trip are not quite prepared for that room. There is nothing in the world like it. But we are also going to the Siege memorial, which will be very sad and will hold the feeling as the war memorials in Washington D.C.

Also - it's been fabulous because we haven't taken the metro here - I mean the underground subway, I think that really detracts from immersing oneself into a city. I feel like I lost a lot in Moscow because we would be metro-ing and suddenly pop up in a place that felt like it was on the other end of the world instead of just ten minutes away by metro. The tour bus was a really good choice I believe, because of the mobility but much more because of how we can see where we are going. For instance, on our trip to Novgorod yesterday, when we passed the hinterlands of the city and saw the fur factory, or the meat factory with two imposing bulls as the statues on either side of the gate. Or just seeing the signs and the people and the cars around us - when we were returning we saw a taxi whose radio consisted of what you would think the inside wiring of a large toaster would look like was sitting on it's trunk to find the best signal. Or seeing the occasional funny cognate, for hot dog, or something like that.

The apartments are also a good choice, granted I believe that a bit more lighting could be of use in the stairwell, but the kitchens are great as well as the view outside the window. But the beds are super comfortable and that is all that matters at the end of the day when my feet are tired from being subjected to icy conditions and traversing through the Russian urban life. Regardless, I would not exchange this experience for anything.

среда, 11 марта 2009 г.

Partners from St. Petersburg

I was planning to write entries about numerous famazing aspects of the trip, such as the unbelievable diversity of experiences (really - Kremlin museum with tons of golden artefacts from tzarist Russia and then the Cold War Museum which is actually a huge bunker underground) that is impossible to get in any other shape or form, but I never found the time.

There is something about which I have to write though. Our language partners from the St. Petersburg branch of the Moscow Economics University are beyond hyper amazing! They are among the funniest, most intelligent, most open, and most energetic people I have seen in my life. Andrea, partnering us up was such a haroshaya ideya! We finally went clubbing with a few of them last night which invigorated me in an unbelievable way. I am thrilled about our time here, and I am sure we are experiencing times of our lives we are going to remember for long.

Here is a moment to say one of many OGROMNOE SPASIBO to our wonderful awesome amazing creative and simply unbelievable Andrea! The way the trip is working out shows that you put in so much energy and so many ingenious ideas into it, which is such a gift to all of us.

вторник, 10 марта 2009 г.

Right now we're all chilling in one of the apartments... it's been a pretty long day and we're all mucho excited about St. Petersburg. We're taking the night train around midnight, but until then, we'll just have to party in Moscow some more. I wasn't so sure what I thought of the actual city yesterday, but after an awesome night and different explorations, I'm pretty convinced that it's a bawlin city. Totally love it. P.S. It's Valentina's bday, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY VALENTINA!!

понедельник, 9 марта 2009 г.

воскресенье, 8 марта 2009 г.

Greetings from Moscow

So today was pretty cool... definitely a great start to a trip. We all slept in a little bit and then took off for Red Square. I was probably kind of freaky about how excited I was to see the square. I was such a cliche tourist, taking all sorts of obnoxious pictures of the babyshkas with their totally awesome fur hats and of adorably bundled little boys... the Cathedral was also breathtaking. It's something I've always dreamt about seeing, so it was fantastic to actually be there- sounds corny, I know, but you'll probably understand. After the trip to the square we met the U.S. ambassador to Russia. He was seriously an awesome guy, and the residence was fantastic. Now I'm hanging out in the room with my roomies... We kind of feel like we need a mellow night in order to make it through the next week of sightseeing and partying... ;) On a sort of final note, I'm going to try to upload some pics. I'm kind of bad with technology, though, so we'll see how everything goes...

Day 2!

Today was our first full day in Moscow. I woke up at 4:30 AM, looked at the clock, and thought 'NoooOOoo!' But I as soon as I got home from our outings I napped, unintentionally, for an hour and a half. I decided not to go out tonight and just catch up on sleep.

We started our day by briefly visiting the Red Square. We did the tourist thing, taking pictures with the St. Basil's Cathedral in the background.

Then we took the metro to the Izmailovsky market. The metro was a lot different than D.C.'s -- in a good way. It ran underground and the enterance still used swipe cards but the tunnels and stairs were made of marble. Everything was amazingly clean! It got pretty hectic because there were a lot of bustling people and I didnt have a clue where we were. Our large group got a lot of stares.

But we made it to the open air market! We had an hour to shop and eat. There were hundreds of stands selling every typical Russian trinket imaginable. We were immediately targeted as foreigners and when we walked by the stalls we had to ignore calls like, 'Sex bomb!' and 'I love you! I love you!' It was actually pretty funny. So I got to use my non-existent bargaining skills. I started out well in Russian but had to end up switching to English. All the merchants spoke English. Some were pretty surprised that I spoke Russian back to them and were happy to help me practice and work out the numbers. (But I also only approached people who looked friendly.) I'm pretty sure I still over-paid but I am proud of myself that I tried to haggle and somewhat succeeded! I am very happy with my purchases!

Then we took the metro back to the apartments and changed into dress clothes for the meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to Russia. In an hour he showed us (his) the Spaso House and answered any questions we had. The house was very formal, being used for diplomatic entertaining. It was just as you'd imagine any other governmental building. We were served drinks, sat on couches casually and discussed any topic of our choosing. I asked him about Russia's environmental future and the Kyoto Protocol. His answers were really interesting yet professional, as expected. He was very personable and it was very awesome of him to take time out of his busy schedule to meet with us!

After that we headed back to the apartment! And thats where I am now!

Hope everything is going well back in the States! Miss you and love you!

Oh! And today was International Women's Day! It is a very BIG holiday here. It is kind of like Mother's Day and everywhere women were walking around with flowers. It was really sweet.
My room has made the choice to say in tonight. We're all quite tired and barely made it in the door before we fell in bed. The day was full and exciting. We got to sleep in this morning but most of us were up all night from jet lag. We walked around red square in the morning, did some shopping at an open air market in the afternoon and then met the US ambassador to Russia to conclude our activities. The ambassador was incredibly accommodating and gave us a warm welcome. I'm very thankful for the opportunity to meet him. Good night all... at 8pm :)... time to sleep off some jet lag!

суббота, 7 марта 2009 г.

First Morning

Everyone in our apartment has woken up early, so we're enjoying some early morning breakfast before we make some blini. We are all very excited for today, to go out and explore Moscow. It snowed last night, as we were leaving the beautiful 'universam' on Tverskaya and we walked back to our apartments. From the window it appears that a descent amount of snow has fallen - we also have the window open and we can hear the early morning sounds of a city awakening. I always love to listen to how a city really begins to wake up - we first heard the pigeons cooing outside our window, but now that sound is eclipsed by shoveling on the street and the occasional discernable sound of a moped, or a car engine. The sun has yet to rise, but the sky is lightening up.

We're getting ready to make some blini, but we don't have any butter, so we're going to just try to make them with water. We purified the water, and Emily R. can't drink her water yet because it was boiling, I think she put it in the fridge. This is going to be a lot of fun, we'll see if it works. Nate and I have enjoyed some early morning tea, and Emily R. and Lauren had some yogurt - we're trying to determine what the yogurt is made of, since they both like the taste so much more...I wonder how much yogurt you can get through customs...

I can hear more engines now, above my apartment mates playing a card game, and Nate eating his apple. Last night in the 'universam', he was chastised by a woman who worked there because his apple was not in a bag - I also realized at the 'kacca' that I didn't weigh my grapefruits and I had to run back and get an official sticker.

It's about five of seven right now, and we're deciding on the colour of the sky. Nate thinks Moscow Blue, or Volga Shale, and Emily R. thinks Moscow Blue...it's a mixture of those maybe?
It is almost 2 am, and I am, of course, not sleeping in the city that never sleeps.

For a while, I had been trying to find the proper words to say about the tragic and irreplaceable loss that shocked us and broke our hearts yesterday. Despite the fact that I largely failed and that I am by no means the right person for this, I would still like to say that all of us here in Moscow are grieving deeply for the loss of a truly exceptional member of our Conn family, and are joining the prayers for Elizabeth's soul that resonate in the hearts of her family members and numerous friends. Althought I did not have the privilege of knowing her, I found her volunteer work all over the world not only inspiring, but also representing the values our school cherishes in the finest possible way. She was an example to all of us, and her loss will never be replaced. May peace rest upon her soul, and may God give courage and strength to her family members and friends to endure through these heartbreaking times.
The presents for Ambassador Beyrle are on the desk of our apartment, and they look absolutely stunning! A super classy glass candy holder with a top and a nice metal Conn logo, a gold-covered letter opener with a small golden Conn logo, and, last but not least, the Certificate of Appreciation signed by Prof. Lanoux and President Higdon and framed elegantly. We are off to an oustanding opportunity and a meeting with an extraordinary leader tomorrow, and I am sure we will make his time worth while.

Day 1

Hi Momma! Hi Dad! I'm safe and sound in Russia!

The plane ride was...fun? It didn't feel as long as it was. When boarding the plane it was like entering a whole new world, but at the same time not at all...I know that doesn't really make sense...butttttt

I sat beside an older Russian man. He was very helpful but we had some super intense conversations about the environment, Obama, and ALL the problems of the United States and how we should be more like Europe. He had some very strong opinions and at times I was uncomfortable during the conversation.

I also had trouble understanding when the flight attendant asked me questions. Soooo the first time we had to order food I didn't get it and he kind of gave me an impatient look and from then on he tried speaking english...it was awkward and I hesitated, stumbled and mumbled over my words too much. oh well, I mean I learned from it, so now on I'll just say things with confidence even if they are wrong.
The language barrier is frustrating. I got treated like I was of lesser intelligence more than just not knowing the language. As the man beside me put it: ‘Its like being dog. You can understand but you cannot express.’

We have settled into our apartment for the night. It's pretty nice! We have a small bath and kitchen, and a large living room and a small bedroom for four people. The apartment complex is in the center of Moscow-- a prime location! We walked easily to dinner and the grocery store tonight.

We ate at Mu-Mu, a cafeteria style restaurant. I ordered chicken and potatoes...pretty basic but it tasted really good. I'll be a little more adventurous next time :-)
Then we went to buy breakfast foods. It was the most amazing store I have ever seen. It had candeliers and gold trim everywhere. Very upscale. There were security guards at the exits and so many people helping you weigh food and find things. And using Russian money is awesome because you are always carry around a wad of bills. The cents are cool too. One kopek (spelling?) is like 1/36 of penny so it is kinda not even worth bending down to pick one up off the ground.
Overall it has been a very good first international experience! Things are going very smoothly and everything is organized well!
Well I'm going to bed now. It is hard to grasp we are basically a day ahead of you. Miss you all!

First day in Russia

So, I'm not going to lie, the first day was a little fuzzy... it was still crazy, though. Just the fact that I'm actually in Russia is kind of weird- in a good way, though. We went to this cafe type restaurant for dinner where I think I may have actually eaten liver and then went to this totally awesome grocery store. The building was gorgeous and all of the food looked amazing. Kat and I came back to the apartment after and totally stuffed our faces with the food we had just bought. So delicious. I'm excited about the day tomorrow... I think we're meeting the ambassador- way to go Stan- and then going to some uber cool Armenian restaurant. Aaghh I'm very excited. I still can't believe we're in Russia!!!!

Relaxing after a long day

It feels surreal to finally be on Russia land after so many months of anticipating this trip. My first ever international flight went off without a hitch and I can't wait to experience more of Moscow in the daylight. The group had a yummy dinner at Mu-Mu, bought our breakfast supplies at a grand grocery and we are now preparing to sleep off some jet lag. Here's to a wonderful day tomorrow!
The apartments are absolutely amazing! Ours is both big and nice; there is satellite TV, wireless internet and other amenities! Now we are going to Mu-mu to eat! Awesome :)

Settling In

So we arrived a little while ago and we are beginning to settle into the apartment and we really like it. There is a small kitchen to the right when we walk in, with the bathroom to the left - then a short hallway to our living area and my bed, which is the couch, a cot in the opposite corner, then a bed in an alcove across from the large windows. We just turned on the television and the Flintstones were on - Fred Flintstone speaking in Russian - pretty neat.

Time to figure out the phone!

четверг, 5 марта 2009 г.

Я в восторге

Привет!

Меня зовут Роман. Завтра, я еду в Россию с моей групей.

Pre-Trip Post!

In 25 hours we leave Connecticut College for Russia! We're all very excited, except most of us still need to pack...