Archive for February, 2010

Inostranka

February 28th, 2010

I’m sorry to report that last weekend didn’t get much more interesting. On Monday I went for a walk in the frost and blistering sunshine (should have brought my sunglasses…but they would only bring me bewildered stares I’m sure). There were a few “frosts” last week – people kept promising -42, but I don’t think it got much lower than 30. The frosts don’t seem as bad anymore, and people aren’t freaking out about them as much as in December. I guess we’ve gotten used to the cold by now, or the sunshine makes it seem warmer (it stays light until 5 now already!), or it just really isn’t as cold as before. Or all of the above. Tuesday I met with Sveta (the dorm attendant I’m teaching) for the fourth time and later got together and spoke some English and Russian with Valerii and Pasha, but no one else was able to come.

After the long weekend there was extra work to be done, and I felt again on the verge of illness starting Wednesday. After my 5 pm class on Thursday, I wanted to go home and try to sleep myself to health, but Oleg was in that class, and we hadn’t really hung out since I got back because he is a very busy guy. It happened to be rather warm (you know, like -15) and he happened to be free for once, so we walked around for a while and got dinner and caught up, which was nice. It seems now that I have thwarted illness once again (eat your heart out, Russia), and I have been having a good time this weekend.

Last night a small group gathered at Vita’s apartment to hear her stories of her recent trip to Egypt and to celebrate Roma’s birthday. It was a lot of fun, especially when the girls ended up sitting on the kitchen floor talking about men, and then the men joined us for a discussion of God, religion, evolution, and all that jazz.

I feel like I should be writing more in here about what makes Russia Russia and how it’s different from the US. When students ask me about differences, I always say that although Russia is like a completely different world in terms of external conditions and culture, people are essentially the same. It’s good to have a ready-made answer for those situations, and in basic terms that really is what I believe. From my own observations, I think people all want the same things, they experience the same emotions. I look at the high school students and see myself at that age. I remember feeling the way they do and acting the way they do. However, the things that are different are part of people as well, they were created by people. So perhaps it’s wrong to separate them. Russian conceptions of themselves include that they are more spiritual than other people, tend more towards mysticism, and place a lot of value on the “natural” as well as on aesthetics. The small portions of both Russian and American society I’ve come into contact with are not a representative sample, and I don’t feel equipped to make a judgment on such comparisons. If you were to rate every American and every Russian on a scale from 1 to 10 of spirituality, mysticism, etc. and take the national averages, I think there would be a difference, but it would be rather small. That’s just a guess, though, based on quantifying the unquantifiable.

I can attest more to the small differing habits of everyday life, although these, too, vary from person to person. Ideas about cleanliness are one example. Russians think that you should always wash your hands and change your clothes upon coming home. It’s not hygienic to sit on the couch in the clothes you wore outside. They always check their coats upon arriving anywhere, wear slippers in their own homes, and usually change their shoes at work. Sitting on any public toilet seat is a travesty.

“Going visiting” is another oft-mentioned Russian cultural tradition that doesn’t exist in the US. Showing up unexpectedly or on short notice to a friend’s apartment with some snack for tea is a big part of social life. Tea is generally free-flowing in Russia, and most (if not all) households have a small pot of extra strong, long-brewed loose leaf black tea always at the ready for diluting with boiled water. They drink it with cake, cookies, candy, chocolate, homemade jam, or honey. (The last two are served in tiny saucers and eaten with a spoon.)

Anyway, I’ll cut my ramblings off there for today. More next week!

Scattered

February 21st, 2010

I was relatively busy this week, and it was good. I gave numerous presentations (on American houses, Civil Rights several more times, and American student life), taught some Public Relations, told the high schoolers about Valentine’s Day and dating in the US and asked them about their dating culture, edited an English textbook for oil and gas majors, began privately teaching English to a dorm attendant (in exchange for massages!), read about the biological systems of the Circumpolar North, and listened to a couple talks by Norwegian circumpolar specialists, as well as accompanying them on a visit to our university museum. It was pretty fun talking to them, and Thor totally has a Canadian accent.

So, basically a full but pretty normal week. Ironically when I am busy (but not too busy) I also get more of my own reading and thinking done. The history book I’m working on is giving me a lot of food for thought, as it is written from a conservative perspective and shows some interesting sides of the Russian revolution. This is converging with my perception of current American politics as well, and generally contributing to my confusion about what I really want to focus on studying for the moment. But it’s also giving me some intellectual inspiration, which I had been missing. My three main fields of interest right now are 1. Linguistics bzw. Cognitive Science bzw. Human Evolution, 2. Politics bzw. Dys/Utopias bzw. Individual Responsibility (and more), and 3. Human Sexuality.* And those are just the main ones. wtf.

Also, I’ve been beginning to learn Spanish on livemocha.com. There are some things I don’t like about the site, including the fact that it forces me to move rather slowly (really? do I need to listen to 40 sentences and do 3 exercises to learn that negation involves placing the word “no” in front of the verb?), but it forces me to actually practice writing and speaking, which I might not do on my own.

This weekend I haven’t done much yet. Friday I went to Masha’s and spent the night at her place, last night I went to Lera and Stas’s apartment and watched an old Soviet movie with them, and tonight I sang, as usual. However, I’ve still got time to make this weekend exciting, since it lasts for two more days! Tuesday is the Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland (which basically translates to Men’s Day, the foil to March 8, Women’s Day), so we get holidays. Wooo! I’ll let you know next week how they went.

* bzw. = bezeihungsweise: Maybe my favorite word in German, it can mean “accordingly”, “or rather,” “respectively,” or a number of other things, but really of course there’s no equivalent.

Taking Off

February 15th, 2010

Sunday: I went snowboarding with Lera, her husband Stas, and her 4(ish)-year-old son. Didn’t make it too far before falling spectacularly on my tailbone (but landing finally somehow on my face?), making the next few days stiff and painful. In the evening, showed my photos to Irina and friends before singing.

Monday: In the morning taught a lesson on the African-American Civil Rights Movement, then sat in the afternoon with Andrei in a very quiet sports bar watching the Colts lose, accompanied in traditional American fashion by Baltika and gren’ki.

Alisa, Anna and I also made gren'ki at our hostel in Wurzburg. Basically fried bread with lots of garlic.

Alisa, Anna and I also made gren'ki at our hostel in Wurzburg. Basically fried bread with lots of garlic.

Tuesday: Tried unsuccessfully to get public relations majors to speak English.

Wednesday: Taught some civil rights to another class, answered high schoolers’ questions about getting into college in California and whether American boys like pretty girls, had pizza with Nikita and learned a little about the death of the Russian village.

Thursday: Helped translate grant applications in the International Office. Tried to organize my life and figure out all of the tasks ahead in the fields of preparing lessons, planning club meetings, doing my Introduction to Circumpolar Studies homework, thinking up a topic and writing a paper for a conference at UGTU in April, applying for jobs for next year, learning Spanish, and finishing the books I’m currently reading.

Friday: Taught civil rights again, was disappointed when not one person showed up to my fun Valentine’s Day English Club meeting. Looks like it’s time to get myself and my students motivated again… Later that night, had a VIP English Club meeting that involved not a ton of English, but a good amount of beer that we sat around drinking in my apartment until 2 am.

Saturday: Calm and relaxing. Second UArctic student meeting and planning my lesson on American houses and apartments.

Sunday: It was not only Valentine’s Day but also the Orthodox holiday of forgiveness, the Chinese New Year, and the end of Maslenitsa, or the Week of Bliny (like the Russian version of Mardi Gras). However, the holiday I celebrated was Vita’s 24th birthday at the university’s “Relaxation Center” Krokhal. I, along with about 20 other friends of Vita, took a bus out to Krokhal at 11 am, where we hung out in our rented dacha-like cottage drinking wine and cognac and eating lots of salads, bliny and shashlyk (meat shish kebabs). We also walked around the center a bit and saw the frozen river, abandoned buildings and cars, and of course tons and tons of beautiful clean snow (a pleasant contrast to a lot of the snow in town). We took the bus back around 6 pm and a few of us then continued to Vita’s to keep her company and help her eat the leftovers, since she was flying to Egypt at 2 am. I got home at about 11 pm and passed through a myriad of strange dreams until I had to wake up and get ready for today’s work. A Norwegian professor from UArctic and Bodo University College is coming to visit this week, so we’ll be busy!

Odinochestvo

February 6th, 2010

Well, the past week has been very quiet. I went back to work on Monday and enjoyed catching up with my coworkers in the International Office. I also called the professors in various departments to try to determine my schedule for the semester. I went to the Lyceum a couple times to talk to some classes there, but I’ve only had one class at the university so far – it’s the first week of the semester for them, and everything is still a bit up in the air. So I haven’t had much to do, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the office planning a Valentine’s Day club meeting for next week, catching up on e-mails, and doing a bit of research on computers and jobs for next year. Yesterday I also gave an interview for a local newspaper. I feel like they expect me to be really exotic and are disappointed to find that I’m just a normal girl. The interviewer was looking for some kind of funny, exciting hook for her story and honed in on the fact that I tried vodka with birch sap while in Moscow…but besides the fact that I liked it, there’s not much more to that story. Oh, well.

I have also been doing a good bit of reading. I’m currently working on “Twelve Chairs” by Ilf and Petrov, as well as a history book on Revolutionary Russia that a professor here lent me. Additionally, I had a short reading to do for the first week of our University of the Arctic course, “Introduction to Circumpolar Studies.” The material this week was quite basic, and we had our first student meeting today, which went pretty well. There are at least a couple motivated students who are not afraid to use English.

I’ve been branching out a tiny bit with food since I got back, inspired by a bottle of pureed ginger that I bought in Nuremberg. The first night back I combined it with soy sauce and “spices for Chinese dishes” in a stir fry, and then I used it with garlic, ground chilis, and basil in a cream sauce over pasta with mushrooms and tomatoes, which is so far my coup de foudre, if I may use a French phrase not at all as it was intended. Basically it’s yummy. Now if only I could obtain some spinach or asparagus…not likely.

As you may have guessed, socially this week was not the most active. Several members of the VIP English Club are out of town or busy, and I was also savoring the time to myself for a bit after a month of constant interaction. Masha is also out of town visiting her boyfriend in St. Petersburg. However, tomorrow I am going snowboarding with Lera and her husband and then to my weekly singing lesson, where everyone is eager to see the pictures from my trip, and on Monday I get to watch the Super Bowl with Andrei! It turns out they’re airing it in the afternoon here instead of in the evening, which is a bit disappointing. I was hoping there would be a festive/raucous atmosphere in the sports bar, even if most people weren’t paying attention to the game, but at 2 pm on a weekday it seems likely that Andrei and I will be almost the only people there. But hopefully it will be exciting nonetheless (i.e. hopefully the Colts will win!!!). Other than that, I’ve been in touch with a few students on Russian facebook and hope to get together with them soon. So perhaps I’ll have more to report next week.