November 8th, 2009

So, last week I forgot to write about the День Первокурсников, or First-Year Students’ Day, that I saw last Saturday. The closest analogy at Wooster would probably be the Culture Show. On First-Year Students’ Day, all of the students (mostly first-years, but others as well) put on a show in the Culture Palace – the main theater / show venue in town. Each department has its own slot in the program. The ones at the beginning mostly just had one or two of their most talented students do a dance or sing a song. The bigger departments at the end, though, did longer skits about why their departments were the best. One was done like an awards show where students from the department performed and won awards over actual famous artists, and another told the story of first-year students learning to be stylish in the Gas and Oil Industry Department, only to find, to their dismay, that they couldn’t actually dress like that on the job site. It was pretty funny. The whole thing was MC’d by two older students who had won “Miss UGTU” in 2008 and 2009. It’s difficult to explain, but the whole thing was pretty sweet. I was impressed by the effort that had gone into it – making videos, recording all of the songs that the students sang, learning dances, and getting together all of the intense costumes and fancy dresses. At this show I also (briefly) saw United Bit perform for the first time – that’s UGTU’s modern / hip-hop dance troupe that has won tons of awards all over Russia. They’re pretty amazing – YouTube them to see some dances.

On Tuesday this week I was helping teach a class on gerunds. The students were doing translation exercises out loud, and there were two sentences in particular that caused some trouble. The first sentence we had was “Excuse my being so breathless. I’m not really breathless, it’s just the excitement.” This is an awkward statement in English anyway, but the Russian students didn’t understand the word “breathless.” The first translation went something like, “I’m sorry that I’m not breathing. (Извините, что я не дышу.) I actually am breathing but I am just emotional.” Everybody laughed. The teacher asked me if I thought it was correct, and I said, “Well, I don’t think you can say that in Russian, can you?” I asked the translating student what he would say if he ran up the stairs and was out of breath, and he said “задыхаюсь,” so we used that. Later, that same student got a sentence that said something like “He felt almost a gloomy satisfaction at the thought of all these disasters happening at once.” This time, nobody could get their heads around the phrase “gloomy satisfaction.” They were trying to translate it as “He did not receive satisfaction,” but I tried to explain that he did feel satisfaction, but it was gloomy. Of course he would not be happy that a lot of very bad things were happening, but maybe just the fact that there were so many at once was exciting in a way. Or maybe he had predicted these disasters and felt satisfied that he was right. Or maybe it was Schadenfreude – maybe he didn’t like the people to whom the disasters were happening. However, they still were baffled (even the teacher) so either they didn’t understand my English, or you really just can’t be gloomily satisfied in Russian.

In another class this week, I was given some insight into student dorm life. The teacher asked the students to talk about their living situations and asked who lived in the dormitories. Only one student said she did, and the teacher asked if it was comfortable for her. She said yes, but another student who lived at home said that, although he didn’t know from personal experience, he thought it would not be comfortable to live in the dorms. When asked why, he gave the reason that the dorms have a curfew. They close at 11 PM and don’t open again until 6 AM. (Luckily I’m special, so the security-woman will let me in at any time.) The teacher agreed that she considered that an inconvenience. She often tries to get students to recognize and try to solve the seemingly entrenched problems of the Russian education system, so she turned on the girl who lived in the dorms and said, “How can that be comfortable? I think it is wrong, what is the reason for keeping students out of their rooms? That is where they live, it is their home. Why don’t you try to change this? How can it be comfortable for you?” The girl explained that it didn’t matter, that students always find ways into their rooms, even if it means climbing up a bed sheet into a third-floor window. So apparently there’s no motivation to try to change the rules…

I’ve mentioned the singing class that I go to on Sundays. The people there are quite interesting, so I’ll try to describe them a bit. The woman who hosts them I’ve mentioned before – her name is Irina, and she reminds me of a younger version of my host from Moscow. She has a similar face and the same dyed-blonde hair, although hers is longer, and she talks in much the same way, quickly and surprised about everything and trying to make people laugh and exaggerating her own emotions. But, just like my host, she is actually a very spiritual and artistic person, always searching for new outlets. She’s interested in painting, singing, ceramics, Eastern philosophy, and anything meant to calm and open the soul. Also, I believe that she’s divorced, like my Moscow host. She has two children who live with her and she has mentioned a husband from time to time, but I’ve never seen him – I’m almost certain he doesn’t live with them. The other girl who comes regularly is named Natasha. I think she’s about 25 but she may be a few years older. She is married with a son about 5 years old. I think she’s a conservative Orthodox Christian…I know she goes to church regularly and sings in the church choir, and she looks different from most other Russian girls. She usually wears handmade dresses and hand-knit shawls in very simple fabrics and styles, and I noticed last week that she doesn’t shave her armpits. She’s extremely sweet and soft-spoken, and her husband and son are both very nice and good-looking. They came for the walk in the woods with us on Wednesday and brought a box with a crow that they had found injured, healed, and were ready to let go. Our singing teacher is a woman named Valya. She has one of those extremely skinny figures with disproportionately wide hips and wears her hair down to her waist, with thick bangs. She always wears pants that come up to her waist and have zippers on the side, but the zipper is never done up all the way, which is visible to everyone because her sweaters only come down to the top of her pants. She seems cool but is more reserved than the others. She always makes us do crazy amounts of warm-ups that involved mimicking what our voices are doing with various body parts. Those are the regulars, but this past week there was another couple who came. They were older (maybe 60s?) and both missing enough teeth that it interfered with their pronunciation. I think they are Natasha’s acquaintances from church. The man, Sergei, seemed nice and looked a bit like Uncle Andrew, and his wife was strangely girlish – she giggled a lot and clung to Sergei’s arm.

Wednesday was a fun day – I went for a walk in the woods, as mentioned earlier, with Irina and her daughter, Natasha and her family, and Pasha with his mother and a friend of hers. It was nice to go walking, and I got to see Russian squirrels, which are frigging sweet. They have winter fur and pointy ears – pictures to follow sometime this week. It was quite cold and my legs froze a bit, but otherwise I was fine. I wore my winter hat, in which, according to Pasha’s mother, I look like a hedgehog, but damn it is warm! After our walk Pasha and I went to our friend Lera’s (from the Intl. Dept.) apartment and had tea with her, which was fun. Lera has a really nice apartment, and we got to look at pictures of her wedding and school days, and I briefly met her son and husband. This weekend I’ve hung out with some students and relaxed. Till next week!

One Response to “Scenes”

  1. […] with Irina for tea. Natasha and Irina are from my singing class – I talked about them earlier in this post. It was nice to see where Natasha lives, and she is incredibly sweet. She set a beautiful table in […]

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