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The Dance

The wheels are turning and the spider webs are ripping apart.

After several months of being under the radar, I am back. My friends tell me that writing a blog post after a two-month gap is treacherous feat, but the tablet is calling me.

So here I go.

~*~

I continue to dance to the music of usual American life. I work forty hours a week, go home, eat a highly nutritious diet of Hot Pockets and sandwiches.

Yet Russia is my dance companion who never strays too far.

I dance with the English school in a lesser known Russian town where I have the amazing opportunity to offer students conversational practice via Skype. As an amazing bonus, I get free weekly Russian practice sessions with a wonderful tutor connected to the school.

It still sends me shivers of excitement to think that I am talking to real Russians in real time. The concreteness of the experience especially enamors me when I hear snippets of daily life in the background. The dialing of the combination pad outside the apartments. The wheezing of a crowded bus ride. The clinking of a cash register.

Yes, Russia still exists.

While meeting with friends, my dance partner often decides to cut into our conversations. Every topic somehow links to my Russian language experience, every squeal of brakes, every travel story, every new experience. For better or for worse, I could go on for hours about the beauty of Russian grammar, the hospitality of the people, the allure of Russian guitar music.

And then I look up and my conversation companion is asleep. But the person to the left of my unconscious companion asks me to teach them some Russian phrases. So I happily indulge them, while assuring them that no am not a language genius, and yes the Russian alphabet is phonetic and not hard to learn.

My love of Russian guitar music has also increased, especially since I get to play it.

I started playing the guitar in July, and I fell in love with it. The strumming, the burning fingers, the soothing notes. And when I found guitar music to several Russian songs, I was hooked.

The melancholy minor keys of many of the Russian songs tug at my heart. One of my favorite songs I am learning right now is called “Yesli u Vas” or “If You,” from The Irony of Fate, a classic Soviet film.

The lyrics of the first verse translate to:

If you do not have a home

A fire will not destroy it

And your wife will not run off with another

If you

If you

If you don’t have a wife

If you don’t have a wife

I sang and played this song for a group of friends last weekend, who humored me with their audience.

After playing the song, one of the listeners remarked “It sounds kind of sad.”

I assured them that their comment was accurate, and with a beaming face, enthusiastically offered them my translation of the piece.  My friends found it quite humorous that I could say such depressing lyrics with such joy.

But to me the song was beautiful, so how could I not smile?

                

Language Soup

a   ó   ж   ñ   л   д   ll   z    a   ó   ж   ñ   л   д   ll   z  a   ó   ж   ñ   л   д   ll   z  a   ó   ж   ñ   л   д  

Lately I have been dabbling in an area I never thought I would dabble in again.

Spanish.

I took Spanish classes for years upon years but seldom had a chance to practice speaking. And so I thought language learning for me was impossible, while slowly getting more and more disillusioned with this language.

Then I met the Russian language and it swept me off my feet.

I love speaking it, hearing it, breathing it. Although I am a long ways from being fluent, I speak enough Russian to survive and to generally have a good idea of what’s going on around me.

Yet as much as I love Russian, I love all languages in general.

Estonian, the language of some of my lovely friends, is a babbling brook, a flowing river.

Swedish, the language my ancestors once spoke, is cozy and friendly.

Russian, the language I am proud to call my second, is dramatic yet tough, the language of television villains and great novelists.

And Spanish is a friendly, rapidly spoken language, a language of welcome, a language of tasty food.

~*~

My English makes my Russian look limited and terrible. Yet my Spanish makes my Russian look almost fluent in comparison.

I feel proud inside when I can convey a thought in all three of my language acquaintances. My brain is stretched, my mind is teased.

Yet my Russian poses a most peculiar problem when relating with Spanish speakers. When I hear Spanish, my brain unconsciously registers this language as foreign. And Russian is also a foreign language, so the Spanish speakers must understand this as well. Right?

The other day at my church, a Spanish speaker greeted me and asked me how I was.

¿Cómo estás?

The first thing that come out of my mouth was the Russian word for “good.”

“Horosho.”

Halfway through I realized my mistake, stopped midway through, but completely forgot the Spanish phrase “muy bien,” getting all tongue-tied in the process.

Whoops!

Then there’s the time during my on-campus Russian tutoring session where the Spanish speaking janitor came in to take out the trash.

I thanked her with the word that automatically escaped my lips.

“Spasiba,”

A friendly Russian “thank you” indeed.

She looked at me with mild perplexity, the strange girl with the gibberish phrases.

~*~

As much as I enjoy expanding my mind through exchanging my limited Spanish vocabulary with the Spanish speaking members at my church, I am happy to report that I have the opportunity to speak Russian as well.

In exchange for conducting Skype conversational lessons for Russian students of English, I receive free weekly Russian conversational lessons with the head of this school. Talk about a lovely arrangement.

So although I am deep in the heart of Texas, engulfed in a world of English and Spanish, my foot remains stuck in the door to Russia. As melancholy as some of my recent blogs have sounded, this door has not locked.

One day I will return. But until then, I will enjoy improving my Spanish as I continue to grow more and more comfortable in my Russian speaking.

In the words of my first Russian tutor:

“Why not?”

Fragments of Time

Late last week, I dreamed that I was, falling, falling through the sky.

I feasted my eyes on the multiple pink and orange sunsets above, swirling and swirling like a modern art painting, somehow knowing deep inside that I would not be able to see this beautiful scene for long.

Then I broke through a fortress of clouds and my surroundings became bleak. Land was approaching quickly, and I felt colder and colder as through an icy midst circulated through my veins, as the silver fog engulfed me.

Then knives pierced my body as I landed in a partially frozen river. Shaking and pulling myself out of the water I saw nothing but grayness and snow as far as the eye could see.

For some reason I thought I was in Siberia, but would my soul really feel that desolate in the country of my dreams?

~*~

Fourteen years ago

A little girl around the age of eight looks at a world map, her eyes wide with wonder. So many beautiful countries to visit, so many people to meet!

She immediately zeros in on massive mother Russia, quite impressed by the size of this country.

Her father looks on.

A shadow of concern crosses his face as he thinks about the Cold War of yesterday, of food lines and inefficiency, of an entire nation’s collapse.

“A lot of sad things happened in that country,” he finally remarks.

“You don’t want to go there.”

~*~

Four years ago

She is sitting by herself in the university cafeteria again.

Her mind is restless, bored by the mind-numbing monotony of chewing then swallowing, chewing, then swallowing.

As a last resort she angles her chair towards the blaring television that is screwed into the wall, constantly on, constantly speaking.

A boxing match flickers on the screen.

Crowds drunk by nationalism scream and cheer two boxers---a Soviet blonde and an American brunette boxer beat each other to a pulp. Finally, the American wins and the Star Spangled Banner plays and the Americans are drunk with happiness and power as they celebrate the victory over their foe.

The wife of the blonde yells at her husband in a language that the girl has never heard before.

Who are these odd people? she wonders.

Later she finds out the movie she was watching was Rocky IV.

~*~

Two years and four months ago

University classes are over, yet her job doesn’t start until next week.

She is bored, alone.

Not sure what to do with the afternoon she has, the life she has.

Opening her laptop, she plans to aimlessly wander the Internet, yet a strange idea enters her mind.

What if I read about the culture of some country that was once the enemy of the United States?

The first country that came to mind?

Russia.

~*~

One year ago

She is in love.

Yet her eyes light up not at a man but at a country.

She loves Russia.

She loves the dramatic toughness of the language as she reads aloud her grammar exercises.

She loves the bluntness of the people, the fact that genuine smiles must be earned.

She loves the haunting sound of the balalaika, the accordion, the guitar.

And now she is in her favorite land, where the tri-striped red white and blue flag flies high, where the neon signs in Cyrillic glow, where the coarse talking people outside of her apartment sound almost beautiful.

All is well.

~*~

Today

An American library worker sits at a desk in America like all the other American library workers.

This is her first postgraduate job, her first time to regularly work fulltime, to make a wage above the state minimum.

Yet her mind is far away and observing passers notices a strange flag hanging from her bulletin board, an indecipherable alphabet on her desktop.

And while they talk of children and mortgages, and car shopping, her mind is far, far away focused on a country across the world, a country that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

As the lull of familiarity engulfs her, she wonders if people actually speak the language she has devoted two and a half years of her life towards.

It is hard to want to try anymore, hard to care.

Yet her heart fills with such longing, as a portion of the money from each paycheck is carefully set aside towards a life of travel.

All she can do is make the most of her life now, while holding on to her desires, her knuckles white, teeth clenched with determination.

But will she make it?

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Passages: A Year Goes By

Exactly one year ago, my life was changed.

With tears of joy dampening my face, I boarded an international flight to Russia and watched with wonder as my lifelong dream of going overseas became a reality.

To celebate this momentous but bittersweet occasion, I will revisit that magical trip through rereading a previous blog post of mine that chronicles every detail I could remember (below). I hope you can join me in the festivities.

It was truly one of the best days of my life.

~*~

I still vividly remember my plane trip to Russia. I was giddy with excitement because I had longed my entire life to leave not only my country but my continent. Words cannot describe the emotions that rushed through me as I hugged my family goodbye and jumped on the plane to leave my country, my prison.

On the plane, there was a monitor that showed a map of the globe and a laser dot that represented the plane. I waited anxiously as the dot moved to the Northern US to Canada to the ocean. It seemed dark and mysterious to be so far away from home and sometimes I wondered if I was dreaming. Yet I couldn’t have been dreaming, for I was awake the entire time.

Then I saw city lights. The dot was over Great Britain and it sent shivers down my spine to thing that I was physically in England, a land of antiquity so far away. The plane flew deeper and deeper into the night. And suddenly it was day again.

After 12 hours of flight and zero hours of sleep, I landed in Germany and looked with amazement at all the people speaking strange tongues. While going through the maze of an airport to find the gate of my second plane, I broke out in a sweat. What if someone tried to talk to me in Russian, and I couldn’t talk back? Hastily I attempted to do a review of material from my year and two months of Russian classes, but the attempts proved futile.

As I got closer and closer to my gate the foreign tongues started to sound more and more familiar. I was hearing Russian! I gaped in amazement as I saw Russian people lounging in line, talking on their cell phones, saying goodbye to friends. Up until that time, I had seen less than ten Russians in my entire life.

The second plane was smaller and dingier than the first one. I sat by two gentleman, a blond man and a brown haired man. Feeling slightly apprehensive, but wanting to prove to them that I wasn’t the average clueless American tourist, I asked the two men in Russian if they spoke Russian. The blond could not, but the brown-haired one could. The three of us looked at a little fold-out map and pointed to our final destinations, speaking in a mix of broken Russian and broken English.

I ended up talking to the blond man for the remainder of the trip since he spoke fluent English. I found him quite interesting since he was a businessman from Finland, the first Finnish person I had ever met. Like the language nerd I am, I was happy to discuss the grammatical differences between Russian, English, and Finnish with him.

Later on, I happened to glance over and saw a most surprising sight. The brown-haired Russian man had made some new friends. Since he didn’t speak English, he conversed with a young Russian married couple across the aisle from us. In the process, he had fallen in love with their five-month old baby. His face lit up as he repeatedly waved and smiled at the baby, even cooing at it when it cried..

Eventually, the parents allowed him to hold their wee child. It was a beautiful picture to see a tough, rugged man tanned from many hours outdoors, cradle a little tiny baby in his muscular arms. I wonder what was going through his mind. Was he missing a little child of his own? Only God knows.

Then the plane landed in Moscow. I was finally in the land of my dreams. Cyrillic signs. People in dark coats . . . speaking Russian! I had heard of the monstrosity of border controls, and the evils of Russian bureaucracy, but got in the country problem-free.

After retrieving my massive suitcases from the baggage claim, I cautiously weaved the myriad of travelers and boards with names, until the Finnish guy led me to the proper location where I met my university escort, a young black-haired woman in a leather coat. We made light conversation in English (her preferred language of communication), and she literally had to lead me by the hand to the exit. Perhaps I was in shock.

We were only in Moscow for two hours, but I will never forget how impressive the people looked. Clad in business suits and coordinated coats and dark shiny shoes, every single person I saw looked amazingly well put-together. To a girl from a country where people frequently walk around in pajamas, sweats, or T-shirts, this was a surprising treat. I was also amazed at the rarity of overweight people. Perhaps there is some good to the frequent walking prevalent here.

We took a bus out of Moscow as the Russian sun set and night overshadowed us. My travel companion and I had some enjoyable conversations, but when she became tired, she lent me her mp3 player so I would be quietly entertained. My ears were very happy to hear Russian music.

I remember one song in particular. A male singer sang a minor key song with passion, his voice growing rougher and rougher, louder and louder as he repeated the chorus. He sounded angry, maybe sad about something. Perhaps broken love? Despite his voice quality at the conclusion of the song, I found it beautiful, enchanting in a way.

And as I looked out the window at the dark forlorn forests, and the road marker poles I could have sworn had shadows that looked almost human, I it struck me that I was in a new land with new adventure. And despite many hours without sleep, I was excited, but yet at peace. And after two days of travel, I finally crashed.

~*~
Today I write not from a Russian restaurant, nor an overseas airport, but from my home in Texas where I will remain for at least the next ten months.

The waters of real life are flowing. I start my first day of work at a library today, and plan to use this time to get my bearing financially, and learn all I can about the real world.

Then one day Eastern Europe will call me, and I will again bid my country farewell.

O Hozaika


Almost exactly one year ago, on a Russian morning so dark the day was enthroned by
darkness, I was dropped off on the doorstep of a woman whom I had only seen in
pictures. Short and a bit plump with a cloud of curled blond hair around her head,
this woman was to be my hozaika, or host mother during my semester in Russia.



 Little did I know what I was in for.



 During the time I lived with her, she was a lady who liked to laugh, liked to entertain 
guests, enjoyed good conversation. She especially seemed to enjoy hosting my
two British friends. She would serve them tea, ask them about their day, and
shower them with complements concerning their fashion tastes. For she always
appreciated pretty things, an outfit well put together like a work of art.



 ~*~
As an American girl from a loving but reserved family, I found the mother hen
tendencies of my hozaika a bit overwhelming.



 Every morning before class after waking up and showering, slipping into a planned
outfit and brushing on my cosmetics, I would go to the breakfast table and tell
my host mother “Dobroe utro.” “Good morning,” as I proceeded to hastily eat the
food she had prepared. For I was always running a little late, still accustomed
to the American luxury of eating cereal bars on the go.



 Almost all of our breakfasts would be like an interview, she the reporter, I the
interviewee. A lot of times the questions were the same.



 What plans do you have today?



When do you want supper served?



Which classes do you have today?



Will you be seeing your British friends?



Is your cereal tasty?



Is your bread tasty?



Is your yogurt tasty?



Have you had any cookies yet?


When will you call your parents?



 
Often her question sessions evolved into commands.




You should go see Swan Lake.



Eat, eat, eat!



Wear my earrings; they match your outfit better.



Eat, eat, eat!



Your coat isn’t warm enough.



Eat, eat, eat!



 
After all was said, and she was satisfied with my winter attire and outfit ensemble for
the day, she would hastily hand me a packed lunch as I raced out the apartment
door, down the steps to go to class. She never
allowed me to forget my lunch.



 ~*~
During the late dusk on those quiet nights where my friends were busy and my host family
was occupied, I would sit in my bedroom and sing songs. I sang the Russian folk
songs I learned in class, songs from musicals, songs from choirs I had once been a part of.



 After hearing me sing for several nights, my host mother started encouraging me to
become a singer when I returned to the United States. She had visions of
me wearing a beautiful flowing gown, singing on stage before a concert hall
audience, an orchestra behind me. For days upon end, she insisted that I looked
like Celine Dion, her favorite singer.



 I had heard of Dion, but had never seen her perform, so I became mildly curious about my
hozaika-declared “famous twin.” So one day, the two of us watched her Celine
Dion live-performance DVD together. Sparkling dresses, dancing, dramatic music.
I was certainly honored that my host mother compared me to this famous star,
although I don’t think I would get mistaken for her on a given day.



 ~*~



 In my eyes, my host mother made some mistakes. She laughed at me when I tripped over a
couch leg in the living room, gossiped about my whereabouts with my classmate’s
hozaikas, and made crass judgments on a few of my friends solely based on their
country of origin.


Yet my soul smiles when I think of one night when she did just the thing I needed her to do.


During one dinner, I came home feeling dejected. A person I had once considered a friend
was no longer speaking to me, no longer cared. My host mother asked me why I
was sad, and I tearfully explained to her the situation in full over a cup of black tea.



 “HMPH!” she harrumphed in anger at the person involved in the situation.


“There are plenty of other people out there to get to know! You don’t need friends like that.”


 She proceeded to give me some rich Russian chocolate and cookies.


“Chocolate always makes things better.”



 And that night, it did.



The Tourist Bus

The mini bus rumbled down the road as I looked out the window in amazement. Oh how joy filled my soul as I watched fields go by. I was in Russia again!!

For some peculiar reason, the bus was filled with a group of American tourists, yet none of them had enough Russian language skills to communicate their plans with the bus driver who didn’t speak English. I volunteered to translate for the tourists, but warned that I was not a fluent Russian speaker.

So after listening to the tourist’s desires, I approached the bus driver with a spirit of anticipation, for it always excites me when my Russian skills are put to the test. He was a pleasant older man with a husky body build and gray hair cut close to his head, military style. He vaguely reminded me of the host father I had lived with back on my first trip to Russia.

I made small talk with him comparing the bus with the train sleeper care, before translating for the tourists. And my, how our conversation flowed like music! I was not only able to understand him, but speak freely. No “ummmmmm’s” in the middle of my sentences. No awkward gestures or attempts to describe words that I did not know yet. No talking slowly, slowly, slowly. Words cannot express the joy that filled my soul that day. The Russian language was finally becoming my own!

Then my alarm went off and I realized that I was still in Texas.

Yet the joy expressed in this dream stayed with me all day.

It seemed so real to me, as if I actually took a quick effortless trip to Russia and back. I understand that dreams can occasionally express bits and pieces of reality like a collage of dust and glitter. But I felt the way I literally felt when I was in Russia. The excitement. The energy. The anticipation. The stimulation of constantly practicing my second language. 

Pure bliss.




Crashes

 Once upon a time there was a young American student who went on an adventure to Russia. Then she returned to the United States where she lived out her last semester before graduation.

She thought her world had unraveled upon returning to her native land. Her group of close friends had split up, her friends in Russia could no longer be reached by cell phone.

And the brashness of her culture unnerved her. The gaudy colored T-shirts. The loud shrill conversations, the cheering, the screaming. The freakishly warm winter weather all swirling and swirling into a mess of change.

She INSISTED on acting Russian. She HAD to. That was all she could hold on to. Chewing the same brand of mint gum she chewed in Russia helped. Wearing the boots she purchased in Russia and the scarves her Russian host mother gave her helped as well. She spoke softly, dressed classily, and did not smile unnecessarily.

But as the months went by, the crash of change was gradually cleared. She grew closer to some friends, farther from others. She started to speak louder, smile more in the pattern of her peers. And the sticky hot Texas weather finally convinced her that wearing Russian scarves and boots was futile. An airily loose T-shirt was more practical.

Life began to pick up speed. She got to start an on-campus Russian club where she served as president. Her heavy course load kept her busy, as did her weekend job at the on-campus library. She even got to work as a contributor for the university newspaper, where she got to write an article about some EPIC tunnels under her campus that few students even knew existed.

Then a bowling ball came plowing into her life and she lost everything.

Graduation.

Redo.

She currently sits in an apartment in her university town looking for work, submitting job applications.
Most of her friends have already left town and live around the country. There is no Russian Club for her now, no job, no newspaper articles. The chill of the real world.

There is not much to wake up for, nowhere to go.

It is hard to keep filling out job applications, hard to write, hard to care. She has dreams to one day travel again to Eastern Europe and to Russia. But when?

Only God knows.

~*~

So how does a currently unemployed, Russian-speaking, university graduate occupy her time?

Simple.

Besides applying for jobs, waiting for jobs, hoping for jobs, and interviewing for jobs, she has:

1) Read around one-third of Tolstoy’s War and Peace (plans to continue reading it)

2) Made lemonade from real lemons for the first time

5) Led several English conversations with Russian students of English via Skype

4) Started playing guitar

3) Gone on a road trip with some friends to New Orleans Louisiana where she happily relived her St. Petersburg hostel experience

6) Eaten lots of ice cream

The Mixed Bag

 For some reason, as I woke up this morning memories of my Russia trip rained down within my mind. Suddenly it was like I was there again amidst the people I had met, the situations I came across. The strange thing is, not all these memories were pleasant. Instead of lauding Russia with praise as I had done the last six months after my return to America, I saw her through a different lens.

~*~
I learned a lot about myself during my time in Russia. I learned that I am prone to get lost, occasionally overspend, and act a little too friendly to strangers who have motives of their own. One time a haggard looking woman who was from one of the former USSR countries approached me in a mall elevator and demanded that I give her money for a hotel room for the night. I felt sorry for her and gave her a ten ruble note, but she threw it back in my face and demanded more money.

One of my British friends, upon observing the situation from a far, rescued me. He gently led me by my arm away from the woman, and kept telling me “you don’t need to listen to her.” Later on, the woman walked past my friends and I seated at a food court table. Seeing my British friend provoked her wrath. She cursed him and his computer, said that she hopes he gets a computer virus that ruins his life. Several days later, we saw the same disturbed woman yelling at an empty corridor where she allegedly thought she saw a person. Even now, I wonder what her story is. What could bring her to such a wretched condition?

On the streets were lots of impoverished people, selling their wares, singing, or simply begging for money clutching a tattered bowl in their hands. One chunky older gentleman would tap his cane every evening by an area crowded with kiosks, a money bowl sitting by his feet. Another older woman would regularly ambush everyone who came across her path and dramatically begging for a ruble or two.

Those who were begging on the streets were not limited to the elderly. A veteran in green military garb missing both his legs would sit outside the photography store near the city square. A young lady in a wheel chair sat in one of the pedestrian tunnels under a large intersection. Most hauntingly of all, a young girl who could not have been older than eight sat in the middle of a path that leads to the theater. With brunette hair whisping around her small face, her miniature body huddled on a spread out blanket, her thin young voice sang a song of need to all who passed.

One time on my way to class, I observed an older man with a grizzled silver beard crawling in the frigid, icy weather wearing no shoes or socks. The next day I say the same man lying eerily still in the snow. As I walked by, an ambulance came. Paramedics indifferently put a covering over his lifeless body and loaded him into the back of the vehicle. It was my first time to be so close to death, my first time to see an empty human body.

Although I had some experience volunteering with some of the homeless in America, I had never seen such rampant poverty in my daily life. At first I felt sad for them, but my hand still held on tight to my ruble notes. Some of my Russian friends told me that they were paid by others to beg, that they were taking advantage of others. So I learned to ignore their cries and to continue talking to my friends as if they didn’t exist. Sometimes if any of them approached me, I would pretend to not understand them; bluntly saying in English “I don’t speak Russian.”

Although I was not proud of my interactions with the poor, I did not know what my place was as a guest in a foreign country with so much need. I did not know how to discern which people were actually hungry and which people were playing sympathy games. I did not know which charity services to direct them to if such services exist. As a young woman, I was also concerned with personal safety, especially when it came to male beggars.

I wish there was a way I could learn more about the situation in Russia, particularly about the prospects of the disables and the elderly. What happened to the family of the elderly lady standing in the icy road selling gloves? Why isn’t the veteran being repaid for his sacrifice towards his country? Why isn’t the little girl in a public school? So many questions, so few answers.

I am not writing this passage to criticize Russia or to elevate my native land as higher than her. I only wanted to share with others what I saw in hope of finding answers, in hope of learning if there is anything I could do differently next time.

~*~
Almost exactly six months ago I returned from Russia and underwent the hard transition of readjusting to the country that I once considered to be my world. During that time, I mourned the loss of friends, the lack of adventure, and the rarity of opportunities to practice Russian. I sometimes pitied myself for being trapped within my Texas university, a place where most of the student population seemed to be monolingual, unaware of other cultures in the world.

Back in those days, I mentally elevated Russia to the most perfect place in the world, a place where I could live life to the fullest, explore new places, meet lovely people, and practice my favorite language every day. I only remembered the good stories. The joy I felt when some workers at a produce store complimented me on my Russian skills. The peace I felt when I was in the Russian dorm room singing along with my Estonian friends. The relief I felt about having all the free time in the world to explore, experience, get lost, and explore some more.

Yet this morning, something changed within me. I remembered the situations that are not so fun to remember. I remember feeling excluded from the other Americans in my class, because I was not comfortable with the way they chose to have fun. I ruined their time at the bar because I only opted for one alcoholic beverage. They got frustrated with me, and assumed that I would sit there and judge them in my sober state while they drank the night away, their minds devolving into fits of passion and perceived wittiness.

I also remember the discouragement I felt when my lack of fluency in Russian isolated me. A few times, when visiting a restaurant, instead of listening to me and allowing me the practice opportunity, the staff would give me a picture menu and have me point to what I wanted. One time when I was trying to find a church, I was unable to understand people’s directions, and ended up taking wild bus rides around town with no result. I ended up coming home defeated, greeted by my host mother’s “I told you so” attitude.

Sometimes when I visited the local university, students would try to converse with me like I was a fluent Russian speaker. When I was unable to decipher their long sentences and rapid speech, they would look at one another, say “she doesn’t understand,” and walk off. And even though a lot of the university students were very kind, I never completely felt like one of them, part of the crowd.

~*~
As time distances me from my study abroad experiences, my memories are balancing out more and more. Russia is neither a land of perfection, nor a land of hopelessness. It is a country like my own with tears and laughter, pride and shame. Although these characteristics manifest themselves in different ways, we live together in the same world, observe the same sun. And even though I long to return to Russia, my heart will not be in a good place until I realize this balance.
 This morning I found myself in a pleasantly peculiar situation.

I had applied for a job with a department at my former university and decided to visit the office to ask questions about the position. Almost as soon as I had sat down, the gentleman who came to meet with me asked me in Russian if I spoke Russian. Most likely, he had read my resume and had seen that I had studied abroad there.

My senses instantly came alive, and we had a nice conversation in Russian. It turns out that he had worked as a Russian-English translator during the 90’s, which I thought was quite fascinating. He ended up commending me on my speaking skills, even though we both agreed that I still had a long way to for.

Who would have guessed that I would have a conversation in Russian while inquiring about a job at a university in Texas? Life can certainly bring pleasant surprises . . .

Although I am doing the best I can to find a job, being unemployed has its perks. I have time to paint the twists and turns of my heart via writing. I have time to sit outside on my second story apartment porch, passively watching my neighbors like a little old lady on retirement. And I have time to finally, FINALLY read a good fiction book.

Yet being unemployed can be quite troublesome as well. Currently, I am reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and am not happy at the direction the plot is going. And I have all this time to reflect and mull over how dissatisfied I am. Not a good feeling, when one is used to fairy tale endings.

I remember that when I was in Russia, people would often ask me what Russian literature I had read. I would always have to answer that besides Ivan Turgenev’s short story “First Love,” and Anton Chekov’s “Romance with a Contrabassist,” I had never read any Russian literature.

I know that I probably ought to start reading a treasured Russian work, for I have heard great things about Russian literature. The literature is so enchanting that it inspired several students at my former university to enroll in Russian classes. Yet I have no idea where to start.

Ok, I admit it. I am a silly American girl who likes endings with at least some happiness. When Mr. Darcy proposed to Elizabeth Bennet a second time in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, I was elated. That heartwarming ending certainly contrasted with the fate of Chekov’s unfortunate contrabassist who ended up living naked, under a bridge, pining for the lady in his contrabass case that he had misplaced.

I wanted the ending to be different. I longed for him to be happy, and for him and the young lady to become good friends, if not lovers. I shared my sentiments with my Russian tutor, who told me that I watch too many Disney films. Perhaps she is right, although I still tend to agree with my American friend who said that real life is so hard that we at least want our novels to end well.

I do know some Russian works end happily for the main characters. Although not exactly literature, Zhenya and Nadia end up together in Irony of Fate, a cute film that I have watched and enjoyed several time with friends. Although I want to be happy for the two main characters, I feel sorry for Ippolit and Galya. It seems simply heartbreaking to have one’s significant other drop them in order to date a new acquaintance.

If this were an American film, Ippolit and Galya would have most likely found a new girlfriend and boyfriend to be happy with. Maybe they would even end up falling in love with each other, which would be an interesting, but perhaps too sugary twist to the story.

Yet despite my hesitation, despite my concern that the Russian novel I choose may not end the way I want it too, I suppose I need to toss all my American expectations aside, select a Russian novel, and read it. Then, the next time I am in Russia and I see those beautiful statues of famous authors, I can point to one and proudly say to myself “I read ______!”

And when my Russian friend curiously remarks on my odd murmurs and gestures, I can tell them about the Russian literature I read, before breaking out into discussion about the piece in its entirety. I suppose reading such a work would give us something great to talk about. And I really do want more Russian friends.

My Future Goes Awry (Что делать?)

 My head throbs with fatigue, but my evening project was accomplished. After planning and writing, fretting and tugging, I have produced a Russian blog yet again. Sad to say, this little piece below took over two hours to complete. But I will get better . . . I know I will.

Thanks so much to all of you who edited my last Russian blog for me. I read through your edits and tried not to repeat the same mistakes I made last time. Also, thanks so much to those who regularly comment on my blog. I read and enjoy every one of them.

I would be most grateful if you would all help me to find a quality Russian news site to read. I need more practice in reading in Russian, and would love to hear a Russian perspective on current events.

~*~

Что будет случится?

На прошлой субботу я закончила университет. Семья и друзья посмотрила пока я перешла подмостик на церемоние. Но сто тепер?

Я хочу быть учителем английского языка в россии и долго планировала вернуться в России после закончания. Но я узнала, что это лучше если я оставаюсь и работаю в городе моего американского университета. Мне нужно платить университетский долг перед того, что верня в россии. Потом в годе одном, я могу туда полететь ещё раз.

Хотя я знаю, что у меня хороший план, мне грусно, что я не могу скорее вернуть в россию.Иногда я бояюсь, что я забывать русский язык. Тоже у меня страх, что я буду писать хуже я сейчас пишу, ибо англиским и русским языком. Когда я была в России мой блог писался. Целые статьи ходили к уму. После возвращення даже профессор журналилистики сказала,что я лучше пишу статьи.

Но у меня надежда что всё будет хорошо. Мой профессор русского языка разрешил мне сидеть на своём занятие русской литературы. Тоже девушка из моего русского университета скоро будет в моём городе. Может быть мы вудем встречаться и разговорим по-русски.

~*~
(Translation of blog above)

What will happen?

Last Saturday, I graduated from my university. My family and friends watched as I walked across the stage at my ceremony. But what now?

I want to be an English teacher in Russia and had plans to return to Russia after my graduation. But I discovered that it would be better to staу and work in the city of my American university. I need to pay college debt before I move to Russia. And in around a year, I be able to fly there yet again.

Although I know that I have a good plan, I am sad that I cannot return to Russia sooner. Sometimes I am scared that I will forget Russian. Also, I have a fear that I will write worse than I do now, in English as well as in Russian. When I was in Russia, My blog wrote itself. Entire articles would come into my mind. After my return, even my journalism professor said that I wrote articles better than before.

But I have hope that all will be well. My Russian professor gave me permission to sit in on his Russian literature class. Also, a girl from my Russian university will soon be in my town. Maybe we can meet and converse together in Russian.

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lelaatwood
lelaatwood

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