Archive for October, 2010

American Culture Week/ Неделя Американской Культуры

Last week my institute held a variety of student led activities to celebrate American Culture. Students reported on the different regions of the U.S. and popular U.S. holidays. I impersonated the host of Jeopardy and tested students’ knowledge of the U.S. As one of the judges for the essay writing and poetry writing contests I realized how difficult it is to be impartial. Students also sang pop songs, break danced, performed skits from O. Henry stories, the sitcom “Friends” and a variety of movies. As impressed and proud I am of my students I wish I could have encouraged them to explore other facets of U.S. culture besides pop culture and Hollywood. I will devote the curriculum of English club to uncovering other facets of American culture as much as I can.

I am so relieved it’s all over! I felt responsible for everything and yet powerless to ensure everything went right. There was so much I couldn’t control. I couldn’t keep the projector from dying just before my presentation. I couldn’t ensure that the performances would begin on time or even count on knowing where the events would be held. I am learning how to “go with the flow” when everything doesn’t go the way I expect.

My favorite part of American Culture Week was probably baking a pumpkin pie with one of the students and discussing art. If this evening wasn’t enjoyable enough on my way home I was presented with a 12 piece spice rack.  I learned her  dad works for a spice company! I’ve been adding curry powder to my meat and potatoes devoutly.

The Linguistics department thanked me with a shiny bag of Italian coffee grounds. It’s funny that when instructors announced my name they paused at first as if searching for a title or my last name until they settled for saying: << A big thank you to . . . Наш Джессика!>> Hearing them call me “our Jessica” instead of the usual formal addresses made me laugh. I like hearing my name spoken so affectionately by Russians. Perhaps they get more delight from speaking my name because the ending sounds like one of the suffixes they add to names to show endearment.  For instance, a woman named Anna can be called “Annushka” by her parents, close friends or spouse.  I was going to insist Russians here call me by my middle name but I enjoy hearing Russians repeat my name with such enjoyment. I grew up with two other Jessicas in my classroom and considered my name to be the most unoriginal in our school (it didn’t help to have friends named Maya, Nai Fou and Elvira!). So yes, living in Russia is even making me grateful to be a Jessica.

On Friday I frolicked around puddles and took in the beautiful colors of Autumn while inhaling the wonderfully nostalgic smell of coffee from my thermos. It had just rained and the sun was reflecting light from all the puddles and wet leaves. I am told this weather is called <<грибный доджь>> but I affectionately call it <<Погода Портленда>> or the weather of Portland. At 53 degrees the weather is still warm for Volzhsky in late October and reminds me of my hometown. I’ve promised myself to savor every rain shower and blinding flood of sunlight that comes my ways while it’s still warm enough to enjoy (I can’t imagine loving it as much without snow at -22 degrees). Just when I thought the evening couldn’t get better my friend who lives close by joined me for a stroll. Afterwards we sipped the coffee (from an espresso machine my host family has!) with vanilla icecream and made a savory medley of buckwheat, veggies and spices. I couldn’t ask for a sweeter or more unexpected way to end the week!

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Coffee and Comradeship in Москва

Last Thursday I flew to Moscow for the in-country orientation for Fulbright ETAs (English Teaching Assistants), Scholars and other Student Fellows in Moscow. For those of us living outside of Moscow the Fulbright Office made arrangements for us at the Holiday Inn hotel. I’ve never been so grateful to see a Holiday Inn after navigating my way through the Moscow Metro system. Although I didn’t get lost there was something unnerving about practically being carried along by such a large crowd. I wonder if I would be able to turn around at all  in such a mob during rush hour. It took all my courage just to push my way on the train without getting caught in the doors. I still have much to learn about being assertive in Russia.

I wish I had an impressive list of all the museums and monuments I tried to visit during my short time in Moscow. Instead, I prioritized spending time with other ETA fellows to hear about their experiences, commiserate together, make plans and exchange ideas.  Two fellows even flew from Kamchatka and the Russian Far East (that’s an +8 hour flight and an 8 hour time difference!). Although I didn’t get to appreciate as much of Moscow as I would have liked I am glad I cherished my time with other Americans teaching across Russia.

I tried to stick with other ETA fellows as much as I could. We found ourselves searching for the tastes of home. We went on a treasure hunt to find peanut butter (only $8 for 350g). For three out of my four days in Moscow I visited bookstores. My favorite day in Moscow was spent sipping an overpriced (yet deliciously nostalgic) mocha, perusing the “Powell’s” bookstore of Moscow, strolling through Red Square and eating at a “pan Asian” restaurant (in search of “spicy” food, of course).

I know I will be in Moscow at least four more times. Overall, I realized that I much prefer my smaller city for its livability. I’ve decided not to take its better air quality and affordability for granted. I am delighted to have contacts all across Russia and hope to use them for travel. I still miss the Pacific Northwest and even the Russian Far East but I realize I have much to appreciate and explore where I am. Besides as someone very wise once told me,  it’s not where you’re placed that matters but the quality of your connections with that community. I hope to have our American/English Club running in the next week!

FYI: By the way, once I get an address you should consider donating to the “supply an American with peanut butter in Russia” fund. I somehow ate nearly half of my tiny jar already. Soooooo good. I think I will hide it so I can still have a PB&J party for my friends. My only fear now is that I will lose it. What to do?

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Я как ёжик в тумане

Over a month later and I still don’t know:

a) where I will live for the next 9 months

b) how I will continue studying Russian (classes vs. tutor)

c) the exact nature of my role in classes

I have been feeling like the porcupine in the fog. How I miss the predictability of life at Lewis & Clark College! Watching and sketching Russian cartoons has been my escape.

Please enjoy this classic short animated Russian film at this link:

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