April/May

Hello everyone!! Once again I am quite late and I apologize!! My last semester at Olaf was ridiculously busy and stressful. I didn’t realize until I logged on today that I’d accidentally labeled March as April, which mislead me into thinking I’d done a post for April when I hadn’t!! Consequently, this post will serve as both April’s update as well as¬†the FINAL post for my undergrad career!! I apologize for the tardiness and confusion. It seems the semester took a toll on my sanity. ūüėČ

Well, I can’t really remember much of April, although I can guess that a lot of things were coming to a head at that point. I had rough drafts of both of my political science seminar final papers due during this month, which was extremely taxing and stressful. I was also constantly behind in my Dostoevsky ethics class. Thank god most of that class was just reading and discussing in class or I’d have been toast. Russian language was equally stressful, mainly because I felt like I wasn’t dedicating as much time as I felt was appropriate for the class. I really wanted to do well for my professor, but she constantly gave us so much more new vocabulary to learn that I never was able to study to the point that I felt was sufficient. I’m extremely relieved that the semester is over, mainly because I was hanging by my fingertips most of the time, but despite this it was an extremely rewarding experience and I am proud to say that I am finished!

Dostoevsky ¬†ethics was a thorn in my side basically the entire semester. I found the material engaging and complex, but barely read the material sometimes and felt like I just didn’t have time to thoroughly ponder the ideas presented. I made sure to pay attention in class though to offset the fact that I wasn’t able to read as deeply as I would have liked! Boy did this help for the final exam! More than ever I learned this semester how to do enough to get by and to let go of my anal tendencies and need to do every little thing. Contrary to my expectations, I actually received a really great grade in the class, probably because the final was a take home, open book final (which meant I could do my work on my own time). The prompts were very abstract which meant that my responses could be equally abstract and objectively couldn’t be considered “correct” or “incorrect.” What mattered instead was the intellect displayed in the responses. In other words, the final simply required sufficient knowledge of Dostoevksy’s main philosophical ideas and discussions in order to form, in colloquial terms, a well-crafted bull**** response. Not to promote not finishing work, but I actually only ever managed to read less than 200 pages of Brothers Karamazov (a 780 page book…). I am personally still astounded that all turned out ok, despite this. I was also involved in a group project that created a fabulous Prezi game centered on the murder committed by Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment. This group project was a pain for most of the semester because the professor gave us lenient guidelines for the game, which subsequently required a significant amount of original conceptualizing ¬†on our part. So much time just discussing the form our project would take was spent before we did any physical work for developing a tangible product. The end result, however, turned out In sum, I AM SO HAPPY THIS CLASS IS OVER.

I suppose I’ll continue with recounting the last bit of my Russian Language class. My professor gave us new vocabulary literally until the end, including on our FINAL DAY. She is very… Good at what she does and manages to inspire in her students an urgency and desire to learn the words she gives out, but largely out of sheer terror at seeming stupid or lazy (or worse, both hahaha) in front of her genius. In other words, she gets stuff done. Despite her high expectations and far-left-lane-of-the-highway approach to teaching in class, I really appreciated her teaching style and overall wouldn’t have had it any other way. Plus, she actually ultimately rewards hard work, and my final grade was great! Our final took the form of a presentation on whatever topic we chose to do our mini research paper. There were only five people in the class so presentations didn’t take too long. I presented on the social and economic situation of Roma populations in Russia and Eastern Europe. If you didn’t know, Roma is the political correct and respectful for term for “gypsies.” This is actually part of my heritage, which is what inspired me to choose this topic. Although it was only a four page paper, it took forever to do because I had to write it in Russian!!! That was quite the task. Overall I really did enjoy this class, especially because everyone who went to Novgorod with me during fall semester was in it as well.

Although my political science seminars were ridiculously demanding and difficult to manage, I am ultimately most proud of my accomplishments in these two courses. Both demanded a large amount of reading along with large amounts of writing. Usually students take only one seminar per semester, but I had to take both of the required political science seminars required for the major this semester because I was in Russia for the fall semester. Combined, the two seminars are considered the “capstone” project for the PSCI major at Olaf. The end goal for each seminar taken is to have produced an original paper that addresses the topic of the course taken. So, I had to balance writing two seminar papers in one semester. Thank god the professor create a timeline of due dates for different parts of the papers or paralysis due to sheer overload would have resulted in deadly procrastination on my part. Although my PSCI seminars were challenging, I’d taken classes from both professors previously¬†and knew I absolutely loved them and their teaching styles.

The first seminar, titled Inequality in America, was extremely enlightening for me Becuse it provided a very stark picture¬†of politics and social issues in the United States. It is unfortunate just how systemicaly basic issues of human rights are suppressed and delayed. I won’t get into politics on here, but this course is one I think everyone should take in some form or other because it provides a very human account of how wronged some people are by factors out of their control. It is easy to use groups as scapegoats, and to relegate social problems to private spheres not of concern to the general public or government, ¬†when in fact those social issues are entirely public phenomena in their origins. ¬†Anyway, I learned a lot!! My seminar paper for this course ended up being super cool and fun even though gathering data for it was VERY VERY TEDIOUS. My paper is titled “Inequality in America: Do African-Americans Experimce Socioeconomic Change Due to the Flow of Foreign Born Residents?” I had to gather census data from 2000 and 2014 for the total population of foreign born and native born residents in the US by county (I only gathered data from three states!), as well as the median black household income for these two years. This was a difficult and tedious process because I had to do it by hand and the census from 2014 was different than the 2000 census, making it diffutly to compare data across years. It is quite amazing that there is such a lack in racially categorized immigration data! I ultimately found that at near significance (p = .101) immigration flow had a slight negative effect on the median household income of blacks from 2000 to 2014. Obviously there are many confounding variables that need to be accounted for, and these findings are limited and performed for undergraduate studies, but this paper was still a great exercise in conducting personal research.

My other seminar focused on humanitarian intervention and the issues that it faces within an international sphere that aims to balance state sovereignty yet promote democracy and alleviate suffering. Anthony Lott, the professor for this course, is my favorite professor at Olaf hands down. Although the beginning of the semester for this class was very stressful and challenging it got easier because we didn’t have class the last month of school (we were supposed to work on our papers). The seminar paper I produced for this course is something I am extremely proud of becuse I spent so much time and effort making sure I turned in a product that I was completely satisfied with. Lott did an excellent job guiding us through the process and giving us enough time to write, edit, rewrite, and perfect. This was the first time I’ve worked on something so thoroughly. We began writing segments of the paper in the first month, so the paper really did end up being a semester long project, unlike what occurs in most classes that claim to have such a project. My final paper was titled “Border Conflict: A Manifestation of Colonially Induced Identity Confusion.” As part of the humanitarian aspect of the course, the paper is centered on the failure of the UNMEE peacekeeping mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1998. My paper aims to explain the failure of the UN to help resolve the border dispute as a consequence of the colonial power dynamic that exists between former colonizer so (the Western dominated UN) and formerly colonized (Eritrea and Ethipia). I explain that this power dynamic engenders an environment where the identity that is consciously or subconsciously sought after by Eritrea and Ethiopia is limited by the fact that the Western dominated international community has control over the¬†an identity discourse that proves a limited framework within which state identity formation is able to occur. In light of this, I argue that hard borders (strict delineation of physical borders), and the legal framework that is employed when laws regarding “correct” conduct in regards to hard borders¬†breached are Western values imposed on Eastern states (look up Edward Said’s concept “Orientalism” for a better understanding of the West/East dichotomy that the world exists as). Because these values are imposed and not originating from the Eastern/formerly colonized states, I suggest that persistent border conflict (using the case of Eritrea and Ethiopia) is actually a product engendered by a history of colonial power dynamics which oppress the ability of certainty states to self-determine and creat and original identity. Admittedly, I hated this paper at first but gradually grew in love with it!

Lastly, piano lessons went fine. I thought I was doing really well but the professor thought otherwise. The grade I received in my piano lessons, which mind you are completely unnecessary and extracurricular, prevented me from graduating with academic honors. I’m still super salty about the fact that my grade in piano lessons is the only thing that prevented me from graduating cum laude (honors). I missed it by 0.01….. ANYWAY, most importantly, I finished my undergraduate education.

Just as as a summary for reference and clarification, I graduated with three majors (so three B.A. Degrees): Russian Area Studies, Russian Language, and Political Science. I also took piano lessons all four years, played softball freshman year, participated in juggling club freshman year, studied abroad for J-Term in Europe January of 2015, and studied a semester in Russia fall 2015. I made a ton of friends, lived in four different dorms, received a lot of life experience (both wanted and unwanted), and during intervening summers traveled to Bulgaria and met my birth family, worked as a lifeguard all four summers, coordinated VBS at my church the past two summers, and interned at Concord twice. The past four years went by REALLY FAST but strangely simultaneously feel like they took forever. So much has happened and while I am still Rumyana I am a very different person from the Rumyan who graduated from high school for years ago. I’ll bet you’re wondering what’s next!

WELL. In case you haven’t heard, I am actually headed back to Russia at the end of July for 10 months!!!! I will be teaching English in Moscow for the company Language Link. The entire Month of August is training, I begin teaching in September and will finish in May. Thank goodness there are actually going to be two other people from Olaf doing the same thing, and both of them are good friends of mine!!!

And now I’d like to thank everyone at Concord for your time and support the last four years. I appreciate the internship opportunities, the connections I’ve made, and everyone who takes the time to to read my really long blog posts! The time and effort put towards me is invaluable and I appreciate every bit of it.¬†I hope everyone is doing well and I hope we can stay in touch!

Sincerely yours,

Rumyana

 

 

March

Hello everyone! It seems amazing to me that I have made it through yet another month! As ¬†I expressed in my last post, this semester is me hanging off of a cliff by my fingertips. I so look forward to the day I never have to worry about homework again. The workload has managed to continuously increase and I am often doing yesterday’s homework today. The coming week is appearing to be the most demanding yet… I have a literature review due Thursday, a discussion response essay ¬†also due Thursday, a rough draft of my currently 30-page Russian Area Studies capstone paper due by Monday, a normal reading load (~80 pages per class per day for my two political science seminars), 700 pages of Brothers Karamazov to finish, a response piece on an out-of-class seminar I attended, and a research paper for Russian Language. Oh, and practicing piano. And that’s not all of it, considering I am probably forgetting something. Wowwwwwwwwwwwww. Anyway, it’ll all get done somehow. It helps that I had spring break last week, right before Easter. I loved being home and although I did not do nearly as much homework as I had envisioned, I was able to have a much needed mental break. Also, I got to increase the average hours of sleep per night I’ve been getting. I slept 12.5 hours straight, just dead to the world, the first night of break. It was fabulous.

Despite the crazy length of my to-do list I am still enjoying my classes and participating in activities outside of class, such as running, piano, naps, procrastination, hanging out with friends, and going on walks. More than ever before I’ve had to learn to just do my best and let go of the rest. A lot of the pressure I feel and put on myself is easily discarded when I remember that in the larger scheme of things missing a 20-page reading is not a tragedy! Being able to do a lot of things at a moderate¬†level of production is getting me by right now and I know for sure that, unless something really disastrous occurs, my grades and my GPA will probably be static. My focus has definitely turned from a “get s*** done” mentality to “do what you can and enjoy it”. Hell, it’s my last semester and I will be graduating with three B.A. degrees! So, I keep that in mind and just keep going ‘cuz I am here to learn after all!

My humanitarian intervention class is extremely engaging. I love the readings (for the most part) and am so interested in the structure of the international community and the factors that affect its functioning. Really, it’s crazy thinking about why things are the way they are! Why is the US so powerful? Do we really “help” people or is everything, to some extent, at some basic level, self-interested? Perhaps this is pessimistic ¬†but the power structures in place (and their effects), not only in regards to politics and the international community but everywhere, are intriguing to think about! I had to turn in a research design for my final paper in this class right before break, but I did it the night before (of course) and thought I did a poop job on it. However, I got it back today and I didn’t remember my topic being so interesting! Maybe time and distance from it gave me¬†a better perspective. My topic concerns the failure of the peace mission UNMEE in Eritrea and Ethiopia, and the causes for its lack of success in managing the border dispute between these two countries. It is quite a complicated issue.

My other political science seminar, Inequality in America, is equally captivating. We have discussed many facets of inequality, i.e. education, income, wealth, immigration, race, gender, taxes, state policies and a lot more all influence and play a role in the rising inequality gap between the rich poor! My political science courses this semester have definitely turned me towards a more Hobbesian view of the world. The more you learn, the more you realize just how fabricated everything is! Right before break I had a literature review due for this class. I stayed up all night the night before it was due (it’s kind of an informal tradition that I do all of my papers for this professor the night before they’re due haha). My topic is still in progress, but I am very interested in exploring how immigrant groups in America fare compared to native minorities (minority groups born in America, like African-Americans) in regards to socioeconomic success as well as the relationships between the two groups.

I am totally falling off the dang wagon in my Dostoevsky ethics course. Oops. I barely managed to read Crime and Punishment before my midterm right before break. That book is 580 pages and I read probably 400 of them in the two days preceding the exam. Gosh I love doing things last minute. I think I did well on the midterm considering it was ethics-based questions regarding Dostoevsky and the literature we’d read prior to the midterm (White Nights, The Underground Notes, and Crime and Punishment). In other words, the exam was a great opportunity to not study and just bs the ethics stuff. You can do that with ethics, you know. ¬†My professor was cruel and assigned us Brothers Karamazov over spring break (780 pages). Right now I’ve read through a solid 70 pages. Rumyana for the win! Sometimes I almost get manic just thinking about how much I haven’t done. I am also supposed to be working on a group final project for this class, but I’ve sort of let that hang out on the beach. Eh, it’ll get done at some point, right?

Last but not least my Russian Language class! I was very, very, uncharacteristically prepared for class two days ago. I figured I’d rack up some good points before I got behind again so that they could offset my future lack of preparedness. Needless to say, that was my state of being already by the second day of class after break. Haha. But, I somehow manage to bump along through class and fool the professor into thinking I know Russian! We basically just get lengthy lists of new vocabulary every couple of weeks and continuously feel like hamsters on a wheel to nowhere. I have retained some vocabulary of course, but there are always so many new words and I really do try to study them when I can, but the issue is that in addition to long lists of foreign words she gives us homework!! However, I love that she pushes us and has such high expectations, I wouldn’t have it any other way honestly.

Piano is going slow, but well. I used to be quite anal about practicing an hour a day, but I’ve had to let that go. Some days I simply don’t have the time. It helps so much that I LOVE my piece. It is so beautiful.

Well I’ve got to dip out quite abruptly right now because I am attending a political science guest speaker lecture on Trump and why he’s a thing right now. It should be very interesting! I hope all is well with everyone and happy spring!

Peace,

Rumyana

February

Hello everyone! I apologize for the late post, I have a crazy busy semester. You haven’t heard from me since I came back from Russia. I had no trouble with re-entry, in fact the transition was quite easy and I’ve actually been in school for two months now. I took an independent study course for J-term, meaning I didn’t take a typical course with a whole bunch of other students. Instead, I worked one on one with my Russian professor on my Russian Area Studies Major capstone project, which is a really roundabout way of saying I worked on a paper. Interim was super chill and not too demanding, so my transition to the more demanding academic atmosphere of St. Olaf also went smoothly. This semester is a different story though!

I am taking four 300-level courses this semester. That alone is atypical-they are usually¬†the hardest level of classes at Olaf. However, three of the four 300-level courses are also seminars, which is basically the only category of class that trumps the difficulty of 300-levels. Two of my seminars are political science seminars, meaning I read A LOT. And, I write A LOT. My third seminar is also a mind twister because it addresses ethics in Dostoevsky’s literature. Needless to say, I don’t get all the work done and I feel like I’m logrolling constantly. However, this doesn’t mean I’m not having fun! Although this is my most difficult semester yet, I’m surviving! Even though it’s sad, it helps knowing I just have to make it through this last semester and then I’m done!

One of my political science seminars discusses international relations in the context of humanitarian aid and intervention. I am never bored in this class and the stuff we read keeps me on my toes! You would not believe how much confounding information there is on humanitarian aid alone. For example, we’ve discussed the fact that the definition of humanitarianism itself presents many problems because it shapes the actions of states and IGO’s and can change the course of so many peoples’ lives. Simply because of a definition. The professor for this class is one of my favorites at Olaf, and this is my third course with him!

My other political science seminar is equally intriguing. It focuses on the domestic issue of inequality in America (although it is affected by international factors and has ramifications on a global level). It is absolutely amazing and astounding just how institutionalized the gap between the rich and poor is. For those of you who have doubts about the sources of inequality in America, whether it be income, rights, education, or ability, I assure you it exists¬†on purpose. I’ve read enough academic literature to know now that while people can always do something to try to improve their lot in life, it will always be limited by institutionalized inequality. And to know that the information that proves this is readily and publicly available, while people try to deny that it is so, is just ridiculous! Anyway, enough of politicizing my blog.

My last seminar is Dostoevsky ethics. I’m a wee bit behind, oops. By tomorrow I have to read the last three hundred pages of Crime and Punishment. No pressure! While this class is interesting, it’s not exactly engaging and it tends to get the short end of the stick in terms of how much effort I dedicate to it because there is no way I can pay the same amount of attention to all of my classes! There is just not enough time. However, I am very glad to be reading some classic Russian literature because as a Russian major I feel like it’s kind of necessary!

My last class is Russian language. I thought this would be my chill class this semester and that I could have ¬†break in at least one class, but NOPE my professor is freaking hard core and smashes us with homework constantly. And it’s a whole bunch of grammar and verbs and vocab that is entirely unfamiliar to me. Needles to say, I do a lot of last minute cramming for quizzes. I love the professor though, and knowing that she definitely means the best and just wants to challenge us inspires me to try as best I can when I am able to do so.

I am once again taking piano lessons. Granted, it is more time out of my life, but I love playing it and wanted to finish college out taking piano lessons. My piece for this semester is absolutely beautiful! It’s called Hymn: Prelude, one of the pieces from Mikhail Medtner’s Romantic Sketches. I definitely haven’t been practicing as much as I should, but I’m sure I can figure out the piece by my jury in May!

One last interesting development in my school life is that I think I am going to join the track team! I have been running a lot in the gym and in the past week and a half I’ve had several people from the track teams ask me to join! It will definitely complicate my life tim-wise, but perhaps it will force me to utilize my time a little better. I actually went on a run yesterday with the MIAC women’s pentathlon champ, who is on the St. Olaf track team. I was so intimidated, but it went great!

I’ve got to go now because I have literally piles of homework to do, but I hope everyone’s weekend went well! Until next time!

Peace,

Rumyana

 

A December to Remember

Hello everyone! I am currently on the plane from Paris to Detroit, en route to home, which is hard for me to believe. The day I left for Russia was an extremely important day for me because I’d been preparing for it at some level months prior to it felt like it took forever to arrive, but when I left it seemed as if it came in no time at all. Leaving Russia today mirrors that day because again I looked forward to this day for months. It’s the final leg of a very unique and life changing journey. Of course I enjoyed my time abroad, it was the experience of a lifetime.

I’ve always had an issue with time, often thinking it goes too slow, yet just as often thinking it goes too fast. Time can be your friend, but it can also be your enemy. With time comes experience. With time comes maturity. With time always comes shifting prescriptions for seeing life. Time is an anomaly, a paradox, it’s a contradiction, and it’s an enigma. Four months is a lot of time, but it is also so little when considered in the context of an entire life. I don’t know what I expected from Russia, I really don’t. I just remember thinking that when I came back I’d know so much and that I’d have gone through something really special. At the simplest level I went to learn Russian language and culture firsthand, I went to fulfill college credits, and I went to meet requirements for my major. But so much more came out of this experience than I ever could have imagined.

I’d say the best way to phrase what’s changed in general is my outlook on life and the ability to embrace the all-encompassing definitions of words or concepts, which are usually interpreted in limited, one-dimensional ways. My family has grown. It’s no longer the narrow definition of my mom and dad and brother and relatives in America. I have a mom and a dad and relatives in Russia now too. I don’t have a home only in America, I have a home in Russia too. I’ve experienced different educational systems and have realized the merits and disadvantages of each. I came to accept and embrace cultural aspects of Russia I thought were at first weird or corny. I lived in a one-floor Russian apartment, which is about as Russian as your living arrangements can get, and got to experience both the simple efficiency and total poopiness of Russian public transportation. I walked literally everywhere in Novgorod and on my many walks I saw things I wouldn’t have seen in a car, smelled things I wouldn’t have smelled on the bus, heard snippets of conversations that never would have reached my ears. Seeing people simply living every day in Russia, just like they do in America, really hammered home for me the concept that people everywhere in the world are simply trying to live their lives in the sphere of life available to them. And for me to have the ability to completely change the spheres of life in which I live within a matter of hours is an absolute gift.

My last few weeks went really well and were filled with many “lasts”, although my host parents kept telling me nothing was the final time per se. I passed all of my classes. We didn’t really have exams, just final tests or mini papers for each class. I am so glad we didn’t really have finals like at Olaf! We ended the program with a bang and had a big, super fancy banquet with all of our teachers the last Saturday, which is when we received our certificates of completion. There was a bunch of traditional Russian food and never ending toasts and champagne! Good thing the toasts were typically Russian and longwinded otherwise I might have been drunk (they were happening every five minutes or so). It was awesome being able to hang out with our professors in a non-professional setting, something I’ve rarely really done in America. Life went on and felt pretty normal, actually, until we left today, so it has been really weird just jumping from being in the small city of Novgorod to flying back to America in less than a day.

Yesterday evening my host mom cooked a final going away dinner for me. She decided I’d had enough of Russian food so she made lasagna, which I think she thought was very American, but it’s really more Italian I think haha. She knows I love red wine so she gave me red wine too, while she drank white wine. It turned out to be a fantastic evening because we ended up talking for three hours while slowly getting wine drunk. This was due to the fact that Volodya (my host dad) sort of just left the dinner conversation to us and took on the role of butler, silently refilling our glasses with wine. You can’t say no to Russian hospitality, so I gladly went with the flow (no pun intended). Amazingly I was able to speak in Russian for the entire evening with my host mom. We discussed a lot of topics, for example culture and politics in America vs. Russia, experimenting when your young, professions and what I wanted to do after Russia, about my time in Novgorod, and so forth. It was reassuring for me to be able to talk to her so much! I made a toast at dinner even though I felt super awkward about it because I’ve always thought toasts are corny and awkward. However, culturally they are very important in Russia, especially at an occasion like a farewell dinner, so I got over my awkwardness and shyness and said one. I could tell they were really touched and appreciated it. ūüôā

There are a lot of little differences in lifestyle that I will be looking forward to experiencing when I return to America. Among them include potable water, having actual toilet seats on the toilets in public restrooms, the commonly held value that washing your hands is generally a good idea, coffee, the free provision of toilet paper in public restrooms, respect for personal bubbles of space, the lack of pressure to drink vodka as a guest, the lack of pressure to deny anything as a guest, nice clean streets that aren’t perpetually muddy, and probably a lot more I can’t think of. On the other hand I am going to miss chai at every meal, borsch (basically the best soup ever), the wonderful amount of history everywhere, the walking friendly environment of the cities, guaranteed burning hot showers every night, beautiful parks, hearing accordions play in the Kremlin, flower stands at the bus stops, wonderful Russian hospitality, blini every Saturday and Sunday morning for breakfast, and so much more!

Thank you so much to everyone in my life for you support, care, and love!! I appreciate every bit of it and there is no way I would be where I am without the collective effort and contributions of all the loving and caring people in my life. You guys are all great, thanks for enabling me to have such a wonderful experience abroad! If you have questions I haven’t answered or are just curious about things I haven’t discussed feel free to text me, Facebook message, email me, or do whatever works for you! Happy Holidays!

 

Peace,

Rumyana

 

November in Russia

Hello everyone! Here I am, still in Russia, but I will be home by the time my next blog post goes up. A lot has happened since my last post: I had my two week fall break and have already been back in classes for three weeks. The weather has significantly changed and the routines I established in the first two months have been replaced with new ones.

On fall break I went to Moscow first, by train, at night. My friend Amanda and I unfortunately ended up in a compartment with a crying child and her mother. Needless to say, we did not sleep much. I must say, Russian children yell, scream, and are generally¬†cacophony to one’s ears, especially the boys. This was just one of many unpleasant train rides. We arrived to Moscow at 5am and had to walk around and pass time for 7 hours until we could get to our apartment. We were all dead tired, it was cold and rainy, and we had too much time to kill. We most definitely shamelessly overstayed our welcome at a restaurant. All we bought was tea and some appetizers, but we were there for a couple of hours. I even charged¬†my phone. We just pretended to be stupid foreigners, that’s usually a good card to play.¬†¬†Finally, we later got to our apartment but had a lot of difficulty finding it. Addresses in Russia are bit confusing because sometimes they only tell the building number, but not where the entrance is (there are different entrances for different blocks of apartments). However, we eventually figured everything out. Our apartment had a hot tub big enough for the four of us! Say hello to wine and chocolate in the tub. The highlights of Moscow were riding the metro, walking through the parks, seeing a ballet at the Bolshoi, and the freedom of living in our own apartment. Every morning we went to a little bakery right next to our apartment and bought breakfast for only 100 or so rubles (that’s less than $1.50). The piroshki from there are still the best I’ve had in Russia. After the Bolshoi my feet hurt so bad from my heels that I just took them off and ran the last few blocks to my house barefoot even though the temperature was in the 30’s. So much walking in Russia.

After Moscow we went to the South of Russia on a 33-hour train ride. It was… charmingly terrible. We left Moscow on a Saturday and arrived in Stavropol early Monday morning. The first night on the train, around 10pm, some Russian students our age heard us speaking English and found out we were Americans. They were extremely excited, asked us to show them our passports, and when they saw them became even more excited. True to Russian hospitality they immediately brought over their questionable combination of food (random slices of deli meat, cheese, kit kats, bags of weirdly flavored chips) and of course bottles of vodka. Needless to say we ended up having an impromptu party in the wagon of the train and I’m sure everyone hated us because we¬†were so loud. That group of Russians by Monday morning, when we arrived, had gone through about 7-8 bottles of vodka. What a cheerful, lively group. At every stop that we were able to get off and stretch their group would get off and do¬†exercises as a group, yelling inspirational words to each other.

Our friend Anya, who lives in Stavropol, hosted us while we visited. We actually went on a two day excursion to Nalchik, a city in the Caucuses, and met some of her Kabardinskii friends. I was quite nervous the entire time for several reasons: they drove crazy as hell, nothing was ever planned, and when we went to the mountains we drove on some very sketchy switchbacks. I was definitely glad when that day was over and I was safely in my bed. We also swam in hot springs while we were in Nalchik, a pretty wonderful experience. We left Nalchik the next day. I’ve since heard that there have been two terrorist attacks in Nalchik. ¬†We timed our trip well.

After Nalchik we headed back to Stavropol by bus, but stopped in Pyatigorsk on the way. Unless you like water that tastes like a hard boiled egg I’d suggest not trying the powerful healing mineral waters there. There are many disgusting flavors you can try and apparently they all do something different for your health. Pretty sure if you weren’t sick before you’d be sick after. The rest of our time in Stavropol was simply peaceful, thank goodness. I’d say our trip wasn’t much of a break per se because we barely slept, still had to do everything in Russian of course, traveled approximately 80 hours counting only the trains and buses, and all of four of us ended up being sick in some capacity by the time we returned to our home base in Novgorod. In fact, the lady who heads our program here canceled the last half of our first week of classes back from break. Each class we take here has a time requirement, so we couldn’t miss too much class. To make up for time lost though we’ve had classes five days a week the last two weeks and again next week.

The past two weeks have been a lot of school because we had four classes a day Mon-Fri pretty much, but next week is much easier with only Monday having four classes. Since I got back from break I’ve been much busier than I was before. I am playing the piano in a wedding in December after I return and got fairly short notice. I hadn’t touched the piano since last May, so I was very nervous agreeing to play for the preludes, but I knew I needed something to occupy my time and missed playing piano so much. Thank goodness my host mom was able to arrange a place for me to play piano, they are quite difficult to find in Novgorod. The university doesn’t have any I can use as far as know. I also got a gym membership since the weather isn’t really conducive to running anymore. November has been very wet, muddy, and icy, though today we finally got pure snow!! It is very difficult getting to the gym because it is in a weird place where not many buses go directly or in a timely manner. Thus, my days are pretty much filled with just going to class, to the gym, then to piano. Yesterday I never even got to the gym because I couldn’t figure out which bus would get me there best. By the time I’d made three transfers and spent 45 minutes joyriding around the city I gave up and went home.

There’s too much to say! I haven’t even adressed everything on the list I made to remind myself what I should write about when I wrote this. To think I was worried about having enough material. I guess I’ll just have to tell you guys some things in person. As I said before, I have three weeks left. I’m pretty much just lollygagging through life, doing the bare minimum of what’s necessary and then just chilling out about the rest. I’m definitely looking forward to going home but there are a lot of fun things to look forward to in the next few weeks! I’ll see everyone on the other side soon!

Peace,

Rumyana

Halfway Through!

Hello everyone! Believe it or not I’ve been here two whole months already! I am officially halfway through my classes here. In terms of adjusting, I feel very at home here in Novgorod. While four months isn’t a very long time in the scheme of life, it’s a long time to live somewhere. I pass the same stores, the same bus stops, the same accordion players, the same beggars, the same Kremlin, the same dirt road, the same buildings, the same billboards almost every day. I’ve had Russian students ask me why I chose to live and study in Novgorod. To them, it is a small and limiting town, but for me it’s been a perfect fit. It’s small enough that I am not overwhelmed, but big enough that I am not suffocating. I can be in a familiar environment if I want to be, yet I can still find places to see and things to do that are novel. There’s a lot of history everywhere I go, and although the roads are terrible and nothing is standardized (staircases never have steps of all the same height), it adds to the unique and quaint atmosphere of Novgorod. I thought I’d get bored walking around the Kremlin so often, or walking along the same shore of the river, but I’ve yet to see Novgorod as it changes throughout the year. With the changing seasons nothing is new and everything I see is really the first time I’ve seen it.

I went to St. Petersburg last weekend. This city is huge, grand and beautiful. The city center was very large, with many long, never ending, straight streets branching off in various directions. They were framed with an unbroken¬†line of old buildings, all giving off a sense grandness and importance. The architecture was obviously old, the original designs still clearly evident. I loved the¬†sense of permanence, of history, of grandeur that Saint Petersburg embodied. I visited the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, which was absolutely the most beautiful church I’ve seen, but perhaps I’ll say that again when I see St. Basils in Moscow. My friends and I also went to the Hermitage. We walked around for three hours (I know, it’s not long enough), but there were so many intricately detailed rooms, endless paintings, an excess of all things gold and silver, lengthy chasmic halls filled with objects from all eras of history, that it was impossible to not become desensitized to the grand scale of it all. I walked in thinking, “wow this is excessive but beautiful” and walked out exhausted and glad to leave,¬†because it was so much to take in.¬†Each¬†room in that museum was historically, culturally, and monetarily more valuable than anything I’ve ever seen. We walked miles around the museum and tried our best to at least visit every floor, but there was just not enough time to appreciate everything! Our professor told us some crazy fact that if you were to spend three minutes looking at every object in that museum you’d be there for 15 years. Hello no, I’m not doing that.

I went on fall break a few days ago. Classes have stabilized now, and we have a fairly consistent schedule of three classes on Mon, Wed, Thur, and four on Tue. We originally had five classes which rotated, but the professor for our Lexicon class moved from Novgorod in early October so we were forced to finish her class¬†very quickly. Each class has a required amount of hours, so we had to fit the rest of the hours for Lexicon into the first two weeks of October. It was crazy and I hated it because we had four classes in a row every day for two weeks and then two classes on Friday plus our field trips, which usually happen on Fridays. I was in class more than I would have been if I were at Olaf taking a full course load. At first we had A LOT of homework, about 4-6 hours every night Sun-Thur. However, that has lightened up to about two hours, maybe three if we have a big test. I am definitely much better at listening to people speak Russian and understanding them, as wells as at speaking. Improvement is¬†going a lot slower than I ever expected, but expanding my vocabulary has been the most important thing. A couple of days ago I managed to speak with my host mom in Russian for about an hour and I was so proud of myself! Haha, you’d never expect to be happy to be able to sustain a conversation, it might seem¬†like such a juvenile thing when you’re 22 years old, but it’s pretty cool.

I’m writing this post a bit early because tomorrow I head out by train for Moscow with the other three students from Olaf and will not be taking my computer with. We’ve had some very great bonding experiences and I am looking forward to sharing an apartment with them in Moscow. College students on a budget makes for some very interesting compromises. In Moscow we don’t have an explicit plan, but obviously we will be visiting places like St. Basil’s and the Red Square. We’re going ride around the metro just for the heck of it because it’s pretty cool and one of the guys on the trip is obsessed with it. After Moscow, we well be heading to Stavropol on Halloween, a city in southern Russia. When people say Russia is huge it is an understatement. Our train ride to Moscow is seven hours. No big deal. But our train ride from Moscow to Stavropol is going to be 33 hours. We will sleep two nights and ride a whole day on a train! That’s not even the worst! We will make that trip in one go on the way back from Stavropol. We originally¬†were going to go to Stavropol by bus, but decided that sitting up for 22 hours was not plausible. I look forward to telling everyone all about my experiences on fall break! I hope everyone¬†is well!

Peace,

Rumyana

I’m in Russia!

Hello everyone,

In case you didn’t know, I am in Russia for this semester! I am finishing up my Russian Language major here. I am doing a homestay in Veliky Novgorod, a city a few hours south of St. Petersburg and am taking classes at Yaroslav the Wise Novgorod State University. My host family is wonderful and very kind. My host mom’s name is Natasha and my host dad is Vladimir. They have three grandchildren who visit sometimes. The youngest is Miron, who is about three years old. He’s super cute and talks in Russian with an adorable little kid voice, but sometimes he’s a little too crazy for me. He loves to run around the house in his underwear and a t-shirt with his toy cars vrooming around on anything and everything while yelling at the top of voice. He has spit in my face before. Akim and Nastya are the other two grandchildren and they are siblings. Akim is 7 and Nastya is 11. Both are very intelligent for their age! I’ve played Akim at chess a few times and I’ve won every time (as I should), but he’s definitely hung on long enough a¬†couple of times so that I was mildly worried a 7-year old was giving me a run for my money. Nastya is really artsy and good at cooking. She brought over an apple cake one day, which was absolutely wonderful. She made it all herself, with no help. I’ve also seen some art she’s created and it’s very good! Some of it is from when she was only three years old! I have my own room, which is usually the kid’s playroom. I have a TV that is across the room right in front of my bed. I love to have channel 46 on while I do homework. This channel has all the worst music videos you could ever want to see in your life. Channel 45 has a TV show that I watch regularly here, although I have no idea what’s going on. All I know is that there’s some time travel involved, old Britain, some soldiers, a couple evil dudes, a lady who people think is a witch, and of course some romantic drama. It’s entertaining enough without English.

School is a bit more difficult than I was expecting. The first 2-3 weeks were literally headache inducing because everything was in Russian. I’m still pretty bad at listening to people speak Russian, but reading and writing are definitely better. I always freak out at the store when I buy something because I am afraid I won’t hear the cash register person say the amount I owe. Thank goodness the amount is usually shown. One time I tried to buy candy, but it was the kind that you have to separate because its charged according to the weight. Well, I found a box with “assorted” candy and thought “Perfect! I won’t have to use a whole bunch of bags”! I got to the register and the lady said something to me about how the candy needs to be separated and I most definitely just stood there while she separated the candy and charged me accordingly. ¬†I didn’t have the vocabulary to tell her that’s how I found it so I just had to deal with her thinking I’m a dumb American. Classes always begin at 10am and usually we have three to four a day, ending at about 1:30pm. We get quite a bit of homework and are tested all the time it seems so I have to constantly study. We only have classes Mon-Thur though which is awesome! I love three day weekends. However, every Friday we do have to go on a field trip to some place of importance in Novgorod where a guide tells us its history. The guide talks to us in English so we can understand full what we’re being told, but then we always have to write up a summary of what we learned in Russian and turn it in. At the end of October we get a two week break, which I am looking forward to so much!

There are three other people from Olaf who are studying with me in Novgorod this semester. Three of us have taken Russian classes and other ones together at Olaf, so we knew each other before the trip, and the other guy we all had met and knew of. There are two guys and two girls. I live really close to Amanda so I go to her place a lot because my family doesn’t have wi-fi. It absolutely sucks. I have t-mobile, which supposedly has internet in Russia, but its very spotty and not reliable. The first weekend I tried to buy a USB modem and get internet that way, but my computer won’t connect to the internet and the store wouldn’t let me return the modem so that endeavor was a failure. Language can definitely be a barrier sometimes. On our break, me and the other three students here are going to Moscow together by train. We found an apartment that’s super cheap, which we will be staying at while we are there. We already bought tickets to a ballet performance at the Bolshoi Theatre while we are there. I AM SO EXCITED FOR THAT. Now I can tell my Russian professor from last year how cultured I am. ūüôā The weekend before that we are planning to do a small weekend trip to Petersburg so that we can visit the Hermitage Museum, Tsarckoye Selo (Tsar’s village, where Pushkin studied at the Lyceum), and perhaps see a performance at the Marinskii Theatre, formerly the Kirov. On our second week of fall break we will be going to Stavropol to visit our Russian friend Anya, who was the Russian Fulbright at Olaf last year. We became very good friends while she was at Olaf, she’s a really great person. She actually stayed at my house for a week at the beginning of the summer before she went back to Russia. Now, I will be staying at her place for a week on my fall break in Russia. Having such good friends half a world away is pretty darn cool. ¬†I brought a jar of Skippy peanut butter for her because they don’t sell peanut butter in Russia, and also a picture of my cat because she fell in love with him while she was at my house.

There are definitely some umm cultural differences in Russia. First of all, everyone on the street generally has RBF (if ya’ll don’t know what that means ask a teenager). Random smiling here is just plain weird and maybe creepy. I’ve been told several times back home that I have RBF, so I fit in just fine here with that. Russian drivers are absolutely crazy, traffic signs aren’t very nice to drivers. I’ve seen the results of fender benders several times already and that is not a fun experience here. In America you exchange information and leave and figure things out later, but I’ve seen cars just sitting in the same exact spot and position they bumped into each other for hours. I don’t know how they deal with it here, but getting into a car crash is super serious from what I can tell. Another thing is that people do not walk on one side of the sidewalk!! It is so bothersome! I have had people literally run into me because they won’t give me enough space to walk by them. I also had a biker hit me in the arm with his handlebar as he passed by because apparently saying excuse me or ding ding when you pass pedestrians here just isn’t a thing. I’ve also had to run out of the way of a biker before when I heard tires screeching behind me. It was some dumb teenage boys. ¬†I knew that going to Russia¬†meant was going to come back with some interesting stories, but I did not expect there to be a daily supply of these. One day I was walking over a pedestrian bridge to the Novgorod Kremlin and some girls ahead of me were laughing and looking behind them and pointing at this guy. At first I just glanced and looked away, but they kept doing it so I looked back at him and gave him a closer look and he just had a gun in his hand resting on his shoulder!! Needless to say I calmly walked a little faster over the bridge and got the hell out of there.

Russian don’t really live in houses. Instead, they live in apartments. When I first entered¬†the apartment building where I stay I thought it was a little sketchy because the entrance lobbies are not cute. However, apartment doors are huge and really nice, usually of¬†wood and some have patterns on them, along with three locks! And sometime there are two doors! The inside of the apartments are so not predictable considering the facades of the buildings they are in, but they are actually super nice. They are just one floor with about four rooms, but everything is really good quality, at least from what I’ve experienced. The living room floor, at least, has a really nice carpet and their drink ware is very high quality.

Tea is definitely the drink of choice here. I am so obsessed with it now. I found this wonderful restaurant that has milk oolong tea, which I’d never had before Russia, and it is actually magical. I once ordered a large pot of it for just myself and the waitress definitely thought I was weird. People do not drink coffee here really and it is sad. My host family has instant coffee, which is actually bearable, and I drink it for the first few days, but the half and half here is not really up to my standards and so I decided drinking coffee wasn’t worth it here. I gave it a last go at a restaurant early on and ordered an Americano and chugged it because it was so nasty. Immediately after I felt like throwing up. Needless to say, I haven’t drank coffee for a whole month. I guess that’s good? Nah, the second I get back I will get some good old American coffee with some good old half and half that is actually half and half. Fun fact, all pasta here is called macaroni… (or with a Russian accent Mah-kah-rrony). Additionally, they love their sour cream. Sour cream is always appropriate. In America the saying goes there ain’t no thang like a chicken wang, but here it’s there ain’t no thang like some sour cream. Sour cream goes in soup. It goes on pancakes. It can go with your potatoes. Or your tomatoes. Or your pelmeni. It’s man’s best friend.

I’ve definitely had some very embarrassing language moments. During the first week one of the other host moms said bye to all of us at the university and I excitedly responded with “hello”! in Russian… I definitely meant to say bye. Oops. At least both bye and hello start with a d? Another time the teacher asked in class if we knew the word for “drinks”. I totally knew, so I bursted out with “Napiskii”! Well I was one letter off and in Russian one letter off with an accent is a recipe for just looking really stupid. Another time in class apparently the teacher had asked if we had eaten the Russian soup “Shi”, but I thought she had asked if we knew the ingredients in it, because the slideshow showed a picture of a bowl of soup. So, she asked “Hey, have you eaten this soup”? and I said “Potatoes”! She laughed at me.

I’m getting better at Russian (I think) slowly but surely. I can read more and more of street signs every day, and words and phrases sometimes come to my head without me really have to work hard for them. Novgorod is a very charming city, I love walking under the road and hearing accordians play. When the weather is good it is absolutely beautiful. I wasn’t much of a walker before I came here, but walking around is so peaceful and nice and relaxing, even though people are always staring at me. Somehow they know I’m not a Russian. If they don’t they definitely know when I open my mouth. I’ve also been running a lot here since gyms really aren’t a great option (membership fees), although the university gym is supposed to open in October. I’m doing well, having fun, and learning a lot. I hope everyone is having a great fall at home. I look forward to telling you guys more about my experience next month!

Peace,

Rumyana