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Exams and Saying Goodbye

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So the object of much anxiety arrives. Up until about two weeks before it had always felt like they were miles away and then suddenly they were right on top of us. Exams two weeks away! Ahhh! Mostly everyone in my class needed to pass in order to take classes in Russian the next year (which I couldn’t imagine being able to do after only 6 months–they were college classes, in Russian. How?!?!?!), but I didn’t so my fear wasn’t entirely as founded as it was for them, though I wanted to make sure that I at least passed so that the course would transfer and count as credit at my college in the US. I don’t know how important it was for that to happen, considering that I had all the credits I needed to graduate. But I was also concerned for my scholarships and things; it’s always better when you pass your classes, right?

We had an exam in each class, so five altogether. The Phonetics class’ exam was just that we had to write a letter to a friend about a certain topic. There were 9 (actually 10 but they said one wasn’t going to be on because it was too hard–about our home country)  topics, and on the day of the exam we would pick a slip of paper at random and have to write about whatever topic was on the slip. Topics included: My Family, My Hometown, My University, My Dormitory, My Weekday, My Weekend, Holidays of My Home Country, Russian Holidays, and Yekaterinburg. Every week throughout the course we’d get a different topic to write a practice letter about. It was really great though cause the teacher (remember, she was the great pictionary one) would go through it with us in class and help us to write it. We’d write it sentence by sentence as a class. With topics like My Hometown and Holidays of My Home Country, where the letters would be different for each person, she would help us individually too. It was great because the repetitions of the introductions (greetings) and the ends of the letters each week made them easy to remember and it was really just the middle part about the topic that you had to change for each letter. When time came closer for exams I just made sure to memorize the beginning and end of the letter and study certain phrases that would help for the different topics. I got Russian Holidays on the day of the exam, which most people thought was one of the the hardest ones, but it was relatively easy because we lived through all the holidays and there was plenty to write about.

Another good thing was that a lot of the writing ones overlapped with the speaking exam topics. Speaking, for me, was the scariest exam (though most people thought of it as one of the easiest) because you had to talk with the teacher about whatever topic you picked in front of the whole class. Now, we were totally used to messing up in front of each other by that point, but still there is a level of embarrassment when it’s for an exam and you know everybody’s listening. The topics of Speaking were: Russian Cooking, My Future Profession, Transport, The Doctor, Cultural Activities, and a bunch that overlapped with the Phonetics ones; My Hometown, Yekaterinburg, Russian Holidays, My Dormitory, My Weekday, and My Weekend. So, 11 altogether. The ones from Writing I didn’t have to worry about because they were all set, I just neede to make sure I could remember key vocab for the other topics. On the day of the actual exam, it was actually pretty good because we could use a dictionary at first to make some notes and also my favorite teacher was there before the speaking teacher and the head of the department (who would also be listening in on the exam) got there and she let us pick a few times in order to get topics we were better prepared for. I ended up with My Weekday and it was pretty good. The department head asked me a few questions (mostly stuff about the kids) and I was super nervous and it was totally obvious in my voice, but since I sat in the front of the class, I actually went first and didn’t have to talk super loud because of that so only the teachers really had to hear me and I could feel more like I was just talking with them and not the whole class. Also it was good because we practiced twice in class a few days before and that made it easier.

The two easiest exams were Reading and Listening. The listening exam was my total favorite because we practiced a whole bunch of times and by the time the real one came around it felt comfortable. The listening exam was a single sheet of paper that had some questions, broken into two sections–probably about 6-8 questions for each. The two sections were read to us, twice each (once slow then once normal speed), and then we had to answer the questions. While they were being read we could take notes on a paper. The first was a dialogue between two people and the second was a notice about an event on a college campus. The questions were about the time the people in the dialogue would meet, why, who they talked about bringing, things like that. The second section had questions about what the event was, when, where, what you needed to bring to attend, ect. A lot of people found this one hard because they thought they talked too fast but I really liked it because we had had so many opportunities to prepare. The Reading exam was also modeled on stuff we did regularly in class. It was four or five pages of multiple choice and matching and things based on certain reading sections. I also liked this one mostly because we had done so much that was similar to it in class.

The final one was Grammar. This was the one I ended up doing the worst on (because Russian grammar=HARD) but since I kind of knew I was going to pass but not exceptionally well, and cause we had done a few practice runs in class, I wasn’t overly worried about it. It was kind of like I knew the dragon well enough to understand the kind of beating I should be expecting from it. It was a little over a hundred multiple choice questions, mostly where you had to choose the best option to finish the sentence and stuff. So to do that you had to know what case was needed and what cases were presented in the choices and pick the right one. Some were with plurals and other things we had to know, like prepositions and other types of agreement, but cases were the hardest. On the practice exams I got 60 out of 75 (80%, or a 3, which is a C) and 132 out of 160 (83%, or a 4, which is a B). I was pretty happy with those numbers, considering, so it was okay with me.

I ended up passing all my exams, with my lowest being a 3 in Grammar (the didn’t give us the final breakdown on how many we got right or wrong, just the numerical grade). I actually got a 5 in Listening, which was awesome (an A). The rest, even Speaking, I got 4s on. Overall I was really happy that my first-day fears didn’t come to fruition; I not only passed, but did really really well on most of them, and it wasn’t as traumatic as I had feared.

Come Take a Walk with Me!

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It was a beautiful city. The very best part of going to Russia was that when all the white stuff went away it was green as anything all over the place. Everything went from narrow little icy paths to wide green walkways. Flowers in the trees and in gardens all over the place. The river in the middle of the city went from icy blur as I went by on the bus to large, gorgeous place where older men play chess and large fountains make rainbows. Only lacking in puppies and kittens, right? Well, it was my favorite place in the city. q8

q6 q9q7   q10 q11 q13 q14 q15 q16

I wasn’t wrong about the rainbows, was I? There’s a bridge over the river that has a dam in it and forms a bit of a lake, seen in the last pic. It’s called Plotinka. If you follow the river down a little bit, you come here:

oblisk4oblisk5oblisk6This is the circus. We were going there once but then there was this Alice in Wonderland play that, from the flyer, looked really good. But it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be; we should have gone to the circus.

Let’s go back to Plotinka. The other way this time. Movie theater:q

The church on the blood, where Tsar Nicolas and his family were killed (think: Anastasia):

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A cute outdoor theater:

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q4 q3Plotinka again. One of those really big churches near the Town Hall:

oblisk2oblisk3 Farther down towards my apartment:

militarySomething to do with the military, according to my husband. Continuing on:

oblisk1 obliskThat last place was a monument for veterans and always had a fire going in front of it. Walking to Raduga Park from my apartment:

dom15 dom16 dom8Small detour to see some domiki (small wooden houses):

dom13 dom1domdom2dom4dom12dom3 dom11 dom10 dom9     Walking back home:

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One last point before we get there, if you’ve been walking in summertime down a  beautiful sidewalk like this…dom5

…you’re going to see a bunch of stuff like this…dom6 dom7It’s a bunch of fluffy stuff between cotton and dandelion fuzz. It falls from the trees like snow. It’s cool. So now that we’ve walked a few miles through the city, maybe you get an idea of how pretty it is when it’s warm. I had about a week after my classes were over (more on that soon) and got to go for long walks during the day while the kids were in school.

Russian Holidays

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We’ve been trying to go to Russian for New Year for a while. Both times, though, we just missed it because of visa complications. This time we got there in the beginning of January and everything was still decorated and fun. New Years is the main Russian holiday, akin to a secular version of Christmas in the US. Christmas is called Pождество and is celebrated on January 6th. It’s not a very widely celebrated holiday; it’s only religious. My family doesn’t celebrate it, but those who do have a meal with their family and go to church, I’ve been told. On New Years, Дед Мороз (Santa) comes and brings presents to children. There are Christmas trees and lots of tinsel. The best thing about New Year, though, is the winter festival. It is awesome.

festival festival2  festival3 festival4festival1 festival5That last one is the most beautiful town hall I’ve ever seen. New Years is fun.

Russian seasons last for three months each, and end on the last day of the month. So winter ends on the last day of February. Maslenitsa (Мaсленица) is the holiday that celebrates the last day of winter, which you can assume is a big deal that far north. In class they had a little celebration that was completely unexpected. I don’t think that any of us knew that it was a holiday or that a celebration was coming, because after one class the teachers were all excited-looking and telling us that we were going to do something, but we didn’t understand enough to know what was coming. They brought us all in the other classroom that we used and had a a table set up and some students from the foreign language department who had put together the celebration. They showed us a short cartoon about Maslenitsa (this one, actually: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTlwV2Yj1RI) and a slide show. You know that movie The Wicker Man? The whole burning a straw guy and, oops, a person is inside? Yea, that is a Maslenitsa festival. We ate some Russian pancakes, which are really thin like crepes and are made with sour milk so that they have a very specific taste. You dip them in jelly or sour cream (my favorite) or, there was also some other kind of savory thing that was there to put on them and it was icky. I forgot what it was. After we ate the pancakes we played some games and danced a line dance. It was pretty fun overall, though really unexpected.

My birthday came in April and my mother in law bought me some flowers and my father in law bought a cake. I’ve made lots of Russian cakes in my day, for my husband’s sweet tooth and his birthdays. The cake his father bought me was this cheesecake-y bottom layer and a cherry-jelly-ish top layer, like the stuff you put in Cherry pie. In the cherry layer there were pie type cherries too. Not a big cherry person myself, I didn’t eat them, but the cake was yummy and I ate that. It was in the shape of a heart and another had been in the fridge for valentines day and then appeared again when it was Women’s Day on March 8th. Women’s Day is a big one in Europe and we had the day off school and everything.

Easter came on April 20th, and it was pretty cool because my mother in law colored some tiny quail eggs and they were adorable. Apparently, eating quail eggs is a thing in Russia, totally normal. My daughter like them and ate them.

EGGS1 EGGS2EGGS

Those things behind the plate in the last pic are loaves of Easter bread. It’s kind of like a cinnamon raisin bread that has icing on top. It was store bought and was kind of dry for my taste. I bet homemade is much better.

The next big holiday was День Победы, which is Victory Day, a celebration about the end of WWII. Day off for that one too. There were a lot of minor holidays that had days off school and work and things. День Победы had a parade and fireworks and it was a pretty big deal. They had some kind of celebration in the town center, and some kind of concert.

День ПобедыI don’t think you understand how cool that setup is. The building is huge. I didn’t take the kids to the parade and stuff, unfortunately, because I kept on getting emails about not going to public gatherings just in case. The stuff in Ukraine didn’t seem to be much of a problem–literally no one mentioned it at all. The only thing I ever heard of it was some mention of it on the radio in the car with my father in law. I didn’t fully understand everything they were talking about but there was mention of Obama. I had watched some videos of this girl from Nizhny Novogorod who had been an exchange student in Ohio and was talking about Ukraine, saying it was a very good thing they were over there and stuff. Now, I’ll admit that I don’t know much about this stuff, but from conversations with my husband about my father in law’s opinion and listening to my teachers, it seems as if the opinion there is overly positive about the situation in Ukraine. The emails I kept getting were about Americans going to large gatherings just in case there might be bad feelings towards us. I’m not sure how well founded that opinion was, but even so I wasn’t about to go with my kids. If I had been by myself, I would have done more stuff like that because I could go out in public without talking so no one would even know Ii was a foreigner. But going with the kids, it wasn’t possible to go places without speaking English with them. Or, if I would have tried to speak Russian it would have been obvious that I wasn’t a native.

 

But what did you eat?

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Nobody actually asked me this one verbatim, but food is always a big one when you go abroad. I’m pretty sure I already went into the foods I brought with us, like a bunch of peanut butter and Parmesan cheese. I figured that at least I’d be able to give the kids PB&J if they didn’t like anything else.

For breakfast, the kids would normally have cereal. Cereal was pretty much the same there as here–different brands, of course, but mostly the same type of stuff. The milk was kind of weird though, which makes sense because we were, well, on a different continent. Russians don’t really drink milk much; they like to use spoiled (our idea of spoiled–sour) milk in their cooking. They really like yogurts and cheese and things, but they don’t really drink milk like we do in the US. So even though I was able to buy milk, it often went bad in a day or two. Once it was already sour before I even opened it. The little store by where I lived had it in the refrigerated section, but the one in Raduga Park didn’t. I’m sure it wasn’t always refrigerated on the way to the store; I don’t think it was a major priority. Since I love milk  I bought some chocolate milk mix and that was that.

We’d also eat fruit like apples, bananas, kiwis, and things like that. Check out this huge pomegranate:

foodrus4Fruit juice was also a big one since I wasn’t big on the milk (the kids drank it but I’m a bit picky). I hate apple juice normally but there’s this brand in Russia that I love. Also a mixed berry one and this gem, which became my ultimate favorite:

foodrus2 It was orange and heavenly. I drank it all the time. Did I mention the water situation yet? I feel like I couldn’t have come this far and not mention the water. It was icky and so drinking water got delivered to the apartment and we boiled that before we drank it. Yup. So juice was easier, though I mostly just gave the kids the cooled down boiled water that got delivered and the milk that I thought was sour and sometimes I shared my juice.

Normal Russian breakfast is called бутерброд, its just a piece of bread with salami or bologna and cheese. An open sandwich. We eat those all the time in the US and they had them for breakfast in Russia too. Lunch the kids ate at school, usually soup with bread I think. They also had this thing for snack which was grated apples and carrots mixed together–they loved that. While they were at school, I’d often each lunch at the apartment. Usually I’d have this kind of soup like Ramen but much more delicious. Also, Pizza.

Pizza in Russia is interesting. It tends to have very little sauce and sometimes, pickles. The little store by my house had that kind in spades. Pizza with pickles and cheese and cubes of bologna. At Raduga Park I once bought a pizza that had chicken under the cheese that I didn’t know about until I bit into it. There were bones. It was not exactly what I expected. The vast majority of pizza I bought there was great; I just skipped the really thick varieties that might be hiding something below the cheese. The kinds they had at Raduga Park were more similar to American kinds, and had garlic and things, it was great.

We also ate a lot of pasta there, with my new favorite type of sauce:

foodrus1It has green olives in it. Yum. My mother in law also made a bunch of Russian dishes that we also eat in the US with my husband. Fish soup and pirogi and pelemeni. Very yummy. Shredded carrots are pretty much in everything she cooks and you eat everything with mayo. In fact, my city holds the world record for most mayo eaten per person. My husband puts it in soup and mixes it with everything.

Another great thing that we found was this:

foodrus3It’s this awesome banana ice cream pop which has a jello peel. You can peel the banana and eat the whole thing. The kids loved them and they were the coolest things I’ve ever seen. So neat.

But what do you do all day?

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This was a serious question I got from one of my friends. I guess it was a reasonable question. Of course, I had classes for about four and a half hours a day (two two hour classes and, depending on the day, a fifteen minute to a half hour break), and an hour each way on the bus. But maybe you want an idea of what our days were like.

On a weekday I’d wake up with the kids around 7, and then I’d get them dressed and fed, and then my father in law would take us to drop off the kids at school. Then he’d drop me back off at the apartment and I’d eat breakfast, do any leftover homework, and go to the bus stop. I’d take an hour to get to school, drop off my coat, and learn some Russian. Then take a bus back home and, depending on the day, I’d have just enough time to go drop by the little grocery store by my house, eat something, and then either walk to get the kids or go with my father in law to pick them up. Then in the afternoon I’d play with them a bit and do homework, feed them and go to bed.  That was the winter schedule, because in winter the days were super short, like sunrise was at 10:30ish and sundown was around 5 or 6. By 8pm it felt much later, but the thing was that since we were all sharing a tiny room together, if I wanted them to sleep, I had to “sleep” too. So around 8pm  I’d get us all ready for bed and I’d have to lie down and shut off all the lights and either go to sleep or play on a kindle, trying to hide it from the kids if I could. At the time, I thought it was really annoying. But, as all annoying things do, that time came to an end, and things got much worse, from a bedtime perspective. Guess what time it is in this picture:

playground211am? 3pm? Maybe even 6pm? Nope, that picture was taken at 9:30pm on May 1st. Bright as day, kids laughing and playing on the playground outside our window. Try getting kids to sleep when it doesn’t get dark till almost midnight in summer. Towards the end of our trip it wasn’t even a thing to hear kids at the playground at 10 or 11pm. Luckily, my summer classes were changed to a later schedule and I could take the kids to school around 9 or 10 depending on the day because they’d be up so late at night.

nightThat one was taken at 10pm. In April.

On a weekend, we’d spend at least one day at the mall, Mega, and one day cleaning and doing laundry. We went to the mall because the poor kids were cooped up in the apartment all the time and Mega had two indoor playgrounds that they could run and play with other kids on.

mall playgroundPLAYGROUND3They also have this great double-decker bus thing that we rode on a time or two:

mallmall2 Also, they had more food there, in a big walmart-type grocery store. One or two days a week I would have a few extra hours to take the tram to the other Mall, Raduga (Rainbow) Park, which had another large grocery/department store I liked better. It had great pizza (more on that later) and Reese’s, and Pringles, and a relatively cheap toy section.

radugaI never really took the kids with me to Raduga Park at first, although it was really family friendly and had one of those great trains for kids to ride around the mall in. But Mega was where the indoor playgrounds were and, besides, my kid loves trains so much that we’d have to be riding that thing every time. So, I’d go there for grocery shopping on my own until spring came and we realized that the whole Park part of Raduga Park was quite literal and there was this amazing park behind the mall. I had always known that there was an area in the back where there was a ferris wheel, and a huge snow slide in the winter (too big for kids like mine, though). But I had thought that that was all there was, and so didn’t really give it much thought. But when it all got green I took them to check out that area because they had a couple big blow up slides and some fun ride on toys.

raduga3 raduga1 raduga 2Then, we realized that there was also this big lake and waterfall, and a bunch of hiking trails.

ferris ferriswalk waterfall waterfall2There was also this really great playground that the kids loved, horse rides (literal, living horses this time), a roller skating rink, and the most amazingly cool in-the-trees playground called Mowgli.

cool1 cool2mowgli cool3 cool4So, that’s where we spent most of our time when it got warmer (though not in that awesome Mowgli thing, since the kids were too young). Like I said before, when we weren’t mall-ing I was home with them doing laundry and cleaning up the room. The laundry was quite a chore, though (did I mention this already?). They had a tiny washing machine but no dryer and the washing machine was only big enough for a small load and so the rest had to be done by hand. Everything got hung up after and in summer when the heaters got turned off it took a little over a day to dry out.  It took a while.

We also took a trip to the line between Europe and Asia, which was cool. “Trip” mostly means here that my father in law drove us about 20 min.

line1 line2 line3 line4We also went to the zoo.

zooalbino zoo1Tiny swimming pool for a polar bear, huh? And how awesome is that peacock?

So, what did we do all day? We went to school, did homework, and tried to go places as much as we could.

Transportation

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So, obviously, I didn’t bring my car with me. And, I would have been, well, terrified to be driving around a big Russian city in the middle of Russian winter. Let me enlighten you with a story from my previous trip, though I’m sure you’ve already seen enough Russian dash cam vids to fully understand my initial sense of fear about traveling to and fro in the city. So, story time. We were going to go to the winter festival (a really cool event they have every year in the town center, across from the amazingly beautiful town hall building, that has ice sculptures everywhere, ice skating, slides and bridges made of ice, tons of stuff. I’m going to go in more detail about it later, though, since it’s not really a part of this story), and we had just gotten into the car, 15 month old baby, myself, husband, and father, mother and sister in law (yea, it was packed and unpleasant–all dressed up in layers and jackets and me, six moths prego at the time), when I realized that I had forgotten the camera. I told my husband, and, a few Russian words later, my father in law had popped a U turn and was driving on the opposite side of the road looking for an opening to get into the lane he needed to get back home for the camera. It was one of those I’m-facing-a-truck-right-now-going-who-knows-how-many-KM-per-hour movie moments. Scary, it was. This time around, we didn’t really have any heart attack moments, though my kids loved yelling Быстро! Быстро! (Fast! Fast!) when we were in the car with my father in law because he would often oblige.

So, as you may have noticed, my father in law has a car. He works as some kind of personal driver for a rich dentist, or something like that, so he has a very flexible schedule and gets to use the car as his own whenever he’s not working. From what I understand, it is relatively uncommon to own a car, but also mostly unnecessary because public transport is (in my opinion) really good there. My mother and sister in law both walk to work or use public transportation to go places. The daycare that we got the kids into was very close and we could have walked there, but during the winter months where being outside too long was dangerous, especially for young children, my father in law would take us to drop off and pick up the kids from school. Once the weather warmed up, we walked there and it was very pleasant–maybe about 15-20 minutes each way.

Pics of walking to daycare:

walking deco Decorations someone hung on a bush outside our building; frozen shapes with food coloring.walking 4walking3

walking 5walking walking2

I would often stop on the way home to take the kids to one of the many parks we passed on our walk (another great thing, every apartment building had its own park for the kids to play on). A playground near the kids’ school:

playground1

So, that was half of it. I also had to make my way to school every (week)day. My university was about an hour away from our apartment, so there was no way I could walk there. I took the bus everyday, and it was actually a lot more convenient than I thought it would be, judging from the way my husband had talked about it. He spoke of sometimes having to wait a half an hour for a bus in -35 degree weather and about them being very unreliable and sometimes unheated. You can imagine, therefore, that I was a bit worried about how well I’d do going back and forth over such a large distance depending only on such apparently unpredictable public transport. But my biggest fear, really, was that I’d get lost. The thing is that if it ever happened that I got lost, I would be in big trouble because I wasn’t at the level where I could ask people for directions, and even if I called my father in law on the little crappy phone I had (first I’d have to figure out how to do that, since the menu on the phone was in Russian), I’d still be unable to tell him where I was to come and get me. But overall, my fears were unfounded. The buses were actually really reliable; even if I missed a bus by a few seconds and watched it leave without me, I’d still only have to wait about 10-15 minutes until the next one came. There was only one time where I was seriously getting cold while waiting for the bus, and that was because I was waiting for a specific one. Of course, there were many different buses that would come by, and there were two specific routes that I could take to my university, numbers 27 and 28. The only problem was that the buses on number 28 were older and often had broken heating systems (it was also usually pretty moldy smelling–sometimes I would feel like I’d be sick breathing in the mold smell for so long; I tollay felt for the poor conductor and driver on there all day). When it was really really cold and I went on number 28 my feet would sometimes get so cold I felt like my toes would freeze, so I tried to avoid that one when it was more than 15-20 degrees below. Once I was waiting for a number 27 and a few 28s had already gone by, but it was 35 below so I knew better than to get on, but I was really really cold because I only had one very thin pair of leggings on under my jeans. My thighs were freezing and I was rubbing them, but wanted to keep my hands in my pockets, and I was worried. I was only at the stop for about 15-20 minutes but it wasn’t very pleasant. I never had another day like that, and it actually wasn’t all that bad in retrospect, but it was one of my first days where it was that cold and all I could hear was my husband telling me about the cold and having to wait so long.

The getting lost fear wasn’t entirely unfounded, either. The buses were really really crowded in the winter (and, to be honest, in the summer too) because it was so cold (and, later, hot). So sometimes it would be difficult to get out of your seat (if you were lucky enough to get one) and to the door in time to get off the bus before it left the stop. Also, because at first I didn’t really know the route, and because the windows would freeze over so completely that only the people who had window seats and were able to make a tiny hole in the frost with the warmth from their fingers or breath were able to see out, I was really worried I would miss my stop. It never actually happened because they had an intercom which called out the stops, and I knew what my stops were called, but still it was a bit nerve wracking at first. Once I got a hang of the order of the stops and was able to see out the windows and recognize landmarks along the way, I didn’t haven any difficulty.

One interesting thing about taking the bus is that there is a conductor who you buy tickets from after getting on the bus. In the US (at least in my experience) you get on at a single door in the front, pay at a little kiosk thing, then sit. But there, to make it faster, there were multiple doors on the side of the bus, and once it started moving the conductor came around to sell tickets to all the people who just got on. Every once in a while a controller would come on the bus and ask to see everyone’s tickets. I was worried once because the conductor missed me when she was selling tickets (I was way in the back of a packed bus) and, though I could have ridden for free, I was loathe to have the controller come and ask me where my ticket was, and so motioned for the conductor the next stop. Sure enough, the controller came by and asked for our tickets just a little bit later. It obviously wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but I’m a nervous perfectionist about things like that.

I actually really liked the city because everything was really close; we had a grocery store right under us on the first floor of an adjoining building, a pharmacy next door to that, and there were daycares every block or so to really allow working parents an easy time finding one nearby. I’m not a city girl myself, so that seemed really great to me, and the buses were just one part of what I think is a really great transport system. So, there were buses (автобусы), vans (фургоны), trolleys (троллейбусы-buses that were attached to power lines above as a source of power), trams (трамваи-a type of bus/train that runs on rails but the driver can stop and go at will and stops at red lights and is pretty similar to a bus), and a subway (метро).

trolleyThe metro in my city is really tiny, though, only 6 stops total. I didn’t end up using it on this trip because it didn’t really go anywhere I needed and I was too busy to take it just because, but I did go on my first time in Russia a long time ago. I most often took the bus, obviously, both for school and to go to one of the malls. I took a tram to go to my favorite mall, too. Overall, once I got used to everything, it was really simple and easy to get around.

Learning Russian!

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So, on to the fun part–academics! As I have said, I was starting my program a few months after everyone else, and though I had taken a college-level course in the language and had previous experience with it at home, I wasn’t sure where my peers would be and that worried me a bit. My husband came with me for the first week, and I have to say, I was still really really intimidated.

The first day we went I didn’t go to classes because I was just getting things settled and finding where I would be going–but the most terrible thing happened. I saw the white board at the front of the class and guess what–cursive scribbles were all over the place! And you have no idea how hard it is to read a foreign language in a native speaker’s cursive until your grade depends upon it. I had learned a bit of Russian before, and was familiar with Cyrillic letters, but I had never spent time learning them in script, even in my college Russian course.

The thing is that Cyrillic has some letters (A, K, M, O, T) that are written and sound the same in English and in Russian. Then it has letters that are written the same as letters in English, but have different pronunciation (B=[v], E=[ye], H=[n], P=[r], C=[s], Y=[oo], X=[h]). It also has letters that are not found in English, but have familiar sounds (Ч=[ch], Б=[b], Г=[g], Д=[d], Ё=[yo], З=[z], И=[ee], Й=[oy], Л=[l], П=[p], Ф=[f], Э=[eh], Ю=[yoo], Я=[ya], Ш=[sh]). Finally, there are some letters which don’t really have English counterparts (Ж=[zh], Ц=[ts], Щ=[shsh], Ъ=hard sign, short pause, Ы=[i], Ь=soft sign, [y]).***

russkiyAlphabetSo that was the part that I had down before going to Russia. The problem is that in cursive, some of the  the letters are completely different. Let me give you an idea:

cyrillic-alphabet-chart1So, some of them look the same, like A, E, Y, Ы, O, B, ect. And some look like English cursive letters, like Д and З. But take a look at T–the lower case looks like a M, but M is differentiated from T in that T has rounded tops. And when you get a lot of letters together, they all start to run together.

exercise-the-cursiveThis example is much more neatly written than what was written on the white board, let me tell you. It was not a simple task to get on the Russian-in-cursive train. My classmates had just spent three months learning to write properly, and I knew that I would not be able to catch up and keep up with lessons, so I decided to just stay with my own style of Russian print and do my best to learn to read it when it was written. Luckily, most of the classwork was verbal and my grammar teacher wrote in print rather than script.

Okay, so no big deal, I couldn’t read what was going on very well unless it was on a handout (and not in italics), at least at first. My first class ever was a Reading class and I was worried because it sounded–at first–like everyone was doing a pretty good job and since we were taking turns I knew I’d have to do it too. But as I was reading along, I realized that maybe they weren’t doing it as perfectly as I had assumed at the start. And when it was my turn, I did moderately well. The thing was that I was the new kid and everyone was looking at me and it was very I’m-on-display-right-now, which I hate. After we read what we read, there were questions and this is where the horror started. I had not given thought to the meaning of the words, only the pronunciation, and now I had to answer questions I did not understand about a who-knows-what-it-was-about reading from a very fast speaking native of the language. My husband did his best to tell me what it was about and to tell me the meaning of the questions in English, but I was just in a state of perfectionist shock and I felt way overwhelmed and wanted to go home. When she asked me a question (and I’m sure it was a super easy one) I had no idea, and it just turned into a huge embarrassing moment for me where I told her I didn’t know and I wasn’t going to answer in a flurry of red faced, hands up English nonsense and just pretty much checked out. I was mortified. Mortified.

The thing is, though, that in a language class, you can’t be afraid of getting things wrong, because you’re totally going to, and everyone else is going to too. You just have to have fun with it and do the best you can. I soon got to this point, once I had made a place for myself in the class. It turned out that most of the class was at my level or below and I actually became one of the top students (since English is a heck of a lot closer to Russian than Chinese or Arabic). A few days later, my first day without my husband came and I had my Speaking class. Since it was a speaking class, she had everyone in the class ask me a question, which I not only had to understand, but also answer. It was a bit pulling-teeth-ish, but overall it was pretty fun. I could tell that it wasn’t super easy for them to come up with questions, which made my embarrassment over not being able to answer very well lessen. Overall, we had a bit of fun laughing together in an attempt to understand each other and it made me feel a lot more included. And without Anton with me as a translator (but also a barrier to my doing it myself) I was forced to really try on my own.

***The site I usually use for typing in Russian in http://russian.typeit.org/