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My first semester has officially ended, and my month long vacation begins in four days. Even though I arrived late (thanks to Oryol’s inability to write a proper letter of invitation!), the semester has still been a long one for me. Teaching is a rough job, and I honestly have a newfound respect for those who do it as their profession. I gave the students that I teach regularly anonymous Teacher Evaluations to do for me, and while most of them were overflowing with praise (I’m not being sarcastic, a lot of my students will be devastated if I don’t come back and teach them. And when I say teach, I mean joke around), the few critical evaluations are the ones I’ve been paying most attention to.

What I need to work on in the classroom:

  • Being more patient. This has been a life long struggle, with me on the losing end. I don’t have patience, and patience is a necessary virtue when it comes to being a teacher and especially important when living in Russia. I usually do not have a problem with my advanced students, because they’re more mature and aren’t bouncing around like my first year students. However, I tend to snap a lot more at my first years, because I get frustrated when they make the same mistakes. Subject-predicate, damn it! However, snapping at my students isn’t very productive to effective learning.
  • Be stricter. I had a few students write this on their evaluations, which threw me for a loop. Be more strict? Aren’t I already strict enough? I thought I maintained a pretty tight grip on my classes. Apparently not. I’ll start bringing a club to class.
  • Being more approachable. This one also surprised me, since I’ve always considered myself to be a very open person. However, I guess I can come off as intimidating, which amazes me, because there’s nothing formidable about me — I’m a short, relatively thin Asian girl who tends to wildly gesticulates. To me that screams “dork” and “nerd,” not “intimidating.” Well, I’ll work on that one, too. Maybe less wild gesticulating.
What I need to work on in general:
  • Not being such a little bitch about the cold. I think that everyone and his grandma here knows how much I loathe the cold. I need to stop complaining about it and learn to just deal with it. Maybe I’ll put on an extra five more pounds. Fat keeps you warm!
  • Be more spontaneous. As a type A, anally retentive person like me, being spontaneous does not come easily. I like plans and schedules, but those tendencies flounder in a country where people just do things on the fly. Less plans, more spontaneity.
  • Not be a little bitch in general. As I like to say, there are two seasons here in the Russian North: winter and almost winter. So, as one can imagine, winter sports are all the rage here. Skiing, ice skating, sledding on ice, you name it! I have a terrible fear of falling, mainly because when I fall, bad things tend to happen. Such as having my right leg split open or breaking my teeth. Fun! And that fear definitely hampers me from enjoying ice skating or skiing. I need to man up, not be such a wuss, and go ice skating.
  • Not get so upset when people tell me they hate America. I swear I am an Anti-American magnet. People see me and are just overcome with the need to tell me how much they hate America. It’s happened a good number of times now, ranging from a 14-year old kid to a 50-something lecherous man from Vladivostok. I really don’t know what it is about my face that prompts them to tell me that they want to spit on America. Maybe it’s the glasses. Perhaps it’s the nose ring. I don’t know. But I do know that I need to stop getting worked up about it.

And with that, I leave you until February! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Happy Holidays!

 

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I’m not the biggest fan of babies. In fact, they sort of scare me. It’s the way they squirm around and can’t control their movements, not to mention how easy it is to just drop one on the head by accident. My former roommate is an even bigger anti-baby person and has joked about throwing one in a washing machine on multiple occasions, but I won’t get into that.

But I do have to admit: Russian babies are adorable. Precious. Just so darn cute. Seeing one bundled up even momentarily switches on my maternal instincts! And then seeing them proceed to scream, cry, throw up, etc immediately switches those instincts back off. I always have an urge to take a picture of a particularly cute baby that I pass by, but that’s creepy, not to mention border-line pedo. So, thanks to google images, here is a bundled up baby for your viewing pleasure. Everybody now: Awwwww.

This baby is prepared for the cold. Photo credit: Dreamstime.com

It’s something about the way that they’re dressed during the winter that melts my heart. Since being in the cold makes you sick*, parents wrap their kids up in massive puffy coats, puffy pants, boots, and a hat (most likely with pom poms on them). Kids sort of waddle around because their arms and legs stick out due to the bulky winter gear. And to up the cute-factor, parents drag them around on sleds everywhere!! Currently, there’s a lot of snow on the ground (because remember, winter started in October), and I guess it’s easier to transport children on sleds rather than in carriages.

Babies on sleds! Photo credit: russiawithlove.blogspot.com

Russians who are reading this are probably thinking that I’m strange for writing about their babies, and while that’s a fair judgment, I’m just writing about yet another difference between Americans and Russians. I have never ever seen kids being towed around on a sled before in America, and I think it’s awesome. And I like the Russian toddler style. Don’t judge me.

*Let me just be loud and clear about this one. Being in the cold does not make you sick. I repeat: Being in the cold does not make you sick. When it’s cold out, people tend to stay inside more, and with more people inside, that means more germs are bouncing around. Which means that you are more likely to get sick because there are so many germs and viruses circulating in a room. But you don’t get sick just from being outside in the cold without a hat on. So lay off me, alright Russian grandmas? Sometimes I don’t like wearing a hat. You can deal with it.

I got my first taste of Russian bureaucracy yesterday when Nadya took me to get my registration done. There, we stood in line for two hours. Two hours! They must have been having tea and cookies and God knows what else in the registration room, because it took over half an hour for one person to get registered. I don’t even want to imagine how long it would take to get two people registered at the same time. This was further exacerbated by the fact that people kept cutting the line and that a lot of people had overstayed their visas and were now trying to amend (read: buy time) things. Russian lines are an interesting phenomenon, and by interesting I mean difficult and painful –people have to remember who they’re behind/who is behind them, because people often leave for smoke breaks or to go wander around. The fact that they leave for multiple smoke breaks illustrates how long the wait is. To add insult to injury, i didn’t even get my registration! Two hours of my life that I will never get back. Ever. Poor Nadya went back this morning and did it for me.

It was almost as bad as this.

Besides the fun bureaucratic experience, I’ve been having a great time. Teaching is much more enjoyable than I thought it ever could be, and everyone is so excited that I’m here — I’ve never felt so popular in my entire life. People want to hang out with me! It more than makes up for those years of being that weirdo in school. This is something I could get used to!

Headed back to Moscow next week for a 3 day conference. Is it worth the 60 hours on a train? Should I risk flying and potentially crashing straight into the ground? Conundrums.

A pretty day in the park.

Warning: this is going to be a long, slightly boring post on how I got here and my first impressions of Ukhta. Feel free to skip all the text and look at the pictures.

After two days of traveling, I’m finally here in Ukhta and I’m quickly adjusting to the city. Getting here, however, was not quick at all. In fact, the exact opposite of quick — all together, it took about 40 hours (10 hr plane ride to Moscow, 30 hour train ride from Moscow to Ukhta) to get from DC to Ukhta. Reader, in case you didn’t know, Russia is an enormous country — and that is an understatement. Of course I could have flown, but I didn’t want to die in a fiery, metal heap, so I chose the more traditional route.

This is what traveling 2nd class (Kupe) on a Russian train looks like. Insulated lunchbox not included.

The train ride itself was very pleasant, despite being disgustingly sweaty from hauling ass around Domodedovo Airport and the Moscow metro. My traveling companions, Maksim and Slava, were these two burly, tough-looking engineers who turned out to be completely harmless and quite chivalrous. They were absolutely shocked by the fact that I was going all the way to Ukhta by myself.
“You’re from America? Really? Good God, is it that bad over there that you have to come to Ukhta to find work?” Maksim asked incredulously. I stressed that I wanted to come and that I was excited to see a part of Russia that I had never seen before. They just laughed at me and then proceeded to scold me for traveling alone. Why is it that everyone here in this country scolds you? The conversation turned to politics, and Maksim and Slava just went OFF on the Russian government. Looking around nervously, I asked them if it was okay to talk about the government like this. Slava laughed at me (there was a lot of laughing at me) and reassured me that it was okay to verbally bash the government.

Traveling for that long made me feel very, very small. I would look out the window and see never ending birch trees, and then a few hours later, I would look out again, and lo and behold — more birch trees. With an occasional run-down village here and there. Russia is SO BIG.

Something that wasn't a birch tree forest

I have only been in Ukhta for two days now, but so far I’m digging the small-city vibe. I’m very grateful that Nadya, my host contact, puts up with showing me where everything is. WIthout her, I’d probably end up terribly lost and wandering alone in a village miles from the city. Even though I have only been here for two days, I have already noticed that people are much nicer here and don’t disrespect me because I’m a foreigner, which is something that I felt when I was in St. Petersburg. I also haven’t been groped by any men, which is a HUGE plus. What the city lacks in glamour, it makes up in its hospitality and friendliness.

Obligatory Pushkin statue.

A little about the city: Ukhta (or Ukva as it is known in the Komi language) was discovered because it had an abundance of oil/gas/natural resources and was officially founded in 1943. Ukhta has a pretty dark history — a Gulag was built here, and there are a lot of people today are descendants of political prisoners. They’ve since created a museum in memoriam of those who were shot in the Ukhtinskii Gulag. Now, the city greatly benefits from their abundance of oil and gas.

Trying to get a Russian visa is about as fun as getting punched in the face. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but the wait, uncertainty, and feeling of helplessness can be quite unbearable, especially for anally retentive Type-A personalities like me. For those of you who don’t know, in order to get a Russian visa, you have to receive a letter of invitation. That can be from a university, a friend you’re staying with, a work place, etc. More often than not, tourists go through an agency that issue the visa directly, but those visas are only good for 3 months maximum, and I don’t think that they can get extended. Someone correct me if I’m wrong. The inherent problem with the letter of invitation is that there are many different types of visas one can choose from, but only a few are able to be extended to a stay of 12 months. Letters also take a month to make — I don’t completely understand why, since it’s basically a stamped piece of paper that has your name, passport number, and destination typed onto it.

In my case, my original host university messed up the letter of invitation twice — they had registered me for the wrong kind of visa, and I would have only been able to stay in Russia for 3 months. So after being reassigned to another university, I had to wait some more while they processed a new letter of invitation. I just got wind that the letter is almost done, and that it should be sent to me by DHL any time now. That’s some very welcomed news, because this has been the longest summer of my life.

Hoping to enter Russia somewhere around the middle of September. It’d be nice to catch a few warm days before it turns to winter.

Due to bureaucratic mishaps, I am no longer going to be teaching at Oryol State Agrarian University, but instead, Ukhta State Technical University…which is located about 30 hrs  (by train) north-east of Moscow. It’s August, and the high is 50 F. To me, that means that there is only two seasons in this area — winter and almost winter. It’s taiga-licious. But, on the positive side, I did get what I wanted — to see a part of Russia outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg

Ukhta State Technical University

Ukhta, thanks to its oil deposits, is an industrial powerhouse. According to the city’s website, the area gained importance after the Revolution because of its large amounts of oil. In the 40’s, the city expanded with the “help” of prisoner labor. Awesome.

So now I wait some more. That’s the general theme of this blog so far — waiting and patience. And not being able to really plan anything in advance.

…for Russia!

While I am anxiously waiting for my letter of invitation,  I can’t help but think of all the delicious food items and customs that I get to consume (read: gorge on) and live with for the next ten months.

The fierce and unrelenting babushka made the list

What I can’t wait for in Russia

  • Pastries that cost a dollar — Great for my taste buds, destructive for my figure. And cholesterol.
  • Public Transportation — I have a personal love/hate relationship with marshrutki, those wild route taxis driven by even wilder Central Asian men. 
  • Babushki — Russia’s live GPS system. Also known for their fierce temperaments, aversion to the cold and drunks, and purple-colored hair.
  • Being an American in Russia — Being an American in America isn’t nearly as exciting as being an American in Russia, where you are instantly elevated to celebrity status.
  • The Putin/Medvedev throwdown in March 2012 — I read from some very reputable news sources (tabloids) that Paul the Octopus, the World Cup’s prophet cephalopod, predicted who would win the Russian presidential election. He only chose between Putin and Medvedev, and while Zyuganov is going to be in the ring (I think), let’s be honest — there is really only one choice two choices. It’ll be exciting to be in Russia during this battle of epic proportions.*
  • Traveling – I haven’t even been outside of the Moscow time zone yet! There are nine more time zones to see!

What I’ll miss about the good USA

  •  Being a minority and it being okay — Last time I was in Russia, I was groped an absurd amount (walking to school, walking home from school, on the bus, on the metro, on the street…), much more than my White compatriots, and I chalk that up to being Asian. From my personal experience, if you’re not white, then you’re subhuman. 
  • Convenience –everything is just so much easier in America. 
  • Cars — I’m a product of America. Cars go in hand with convenience. 
  • Personal space — The word for privacy does not translate into Russian. For example, if you are standing in line, and there is a hair’s width of space between you and the person in front of you, then you are not considered to be in line. 

All things considered, I can’t wait to go back. I can bear not having America’s conveniences for ten months in exchange for the adventure and the excitement of being in the Wild, Wild East.

*I’m not exactly sure who is going to be running in the Presidential elections. I’m assuming that it will be Putin and Medvedev, but both have been mum so far.