The Beginning

It’s been more than two months since I’ve been back in the U.S., and already some of my other Russia ETAs have returned for round two. I’ve moved from California to Cambridge, and am in my second week at my master’s program. I meant to write this post a long time ago, but time slips by, so better now than never.

Rereading my last post, I can vividly remember the anxiety and the sadness that I felt in June when I was leaving. My departure seemed sudden – strange after 10 carefully counted months – and also excruciatingly final. Unlike leaving home for college, or leaving college for the world, I had this feeling that I was leaving a place that I could never return to. Not just, of course, a physical place, but a particular emotional landscape unique to this time in my life. More than a place that I could never return to, but a place that would no longer exist.

Now, just a few months later, I can see that leaving wasn’t really the end, because there’s never an end to anything, only beginnings. Last weekend I realized that it had been exactly a year since I moved to Voronezh. Any commentary I have to give on that fact is inevitably cliched: I can’t believe how fast the time went, or how much I feel like I’ve grown as a person, or how different everything turned out from what I expected. And yet it’s true. At each temporal signpost I see my former self as if reflected in one of those parallel infinite mirrors. As the reflections span through the past to the present, each reflection is more representative of the real Molly, the present-tense Molly. Whatever I was doing last year on September 7 (apparently documenting the contents of my fridge in the hostel and probably scrambling to make some sort of syllabus and course plan) has made it much easier for me to do whatever I’m doing today (going to classes, learning Ukrainian, appreciating the uniformity of the sidewalks as I scurry through the rain). And with each reflection that’s closer to the surfaces, I become more confident and sure that whatever I’m doing is, quite simply, right for me.

All of this is my round-about way of saying that even though the last year of teaching English in Voronezh had more than its share of challenges, it was worth it.

One last thing, before I end this (my 100th post!) and abandon my blog to the wastelands of the internet. At some point during the Russian winter I reread one of my favorite novels, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It’s one of the most beautiful and sad books ever, if you haven’t read it, you should. But one passage really stuck out to me. It describes the situation of one of the protagonists when she finds herself in a country that is not her own.

“Being in a foreign country means walking a tightrope high above the ground without the net afforded a person by the country where he has his family, colleagues, and friends, and where he can easily say what he has to say in a language he has known from childhood.  In Prague she was dependent on Tomas only when it came to the heart; here she was dependent on him for everything.”

Well, at least the first sentence, I think, is an incredibly accurate description of what it’s like to live by yourself abroad. Except that today you can live abroad and still have that safety net, even if those people are 8 or 11 hours away from you. So thank you to all of you who supported me last year, I really would not have been able to do everything without knowing that all of you were cheering me on.

 

So there’s nothing more to say, except, I’m sure I’ll be back to Russia someday..

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The Science of Departure

When I woke up this morning all my mind could grasp on to were a few random lines of Russian poetry I read in one of my classes during undergrad. I couldn’t place the poem until I turned to Google. The poem is, most appropriately, “Tristia” by…Osip Mandelstam. Mandelstam, who, you may remember, spent some time exiled in Voronezh. Tristia, one of his most famous works, begins with the line “Я изучил науку расставанья..”: I have studied the science of parting. The other line that was floating around this morning was from the second stanza – “Кто может знать при слове “расставанье”/какая нам разлука предстоит”: Who can know, at the word farewell, what kind of separation awaits us. This basically sums up my feelings about leaving. I’m anxious and unsettled, because I hate saying goodbye to people, especially when I don’t know when I’ll see them again. Even though I know that the dread of waiting to say goodbye is often worse than the reality of departure, it doesn’t make it easier.

That said, I’m pretty much ready. I just have a few more things to pack up and clean before I leave in a few hours. I have my “going away” playlist on my ipod, I have my train ticket, I have mostly everything that I need. And I’m ready, too, not just in the packed-and-ready-to-go sense. This has been a very interesting and challenging year, and I think I’m ready for something new. The whole process of leaving just seems surreal right now because after all this has been my life since September, and I can’t imagine exactly what the next phase will look like for me.

So, I am going to finish packing. And finish saying goodbye to Voronezh. Although I am sure that someday I’ll be back again.

and now the time has grown so short..

..the world has grown so wide.*

I’m seriously starting to feel the time crunch. I’m at the point in my packing where everything is super messy, and the mess won’t be resolved until sometime on Thursday when I don’t have to use anything again and everything is tucked away. Despite what my friends and family might say, such disorder actually gives me great anxiety. Proof: I just woke up from a dream in which I simply had failed to pack. It was Thursday at 9:00 pm and I wasn’t at the train station yet. My apartment was in disarray, I hadn’t called my landlady yet, I didn’t have a taxi. Aren’t my stress dreams fantastically realistic??

To make things worse, I’m terrible at packing alone. I get distracted or don’t want to think about what it means that I’m packing and so leave everything and go take a walk or take a nap or something. In August, as I was trying to fit everything I thought I would need into my suitcase and duffel, I had a team behind me. We’re a big fan of moral support in the Perkins family, and I had enough of it in the last few days that no one would let me give up when I wanted to. I guess I have to be my own task-master, and figure out which things to leave and which things to take with me on my own.

All that said, it’s only Monday. Tomorrow I’m going to start taking care of some of the logistical things with packing: cleaning out the kitchen, that sort of thing. Today…well today is technically a weekend day/day off from work so I think I will be spending some time with my friends today. Plus the weather is nice. I’m going to try and ignore the mounting panic – the panic that I won’t pack in time, that I’ll miss my train or my plane, or more acutely the panic that comes from having to say goodbye to the people who have become the anchors of my Voronezh life – at least until tomorrow.

 

*Bonus points for the reference. Without googling it.

Superfluous

Last August, when I was starting to pack for Russia, I carefully read the manual that was given to us. I read it more than once. I read it maybe three times. I just wanted to, you know, be sure that I had everything I would possibly need. Suggestions like “classroom supplies” were duly noted, purchased, and stuffed into my monstrous suitcase (do you guys remember the beautiful monster?). Now, 10 months later, I am up to my ears in things that the manual told me I would really need!!! and really want!! but that I haven’t used. In case anyone was wondering, Russia is just a normal place where you can purchase really ordinary everyday things instead of schlepping them from the States and not using them for 10 months. In retrospect some of these things are really funny.

 

Here are some highlights:

– an egg container, just in case, you know, I was gathering eggs from the coop and needed a place to put them. Or something. It was such a sweet victory when Mom and I found this rare item at REI, and such a bittersweet pang to realize now that I used it not once.

– Classroom supplies. White board markers, chalk, erasers, etc. They sell these things here. Everywhere. So. Now I have this stuff.

– Medical supplies. They suggested to have your own needles and syringes and т.д. just in case you ended up at a Russian hospital and wanted to be sure that everything was sterile. I get it, cleanliness of medical supplies is super important. But now I have a giant ziploc of these things.

– Stickers. That was actually a good idea, my students really liked being rewarded for learning their tongue twisters or whatnot, but I honestly just forgot about them and so only used a few of them. They’re pretty high quality stickers too.

– Maps. Oh the time I spent at the library booksale, finding the old National Geographics that included maps, carefully pulling them out of the magazines, and stashing them away in my suitcase. I had big dreams, dreams that these cool maps (maps about soccer/football and the world! and America! and earthquakes! and other things) would inspire my students. Inspire them to do what, I don’t know, but they would be inspired. The fun and excitement I associate with maps probably comes from hours playing the “Map Game” in the kitchen with my dad – “OK Molly how quickly can you find [obscure city] on the map?” – and now I realize maps are not as exciting for other people. Just another one of my misguided teaching ideas.

So the process of sorting, evaluating, and packing my belongings has begun. I’m hoping to have everything under control by Wednesday, so that on Thursday I can enjoy my last day before heading to Moscow Thursday night..

Also Happy Birthday Dad! You’re great.

Pictures from Sochi

This is the official countdown to the Olympic Games 2014. It’s hard to see but I think it’s at 983 days here. My friend said they had a huge party when it was 1000 days. It’s right by the Maritime Terminal, which is basically the sea port that has boats going to exciting places like Turkey.

 

 

We got to take a fun gondola ride to get into Dendrarii, the Sochi Arboretum. My friend’s friend works there so we got to go in for free. They had lots of interesting trees and paths and pretty fountains, as well as some ostriches and peacocks and some other birds.

Notice the fountain and my clown feet.

 

This is a tower on the top of a mountain from which you can see really beautiful views of Sochi and the surrounding areas. As you can see it was super foggy, and we could barely see from the top of the tower to the bottom. Soo there were no panoramic views.

Stunning view from the top – can’t you see the Black Sea? No??

 

Me with a really small waterfall. There are bigger ones but by then it was raining and so we couldn’t really trek onwards.

Sochi 2011

Since I didn’t have to work last week, I decided to go to Sochi to visit one of my fellow ETAs. It was all a little last minute, I decided on Friday to leave on Monday. No one should be surprised about this, everything is last minute for me. Anyways I spent Friday running around, standing in long lines at the train station, collecting my visa from the visa office, realizing that there was a mistake on my tickets (my last name is not actually Perkinsk, although I appreciate the worker’s attempt to make it Russian), and so on. Monday morning I realized I hadn’t packed. I was kind of in shock when I suddenly realized at 12:30 that I was sitting on the train, no problems, Sochi-bound. The проводница, or conductor, in our wagon didn’t even check my passport. I think it’s because the train was coming from Belarus, but, who knows.

The ride to Sochi was a full 23 hours. Sochi is a smallish city on the coast of the Black Sea, really close to Georgia and the Republic of Abkhazia. Luckily my phone didn’t stop working until after I met up with my friend, because otherwise it would have been disastrous. I felt right at home immediately – seeing the beaches, boardwalks, palm trees, all of that made me feel like I was in California. My official response to the question “How was Sochi?” is “It’s the California of Russia.” It’s wonderful.

We spent most of the time just hanging out, living the Sochi life, doing a little bit of sightseeing and that, but the weather wasn’t super great so there was not as much beach time as would have been ideal. Still, it was nice to compare experiences with another ETA and to reflect on our time here (we’re both leaving on the same day).  I’ll add pictures soon I guess, if I schlep over to some high speed internet.

Of course one of the cool things about Sochi is that the Olympics are going to be there in 2014. For those of you who had forgotten, Russia gets the Olympics in 2014 and the World Cup in 2018! What blows my mind is that the 2014 Olympics are the Winter Games, and Sochi is a resort city..a summer resort city. Stalin’s dacha is in Sochi. It’s where all the celebrities come to relax. I feel like it’s kind of like deciding to have the Winter Olympics in LA but having some of the competitions in Big Bear (Krasnaya Polyana is about an hour’s ride from Sochi and is a legit ski resort, where the outdoor races will be and some of the facilities). Winter temperatures in Sochi are usually in the 40s at the lowest. I think there will be tons (literally! tons!) of artificial snow for the games, I don’t see how else they will do that.

Another logistical thing is that Sochi is a very long city, stretched along the coast of the Black Sea. There is one main road that connects all of the city. One two-lane road. Also Sochi is fairly hilly. This will all make transportation problematic, I think they’re already trying to make the main road better because seriously what will happen.

Anyways after a few days of living the Sochi life I was missing Voronezh a little bit, I arrived back midday on Saturday geared up for my last little time here. I’m leaving from Voronezh a week from Thursday, so it’s really getting down to the wire. I bought my ticket to Moscow this morning, officially signed out my visa from the visa office, and am starting to gather up the scattered bits of my Voronezh life. Watch out, things are going to get super sentimental. Stay tuned.

Retirement

Thursday was my last official day of teaching. I am no longer an official native-speaker/English-teaching-assistant! By which I mean I have no more classes, no more lesson plans, no more tooth-pulling as I try and get some response out of my poor tired students. That said, I will miss my students, especially the ones I’ve gotten to know over the course of the whole year. They can be really goofy and silly and are also very smart, and I had a really good time with them.

Some of the other teachers and acquaintances have been asking me what I’m planning to do next. Well, I’m starting my Master’s in Russian Studies in August (at my alma mater’s rival university! the shame!) and that’s two years. To me that seems like a pretty good answer to the “what will you do next” question. But only to me. Everyone else says, “and… what will you do with that? Teach Russian?” To which I kind of laugh and say, “no…”.

One of the things that I have learned this year is that I am not really cut out to be a teacher. I know lots of people who have taught English abroad, both people who have a real interest in teaching and people who have gone on to do other things. I think even within our group of ETAs it’s the same, there are the people who were interested in teaching and in Russia and so decided to do this, and then there are the people who were more interested in Russia and saw teaching as a way to get here. I belong to the latter group. While I do think that my students learned something from me, even if it’s just that not all Americans like McDonald’s, or debunking some other cultural cliche, I think I was able to fulfill the “native speaker” role better than the “English teaching assistant” role. I have learned how to be flexible, how to make lesson plans, how to manage time, and to some degree how to assert control over a group of students who are really only a few years younger than me. I’ve also learned how to improvise when things don’t go as planned, which for me was more often than I would have liked. I’ve also learned to stand up straight (literally, I’m a sloucher) and to not be self-conscious, especially when you are teaching a group of rowdy 18 year old boys who are kind of looking at you (youuu know) and most likely making jokes at your expense thinking you can’t understand them. But I’ve also learned how to joke back with them somewhat, and if nothing else to charm them a bit.

I’ve also grown to appreciate the American style class discussion, and realize to what extent in undergrad I was guilty of the same long periods of silence that my students occasionally subjected me to after I asked them a particularly complicated or just pointless question. I’m glad to be aware of that also going into my program in the fall.

Even with all of these things that I’ve learned, I still maintain that I’m not teacher material. The two main things I don’t have enough of are patience and creativity. It’s better to know this now than later, I think, and I’ve definitely really enjoyed my work this year, but it’s interesting to know more about yourself.

So, I don’t know yet what I will do next, though I still think having a plan for the next two years isn’t too shabby. As for the short term, I’m going to visit a friend in Sochi on Monday. SOCHI. So that’s a pretty good plan too.