Letter sent by Kaitlyn Wild '06, August 2004
"Culture Shock: A Travel Journal"
Sunday, 1 August 2004: The Long Weekend
The trip to Russia was brutal, as expected seeing as how it had three legs and covered many thousand miles. I really met my classmates for the first time on the flights from New York to Moscow. I was able to call home from each country I visited and have already emailed everyone. I plan on doing more emailing during the week.
It was so nice to be able to see some of Moscow on my first night
I was extremely nervous about meeting my Vladimir host family on Saturday for the first time: Would they be nice? Would they understand my lack of Russian? Would I be what they expected? As it turned out, my host family wasn’t even at home my first evening in their apartment. I got extremely worried that the KORA Institute had put me in a homestay with just a twenty- something-year-old guy. Pavel was extremely nice and kept talking to me even though I was incapable of holding an actual conversation. He was a great sport and kept diving into my dictionary when ever I hit a linguistic wall (which was at least once every sentence), and was nice enough never to expect too much of a reply from me. And no, he is not cute.
He cooked lunch and dinner for me and, lol, he got a babysitter for me for the times he had to leave the apartment for work. I haven’t had a babysitter in nearly a decade. The first time Nina, the neighbor, came over she just watched me watch Shrek for half an hour. I might as well have been five years old. She also came over to make my breakfast after Pavel had to leave for work. She then took me to the Institute in the morning via a bus ride and a walk. I never understood much of what she said, but I know that she cared when she squeezed my hand as we neared the building.
Once all of us amerikanskiye studienti were at the Institute we had a brief orientation and our first excursion – to the old water tower and the “Starii Vladimir” museum within.
Kathleen, Ellie and I are to be in a group together starting tomorrow when classes begin; we are the three students with the most Russian, though I fear I shouldn’t have claimed to have studied as much as I have for fear too much will be expected of me! (Just joshing). Our teachers seem like they are all very nice and know what they are doing. They have received descriptive letters on all of us and quite honestly I wish that could read Susan Scotto’s description of me.
The museum we walked to from the Institute was devoted to the Vladimir of the 18th and 19th centuries. I sort of find in strange that the museum was called “Old Vladimir” when in actuality the history of the city goes all the way back to the 10th century. Our guide, Pavel, spoke English well and was amusing to boot. The view from the top of the water tower was beautiful and showed most of the older parts of the city.
Nina picked me up after the excursion and took
me back to my apartment. I was planning on just relaxing and taking
a shower, but was greeted
at the door by Luba, my Russian mother, newly returned from her mother’s
70th birthday party. It was a great relief to see her there (nothing’s
wrong with Pavel, but still). She, her husband Nikolai and younger son
Zhenya are all so nice (though Zhenya has not yet talked much). Luba
and Nikolai are really into helping me improve my Russian and I felt
my tongue loosen as I talked to the two of them over lunch. After lunch
Nikolai even turned on a sports channel
I am still not perfectly at ease with everything – I have yet to take a shower (the knowledge that there is no hot water is kind of a turn off) – but I have my own key to the apartment which makes me feel like everything will be fine eventually!
Tuesday, 3 August, 2004: Officially a Junior
Well, on Monday, 2 August, I officially became a junior in college
Obviously, Phonetics is the easiest, at least at first, as we have spent most of our time practicing the pronunciation of the Russian “L”. This is actually harder than it would seem because the English “L” is right between the soft Russian “L” and the hard Russian “L”, making neither of them very natural. A mispronounced “L” is also a dead giveaway that you are a foreigner, even if the rest of your accent is impeccable. Our teacher, Elena, worked with us on it quite a bit and made us practice the “L” in combination with every Russian vowel, and Russian has quite a few vowels (10 to be exact).
Grammar class was quite difficult, and not just
because Russian grammar is difficult. During phonetics, Elena spoke
slowly and clearly (a good
sign in a Phonetics teacher) and broke into English when it was obvious
we couldn’t understand what she was saying. On the other hand,
Tatiana, our Grammar teacher, spoke very quickly and Kathleen contends
that she mumbles – I couldn’t tell because I couldn’t
listen that quickly. Not only that, but we had only passively learned
the grammatical terms in Russian. No matter what the course book said,
or what our professors planned, we have, until this time, always learned
in English. Now we have to try to figure out what
Conversation with Larisa turned out differently than I expected. I had
Anyways, three hours of classes a day are no burden at all (especially when the only other option is usually to just sit in my room at home and be nervous), though I expect I will come to find our days with double Grammar to be like Harry Potter’s days with double Potions. The transition into classes has been the easiest transition of this trip so far: I am already answering practically every question posed – regardless of whether or not I know the answer – and filling up my notebook pages at what I hope is not too rapid a pace.
Outside of class I still feel like I’m floundering
a bit. I still feel like I
Things are getting better and better for me little by little. I think
The only real issue is that I started sweating
as soon as I had dried off. In an apparent attempt to make up for the
very rainy months of June
and July, Mother Russia is trying to jam all of the summer into the month
of August. I don’t know how hot it has been, but I know that it
has been too hot for all my long-sleeved shirts and pairs of jeans. I
am always drenched with sweat and the heat doesn’t make my jetlag-ridden
sleep any softer. From now on I’m not going to listen to Europeans
when they say that they don’t need air conditioning. I understand
that hardly any of the buildings can support it, but that doesn’t
mean it isn’t needed! At least there aren’t too many bugs
Wednesday, 4 August, 2004: Food I Never Ate at Home
I suppose this would be a good time to discuss Russian food,
If any of the above is flavored, it is done so with onions,
Speaking of foods not liked, I’m sure that
you noticed that the
When it comes to being offered food and requesting food here in my
Dessert is one thing that the Russian’s don’t
do well. Most of the
Correction: I have just realized that I have been speaking untruthfully
about the Russian cuisine, but the correction has no real place in my
narrative, so I will put it here. The Russians do use one spice in great
quantities: dill. They pickle pretty much everything. Fresh food is either
eaten instantly (milk, some produce) or preserved (currants, cucumbers),
while other food is known to keep (potatoes). Cucumbers are like the
national vegetable of Russia and they are kept for long periods of time
through the process of pickling. This rocessing turns them into dill
bombs so potent that not even bacteria
I have drunk tea with every meal I eat at the
apartment and my family now thinks of me as the tea-drinker. I was
offered currant juice once,
but I know that currant juice can lay you out if too much is drunken
on an untested stomach, so I declined that – in favor of tea –,
but on time I said that I like milk, so I was given some. Nothing here
seems to be pasteurized, so it turns out that the only safe way to drink
the milk is to boil it first. I’m a girl who has subsisted on ice-cold,
skim milk. Needless to say that the hot, whole milk I was given did not
make for the most pleasant of moments. I went right back to drinking
tea, though there are too issues with the tea. First issue is the heat;
some days it is nearly too hot to drink hot tea; I wind up sweating through
the meal. The other issue is my teacup. I’m always given the nice
pretty teacup and saucer taken from the cabinet in the living room.
One last topic related to dining is paper products. There don’t seem to be many paper products in Russia. I always leave the kitchen table with sticky hands because there are no napkins. The napkins at the cafeteria where we eat on school days seem to be nothing more than single squares of really, really, really, cheap toilet paper that makes the fingers more messy than they were before touching the napkin. Luckily though, the actually toilet paper isn’t bad. It might be made of newsprint quality paper, but I really have nothing to complain about on that score.
Three hours later:
I suppose this would be a good time to discuss Russian food, seeing as how I just ate dinner – again. That’s right. I have just eaten dinner for a second time. I can’t seem to say no to these people!
When I got back to the apartment after classes,
no one was home but Pavel. He gave me cabbage, potato and meat soup,
along with bread, for
dinner around 5:00p.m. I have no idea where anyone else in the family
was at the time; Luba wasn’t at home in the morning, Nikolai is
at work and Zhenya was off wherever it is that a thirteen-year-old boy
goes everyday. I probably won’t figure out this family’s
schedule until the day I leave; I could just ask, but since there comings
and goings don’t really affect me much (someone is always home
when I am and this was the first irregularity in meals that I have encountered)
I feel it would be prying to check up on them so bluntly. Anyway, I digress – so,
around 8:00p.m. Luba returned home – at which point Pavel left
the house – and began preparing dinner. She invited me to have