Why I’m in Russia

Posted: March 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

Nothing out of the ordinary has been happening lately. I have my routine and just stick with it. One thing that happens fairly routinely in my time in Russia is getting asked the question, “Why do you study Russian?” Well, dear readers, it’s a somewhat funny story. A long time ago, in a far away land called Connecticut, I was in the 7th grade in a wretched hive of scum and villainy otherwise known as Catholic school. Whilst there, I took French. Two months into the year, our French teacher abandoned us for another gig and a new lady came to teach us. It is partially this lady’s fault that I started my Russian career, though I mean this is a very good way. She should know that I greatly appreciate all that she has done for me.

In an attempt to learn our names, this new teacher had us write our names on little cards for our desks. Rather recently before this class, I had watched a rerun of “The Simpsons” in which Russia is at the United Nations and calls itself the Soviet Union. The other nations are confused, Russia pushes a button and their nameplate reverts to the Soviet Union, and hilarity ensues.

Due to the wonders of copyright, the only version of the clip available on youtube is in Spanish, and a mirrored image. The only really important dialogue translates roughly to “The Soviet Union, we thought you guys broke up.” “That’s what we wanted you to think.”

This episode also gave me a love of Lenin Zombies who shout “MUST CRUSH CAPITALISM!”

I distinctly remember drawing this instead of learning vocabulary for a German quiz. Then a friend added the werewolf.

Returning to my story, I had to write a nameplate for French class. My name ended up on one side, and “The Soviet Union” was written on the other. This became a joke between myself and my friends. That same year, I had to do a project for geography and wanted Russia as my country; however, we were not allowed to do a country from our heritage. I suffered through another year of horrible grammar school. I mostly passed my time in history class by reading ahead in the text book in the back of the room. The “current events” of our extremely up to date text books included a section on the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was one of my favorite chapters to read.

A year later, I was enrolled in high school. My mother, the other major reason why I study Russian, noticed that the school offered Russian in addition to French (and a bunch of other languages, which weren’t important at the time). She was in charge of signing me up for classes and my schedule worked out that I could take Russian as an elective in addition to French (I would have gladly dropped gym for the inclusion of German in my schedule, but alas things don’t work that way, especially at public school). I greatly enjoyed a year of remedial Russian. In a year, we basically learned the alphabet and how to introduce ourselves. We also watched a pretty funny “up to date” video about the Soviet Union. This is the best language soap opera ever. It’s about a taxi driver who falls in love with an MGU student, Olga. Olga’s brother is Sasha, who fixes tractors on the collective farm but dreams of one day becoming a rock star.

My mother was a big inspiration to study Russian because she majored in Russian. Due to the wonders of the Cold War, my mother earned a master’s in Soviet Studies on the government’s dime at Yale. Through this program, she got to spend some time in the Soviet Union. When I got a little older, it was fun to hear her stories of traveling there. I also began to appreciate her Russian literature and Soviet area studies book collection.

The collection came in handy when I was doing some research for my thesis.

During the college application process, I knew that I wanted to go to a school that offered majors in Russian area studies. Given my mother’s background, my parents were more than supportive of this choice. Once again, my grade school French teacher happily intervened in my life and told me to look at Lafayette, where she had studied. After seeing that the school had a Russian and East European Studies program, I applied. Upon receiving my acceptance, and needing to finally choose, I took another trip to Lafayette. There, I had the opportunity to sit in on an art history class, which partially made up my decision. The professor was simply amazing and I had the luck to sit in on one of the lessons on the impressionists. After lunch, I had the pleasure of speaking with a professor on the insistence of my former French teacher. This professor was on sabbatical that semester, but hearing me name drop my French teacher’s name, he came out of his way to come to school that day to speak with me. We had a great conversation, mostly about studying Russian and Russian history, and I knew that Lafayette was the school for me.

I have to admit, studying Russian at Lafayette was very good to me. I met one of my best friends on the first day of classes waiting for Russian. Although, I’m still angry that she quit after three semesters. Whatever, I’m over it, especially after we dominated our politics of post-communism course through teamwork.

After three years at college, one summer in St. Petersburg, and a winter trip to Moscow and St. Petersburg, I knew that I wanted to live and studying in Russia again. The solution was to applying for a Fulbright, which I thankfully received. And that, everyone, is the story of why I chose Russian and why I’m in Russia now.

  1. Zed says:

    “That same year, I had to do a project for geography and wanted Russia as my country; however, we were not allowed to do a country from our heritage.”

    You never told me which country you ended up picking. 3 years later. . . still dieing to know (not really)

    • grunewas says:

      Zed, that was in 7th grade. So that was about 10 years go. (Wow, that’s a really scary thought.) I ended up doing my project on Vietnam. It was interesting, but it wasn’t Russia.

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