One thing I enjoy about my job is that people are generally excited about what’s happening at NES. When the school organizes things, students/faculty/alumni show up. For example, a few weeks ago, NES had a Welcome Party to start the academic year. People dressed up and we filled a room at the Marriott in the center of the city. They introduced new professors, a lot of people gave speeches, and students performed and gave presentations.  Also, this happened–my face danced on a cartoon Russian body outside at the Red Sqaure. Somewhere, I think iPhone quality video footage of this exists. 

Obviously students/faculty/alumni have had school spirit at my other schools (ummm…Rock Chalk, Jayhawk) but since NES is small (about 400 students), it feels more connected.  You can also see NES excitement through the extent to which things are documented–someone is always taking photos or video. So, this post includes a lot of photos. Some are taken by the NES photographer Ivan Ivanovich and others are taken by my friend/coworker Oxana’s daughter Luba Lubvina (I’ve indicated in each caption who took which photos). Basically, I find it quite cool that students, faculty, and alumni are all excited about the same thing.

So, last Sunday NES hosted the New Economic Start, a charity 5K that also took place in the US, United Kingdom, and China. Like other school-sponsored things, this was a big deal; I’d been hearing about it since my first day. And since I’m a runner, I knew I’d go.

And it was like when Rocky fought the Russian. Okay, it was nothing like that. When I first heard about the race, I thought that I might have a chance of doing well. I run quite a lot, and I wasn’t sure how much other people ran here. But then, the week before the race, I got a cold/the flu. I drank orange juice and ate a lot of fruit. I swore off coffee. I took a New Zealand cold/flu product, and when that didn’t work, I began taking an “immune system enhancer” that is only legal in Russia and China. Google translate said this product is also used to treat hepatitis and “respiratory chlamydia.” I have no idea how chlamydia can be respiratory, but I thought the medicine must be strong. I didn’t even question taking a drug that’s only legal in Russia and China until boyfriend Jack and my mom did. I think it worked, though.

On the morning of the race, I felt better. Sort of. But I decided that skipping this big school event and being depressed in my apartment was worse than running the race and risking getting more sick. So, I discarded my dreams of gold and instead hoped to:  a) finish b) not get sick during the race c) not be too slow (since I had bragged to the MA students that I was a runner).

Everything here seems to necessitate a speech, so before we started the race, The Vice-Rector for Academic, Students and Alumni Affairs gave a speech. And then, the Rector gave a speech. I have no idea what they said, but I imagine it was something to pump us up.

And then–this is the best part of the whole thing–we did a group warm-up. I had seen this written on the itinerary, but I didn’t know what it meant. In the US, when you run a 5K or a half marathon or race, you warm up alone. So, before the speeches started, I took a little jog around the park and stretched. But Russians also do group exercises. When the music started and our warm-up instructor began leading us, I laughed a lot. And I tried not to be culturally insensitive, but it was just funny. And a Russian professor near me was offbeat and that was even funnier. And sometimes I laughed so much that I couldn’t do the exercises at all. But I still tried. And I was glad when I saw someone taking photos because it just seemed too unreal.

We took a group photo in front of an awesome balloon rainbow and then the race started. I’ve never been good at short races (10Ks or 1/2 marathons are more my style), so I tried to make myself run a little faster than felt comfortable. And as I started the second lap, a friend from work said “You’re the first one.” This confused me because there were at least 15 people in front of me. But I realized they were all men and that she must have meant that I was the first woman. So I sped up in hopes of not losing the lead. I looked at the men ahead of me and tried to pass as many as I could. And men in Russia are pretty macho, so passing a few felt awesome.

I surprised myself by doing quite well. I think I was in the first 20 to finish. And I was the first woman to finish, so I won my first gold medal ever and got a certificate. And I got to stand on a podium.

Jen and David are my American friends. Though Jen teaches at another school, they are both ESL teachers. Jen is from Minnesota and David is from Missouri. He even went to Truman. You’ll be hearing much more about these two soon.

NES Rector awarding medals.

Meet Svetlana (left) and Irina (right). They are my friends. They work in the Alumni Office and they put in a lot of work for this race. Like Friday night work. And Saturday night work. They really deserve multiple shout-outs, but I only have one blog.

The photo we shared with the other race locations.

When I saw these photos, I was so appreciative of them. Not only because I wanted to use them for my blog and because I’m sentimental, but because in the candid shots, I look happy and comfortable. Genuinely.

Today I felt similarly and since I’m still feeling happy from it, I’ll tell you a brief story. This is my friend Nastya (or Anastasia). She teaches English at NES, and she is one of my first Russian friends. You might remember me mentioning her in the post about IKEA because she drove us there.

She invited me to ride bikes near the flat she owns in the northwest part of Moscow. She picked me up at Krylatskoye metro station and after she shared the breakfast/brunch she’d made for her sons with me, we rode our bikes across the Moscow River and biked in a nature reserve for a few hours. Like all the other parks I’ve been to, this one was beautiful. And though the forest definitely looked Russian, it did not feel like we were in Moscow. 

When we got back to her flat, she asked if I’d like lunch, and since the metro ride back to my apartment takes about an hour, I accepted. Her flat is the first real Russian flat I’ve visited. She’s put so much time into renovating it to make it hers. It’s modern and warm and since the flats here are small (and she has two sons), every space/surface is functional, which was cool to see.  She heated up some soup and we chatted for an hour. And it felt like a normal Sunday, a Sunday you spend with family or where you see friends, a Sunday where you are comfortable.

I had my first homemade Russian meal. And she sent me home with homemade baked goods. Also, the first I’ve had.

life as sitcom

September 26, 2012


I’d venture to say that at least twice a week, I cover my face with my hands and laughing, tell boyfriend Jack “My life is a sitcom.” It’s the punchline to all my weird stories. The first few times, he just agreed, but now he’s started to say it for me. And he’s the one laughing, face in his hands. This makes me feel happy because it means that I’m not crazy for thinking that certain parts of my Russia life are crazy.

Maybe by saying it so much, we’ve spoken it into being.  It is now truth, though maybe not capital T. It’s a comedy, for sure. It’s definitely not Friends. Some days I’m like the guy in that  How I Met Your Mother show my mom likes so much. And unfortunately, sometimes I’m Raymond. But most of the time, I think I’m most like Michael Bluthe, like I’m the only character who realizes something super strange is going on. Really, I just want to be a Bluthe.

For example, today I ran into landlord Yuri and the one I call “Yuri’s Brother” while I was walking home from the metro station after work. They had been to my apartment looking for me. Somewhere in our GoogleTranslated emails, I missed the fact that they were coming over to fix things tonight. So, as I write this, they are playing in the shower, using Russian Draino and a plunger. They are brothers, and though I have no idea what they’re saying, I find their chatter quite entertaining. They exit the bathroom occasionally and we speak to each other in fragments.

About Our Respective Days:

“как дела?”

хорошо. и вы?”


About my sightseeing:

“Go for a stroll. You?”


“Red Street?”

“да. Red Square. Kolomenskoe”

About appliances:

“Oven no job.”

“да. It doesn’t work.”

“This and this doesn’t work together.”

“Okay, the top and the oven don’t work together?”

“да.” *Yuri fiddles with it and the burners and oven work simultaneously* “нет, it work”


Or there are the moments when I am in a Russian choir practice, and we are singing the school’s alma mater but it is in Russian so I just stand there. Or better yet, when the choir switches to “Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight,” and I realize that my life is awesome because they are singing this totally sweet song so enthusiastically and that it’s just adorable.

Or when I’m looking for dental floss and I realize that the best translation I can piece together from my travel book is going to be “tooth string.” And before I even make a fool of myself, I step away from the counter.

Or the evening in my apartment with landlord Yuri, landlord Vladimir (Yuri’s dad), Yuri’s brother, and “the window guy.” They are measuring for new windows in the kitchen. Despite the kitchen being awfully small, their negotiations take two hours. I sit at my computer sending emails and writing, and they mostly leave me alone. Occasionally, I have to move my things so the window guy can hang out the window. Or landlord Vladimir interrupts me to say that he will buy me a mattress, indicating from his gestures and body language that he is worried about my back hurting from sleeping on the couch bed.

Sometimes, I find myself participating in an aerobics session to warm up for a 5K (more on this soon). There are the times that a lady comes over the loudspeaker on the metro and we all exit the train and wait for the next train to arrive. I have no idea why this happens. I just do it because everyone else does.

These are the moments I wish so badly that someone with a camera would zoom out or in. Out to show the whole situation, and in to show my amusement or confusion. Instead I imagine the zooming in my head. And if there’s a mirror nearby, I look at myself and make the face the main character of the sitcom would make when they have the realization that everything is totally weird and that they have no control.

Last week, as I walked home from work, I heard flute music playing. And there, in the spot where the fruit lady usually has her stand, were three Native Americans. They were dressed in headdresses like the American Indians I knew. They were selling CDs and bracelets. And I felt so happy to see something normal (we’re operating in a reality where American Indians playing flutes in Moscow is normal…), something that reminded me of all our family vacations out west.

I decided to buy something. I expected them to be from Oklahoma or Colorado. When the man said they were from Ecuador, I realized they were pretending to be American Indians. I picked out the bracelet I wanted, and said I was happy to see someone who spoke English, but the man only said “Un poco.” So we conducted the rest of our business in Spanish and he seemed relieved that I could speak Spanish.

And the thing is, it almost felt normal.



Though I haven’t written much about it on the blog, I’ve done quite a bit of Moscow sightseeing. Actually, I call it exploring and my outings, explorations or adventures. It seems to carry a bit more umph, and frankly, due to the planning each trip typically requires and the confusing moment(s) that inevitably happen, exploring/explorations/adventure ring pretty accurate. Plus, I often wear flannel.

I’ve wasted no time! Every Saturday and/or Sunday, I explore. The city is quite lovely, and I know that very soon, it will be rainy/snowy/cold. I mean, I went to the Red Square my second day full day in Moscow, jet-lagged and hungry and still learning how to pay for things in rubles.  I’ll hit the high points of the Red Square trip and others later, but now I’ll write about this weekend’s exploration because I remember it well and that makes for better writing.

Exploring here takes more energy than it would in the US. I spend at least an hour reading my Moscow guidebook and researching on the internet. Luckily, friends from work have been pointing me in the right direction. Evgeniya–thelovely office assistant/art student who helped me find my apartment–sends me links for parks weekly because she knows I love being outside. My research also entails making sure my destination is close enough to a metro that I can walk. And then, I use this handy interactive metro map to figure out the easiest way to get there. I try to find the address or determine the general direction of the destination from the metro. I write these things down on scrap paper, I pack a snack, and I’m off.

Though I do a lot of exploring alone (this is what happens when you move to Russia solo, people…just sayin’), I’m not a total loner. Often I go with friends, and then some of the planning is done for me.

Now, here I’ve written 300 words and not a one about Kolomenskoe. The most difficult part of exploring is finding the actual destination once you’ve arrived to its nearest metro. The thing about the metro is that there are multiple exits. So, though I was at Kolomenskaya Station, there were (at least) four possible places I could come out.  Luckily, this particular station had clear signs inside to show which exit leads to which street. And though I had the address written down, Moscow’s streets aren’t labeled well, sometimes not at all.

I usually try to figure it out on my own, decide that I can’t, ask one Russian person who refuses to help me, and then ask a Russian person who is nice. I almost followed this plan to its conclusion, but I was/am recovering from being sick and was kind of grouchy, and when the first Russian woman refused to help, I said “To hell with it, I’ll find this place on my own.” And so I headed in the direction that seemed right. It didn’t hurt that there was a constant stream of people heading that way too, so it being a sunny Saturday, I thought we might be going to the same place.

Kolomenskoe is beautiful. From my Lonely Planet guidebook, I learned that Kolomenskoe is an ancient royal country seat and a Unesco World Heritage Site. It sits on a bluff overlooking a bend of the Moscow River. Shortly after it was founded in the 14th century, it became a favorite spot for Moscow’s princes. It’s a cool mixture of churches and gates and other structures from different centuries.

Other cool things happened here. Like, Peter the Great lived in a cabin at Kolomenskoe while he supervised fort-and ship-building at Arkhangelsk. And, Tsar Alexey’s Wooden Palace used to be here, but Catherine the Great demolished it in the 1700s. They’ve built a replica of it, but I didn’t make it there–the park is quite big. They’re also trying to make a section of the park a “living museum,” so they’ve recreated a peasant’s farm, blacksmith compound, working stable, etc. For example, I believe that yellow box is for bee-keeping. Maybe a beekeeper can confirm?

I hope I don’t sound too dumb when I talk about historical things. My public school education didn’t cover a whole lot of Russian history, and since I wasn’t required to take Russian courses as a liberal arts undergrad, I didn’t. Or worse–I hope I don’t sound like I know a lot about Russia. I don’t. I’m learning all these things now. I imagine that after I’ve been here awhile longer, my historical descriptions will become more in-depth/better.

The Church of the Ascension, 1532

Church of the Ascension and Church of St. George

An overlook in Kolomenskoe. When you live in a city and see buildings, buildings, buildings, it’s amazing how breathtaking a piece of scenery can be. Especially when it catches you off guard.

Moscow River

Church of Our Lady of Kazan

Former Site of the Wooden Palace

No Russian adventure would be complete without something strange/hilarious happening. Apple trees cover the park. I noticed people eating apples. And then I noticed people were collecting them with special sticks, filling bags and carts, maybe to save for later, maybe to sell outside of a metro station. I’d packed my own apple as a snack, but when I saw people eating apples from Kolomenskoe, I knew I could never be content with my apple from the market (though maybe they were the same?).

I knew it wasn’t good to eat one straight from the ground, as many of those were rotting or half eaten by some kind of creature. So, I decided I would climb a tree. I am, after all, from Missouri. I stared up at the trees, looking for a spot where I could reach an apple from a limb.

And I must have really looked like I wanted an apple, because this guy came up with two women. And he started speaking to me. And then he shook a tree limb. And apples fell everywhere. And we dodged them and laughed and collected apples quickly. And then he moved to another limb and did the same thing. And he said “American” and “apple pie” and I said “яблоко” and that was about all the talking we did. And then he accidentally hit an old man on the head with an apple and that old man yelled at us. This became quite a game.

So we ate apples together and filled our bags.

Now presenting the 2nd video blog:

Again, the writer in me must self-edit:

1) “a 5 gallon liter of water” What is that? It’s 5 liters of water. Obviously…metric system.

2) It is harder to stay on track in a video blog because rambling is real easy when I am just talking. I had like 4 other stories to tell you all. I hope you don’t mind my ramblings.

3) I don’t even care that much about Heinz ketchup.

4) I forgot some things about the metro. I should have mentioned these:

a) I’m getting comfortable making my way around underground. I still couldn’t tell you cardinal directions from like…anywhere…but when I’m in the metro, I can usually figure out which corridors I should go down to come out at the exit I want to come out at. Not always, but usually. And that’s cool.

b) What helped the most with the metro was practicing/learning my Russian alphabet. Initially, I would stand in front of signs and stare for a long time, matching up each letter of the station names and then hoping I’d catch the pronunciation when they said it on the train. But then, at the suggestion of a friend here, I practiced my alphabet over and over. And I wrote the names of my stations over and over again on legal pad paper (where I do my best work). Профсоюзная and Конькова. And others that I see often. And things got a lot faster. Literacy helps.

c) They sell everything underground–cigarettes, pastries, chips and cookies, magazines, eyeglasses, underwear. I haven’t bought anything yet, but I think very, very soon.

d) Some people stand right in front of the doors waiting for their station. They just stare out and they don’t hold onto anything for balance/safety. I can do that now too.

e) One day last week, I saw my train coming but I wasn’t on the platform yet. I ran down the stairs and slid through the door right as it was closing. That felt SO Moscow.

A little over three weeks of Moscow life and I’ve started to miss the garden in Lawrence. On days that are cold and rainy, the missing isn’t so bad. But on sunny days, I wish I could bike to the community garden and weed for a minute. Or just sit. Or see Nic, Michael, or Danielle and talk about which bugs are eating which plants or plan for the fall.

Even on the days when I don’t want to actually garden because of the weather, I miss the food. You have no idea how much LCGP swiss chard or kale I could put away if I could somehow access it. Ah, kale…where is the kale in Russia? And the spinach? I’m growing quite fond of cabbage, but cabbage, kale, and spinach are not the same.

Luckily there are lots of vegetables here. Really lovely outdoor markets that line the streets by the metro exits. So I normally stock up on fruit and tomatoes and eggplant and peppers there. I just learned, however, that if you’re foreign, you should wash all produce with iodine, which I haven’t been doing. And I eat a lot of vegetables. I learned this fact while I was telling an American friend about a 3-day long (and counting) serious stomach ache. I believe in my body’s ability to adjust to Russia and/or to fight this off, so I’m going to wait it out. [Today I developed cold/flu symptoms. So, I’m drinking ColdRex, which is a brand from New Zealand and I assume is similar to TheraFlu?] Anyway, I’m going to keep eating vegetables. The produce is good and, maybe I’m being optimistic, but I think the eggs here are better, like just the normal ones from the grocery store. The yellows are yellow. 

Friday night we were out, and I picked up an expat newspaper called element. The writing is so-so, but it’s helpful for giving you an idea of what’s going on in town. And in English, nonetheless. It lists art exhibits and the showtimes for 35 mm, a theater that shows non-Russian films.  And there were advertisements for Irish pubs, pizza restaurants, and American looking bars. Daughtry and Nickelback are coming to town, but I’m not going.

Most importantly, though, I learned that The Slow Food movement would be in Moscow this weekend. Slow Food, the opposite of Fast Food, encourages people to grow their own food and cook meals that take time. And it was at Dorogomilovsky Market, a place I intended on going anyway. While the street-side markets are pretty and quite convenient, I want something bigger, like a Farmer’s Market. And I wanted to see people who like real food.

So, Sunday afternoon, I went. Unfortunately, aside from a few signs, I didn’t see much that seemed related to the festival. Maybe people there were talking about slow food, and it was just lost on me because it was in Russian. Instead, it seemed like what I would expect a normal Sunday at Dorogomilovsky Market to be. Despite not meeting my festival expectations, I still got to see and buy real food.

I began my “buying things in Russia” cycle. First, I wander around, slowly reading Russian signs to get a sense of what’s there and how much it costs. I saw fruit and vegetable stands that all seemed exactly the same. Then there was what I labeled the “pickled stuff” section. Then the dairy section. And then fish. And then I got to the section with enormous slabs of meat and entire chickens. And also rabbits; I’m 99% sure judging by the furry feet.

The second stage of the “buying things in Russia” cycle is when I freak out (internally, of course) and decide that I just won’t buy anything. The vendors here talk to you if you glance their direction, trying to get you to choose their stand, so looking at the produce without being noticed was impossible and examining something meant I’d have to speak in Russian or nod a lot. But then, I played the current scenario in my head–I ride the metro for 30 minutes, walk for 15 to the market, and then leave without purchasing a thing–and that just seemed stupid.

So I moved to the third stage, which is when I find a secluded corner and look up words and phrases in my travel book.  After I’ve practiced the phrases to myself, I use my fingers to save those pages and then I approach someone who looks nice. The bread ladies seemed nice; they weren’t. But, I asked “сколько они стоят?” and bought bread. And then, I went to the rows of vegetable pyramids. And a vendor motioned to my camera, indicating that I should take a photo. So I did. He also gave me a grape. He owned one of the few stand with lettuce that didn’t look like it was from the supermarket, so again I asked “сколько они стоят?” and the woman said “сто,” which I thought meant “100,” but I wasn’t sure so I typed it into my iPhone’s calculator and she said “да,” so I bought it.

By this point, I was feeling quite brave so when I found a stand with spinach (yes….spinach!), I walked right up and said “шпинат?” because that was one of the first words I learned and then “сколько они стоят?” The man said “пятьдесят,” and I double checked again on my iPhone and I was right, it was 50. I bought one bunch, and he asked if I was German.  I walked around a bit more and then realized that since this was the first spinach I’d seen, I should stock up. So, without being embarrassed, I went back and bought a second bunch. And I was so happy about the spinach that when I had coffee with a friend afterward, I asked her to take a photo of me with it; but frankly, I’m becoming quite fond of the Ride to the Fifteenth Floor Elevator Self Portrait. Expect more.

There was a cart of small desserts I’d been eying since I walked into the market. They seemed free, like part of the festival or something. I had walked past the cart three times trying to decide if they were or not. I saw a group of men hovering around them and eating them, so on my way out I grabbed one of the bigger pieces of baklava. Then I heard a woman say something loudly. She was probably talking to someone else, seeing as how the market was loud and many people were yelling and how there was clearly no cash register or stand connected to this cart. But, the thought of being caught stealing in Russia alarmed me. So I exited quickly and purposefully and inhaled the evidence.

Sunday I secured my spot in the group of 20-and-30-something-year-old wannabe/amateur interior designers who dream of the home office that fits their aesthetic and the kitchen that makes up for its lack of counter space by employing shiny hooks and shelves that hang from the walls.

I’ve finally been to IKEA, though I went all the way to Moscow to do it.

My brain is inundated with images of innovative bookshelves, lavender coffee tables, and slender filing cabinets. I don’t know what my perfect bedroom looks like yet, but you can be certain that I’m brainstorming, drawing floor plans, subscribing to the IKEA catalogue.

I wandered the display rooms, pictured myself drinking cups of tea on various couches and baking cookies and homemade bread in all the kitchens. I envied Zooey Deschanel for going there with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the way they tested beds and stoves, and plotted their theoretical home.

Since getting to Russia, I’ve been pretty darn resourceful. In my temporary apartment, I made it a goal to buy as few things as possible, because I didn’t want to move them to a new place. So, I bought foods that could be eaten for every meal—rice, bread, fruit, eggs, cheese—and when home, I ate basically only those things. I saved plastic bags, which are surprisingly useful for keeping your passport/visa sweat-proof and rain-proof in your sports bra when you’re out for a morning jog.

Though it’s only been a few days, I love my new place. It is sunny sunny sunny. The doorways inside the apartment have arches (which almost everyone comments on). It’s only four metro stops from work. I live on the fifteenth floor, which is awesome, and like all Russian apartments I’ve seen, there are three levels of security—a magnet-key gets me in the front door, a gate gets me into my side of the fifteenth floor, and then I unlock my door. No one can get to me. There is a huge, beautiful park (photos to come) across the street and I can see it out of my window.

But since I’m still settling in here, I’ve still had to be resourceful. While I had furniture, sheets, and a few kitchen items the first few days, I didn’t have many basics. Example: On my first night here, I didn’t get home from work until 8:45 because I had to stop at this quasi-mall to buy a towel for showering and then go to the grocery store. After getting yelled at by the Russian cashier for not knowing the word she used for “bag” (it was different than the one I knew), I rode the metro to my stop. I bought eggs for dinner, but once home, I realized I didn’t have a skillet. I did, however, have a pot. So, I had salad with hardboiled eggs.

Maybe that’s not a big deal, but at the end of a day where I moved into my new apartment, went to work, negotiated with the towel lady using only hand gestures and “yes” and “no” in Russian, got yelled at by a Russian cashier, and realized that I didn’t have the main cooking instrument I had planned on using for the dinner I was hungry for, it felt pretty damn resourceful to make a legitimate meal and not just eat chocolate and crackers (I’ve found some REAL tasty Russian crackers) for dinner. The next day, I bought fruits and vegetables from one of the many outdoor vendors and made essentially the same meal. And it was great. One new friend from work gave me extra dishes from her apartment—a few bowls, some mugs, and a lovely Russian tea set. And that was just really nice and it definitely made it easier for me to eat meals here.

I like being resourceful, but I also like hanging up my blazers and frying eggs in a skillet, so two of my friends took me to IKEA. There I was daydreaming. And then, like I assume happens to many 20-and-30-something-year-old wannabe/amateur designers in complete awe of IKEA, I remembered that I am a 20-something-year-old. And that I am renting an expensive, tiny one-bedroom apartment in Moscow, Russia. And I remembered that the 56cm x 70cm x 19cm space in my bathroom would certainly not hold the iron shelf I liked so much. And I realized that in order to implement all the design ideas I had rolling around in my head, I would surely need a mansion. And that anything I buy here—even if it is a dark red nightstand I love dearly—will likely stay in Russia when I go back to the States.

So I got real. I still oooh-ed and aaah-ed at every perfect display room. And I wondered how awesome it must be to be an 8-year-old with a tree house for a bedroom. But I made sure everything I bought had a purpose. And I used the paper ruler they provided and I measured things. And I paid attention to price tags and got out my phone to divide the ruble amounts by 32 to see about how much it was in dollars.

A new friend here claimed that it was impossible for a trip to IKEA to take less than two hours; he suspects this is the reason IKEA has a cafeteria. I nodded politely, as Midwesterners do, and thought “He hasn’t seen me shop.” I hate shopping and so I shop quickly. My ideal shopping day is going to the Gap with Katie W or Clare E, buying the one item I need, and then getting out of there. Thirty minutes tops. So, I thought I could do IKEA quickly, not thirty minutes quick, but quick. How wrong I was; we were there for at least 2.5 hours, and I think I enjoyed every minute of it.

When I saw that I spent 6,173 rubles, I sort of freaked out. But then I realized that was only about $200 and for everything I got, it seemed pretty good. I bought picture frames and a bulletin board. And two plates, one bowl, and two glasses. I got Tupperware, three small cooking utensils, two skillets, pot holders and some kitchen towels. And I needed something for the bathroom so I found these plastic drawers and bought these little boxes in which two pairs of shoes fit perfectly. I bought wooden hangers. And I assembled a metal closet/rack thing in a dress, using a knife with some remnants of a hardboiled egg as a screwdriver.

Can someone please send me a screwdriver?

Video Blog #1: New Apartment.

September 6, 2012

One friend–a certain Samantha Lyons–said that doing a video blog in Russia would be cool. I agreed.  I decided to give it a try today.

I moved into my permanent apartment this morning. My first real home in Moscow. I love it. I was really excited when I moved in. And since I was excited (and I can’t really call anyone in the States to tell them about it), I thought a video blog would be the best way to show that. My other idea was to type only sentences that ended with exclamation marks. Plus, I’ve been video chatting with people a whole lot lately, and now I really like the idea of incorporating a bit of video into the blog. As weird as it was initially to talk to people in Missouri/Kansas/Florida/wherever over the internet, it feels comfortable and normal now…a part of my life. I don’t know if I’m good at video blogging…I guess we’ll all find out.

For now, I’m internet-less at the permanent apartment, though, which means that unless I write them ahead of time, my blog entries are going to be kind of short and kind of sporadic since I’ll be posting them from coffee shops or before/after work.

After I recorded this, I realized a huge downfall of video blogs: I felt the need to edit. Like…instead of saying that things in Russia are “ugly,” I really meant that sometimes the apartments and the decor are kind of wild and/or tacky (I’m thinking cheetah print couches and red neon lights that run around the ceiling…not that I’m speaking from experience or anything). Many things in Russia are beautiful. So, the writer in me feels the need to apologize for that slip and others like it.

I can’t wait to show you photos after it looks a bit more settled.

Work: Week One

September 3, 2012

Preface: I write you from a coffee shop near my temporary apartment (please note that I successfully ordered myself an Americano in a broken, but complete, Russian sentence). There is a child here with his really beautiful Russian mom. And in between playing with the napkins and sugar cubes, eating some kind of pastry I wish my mom would buy for me,  and dancing to “Moves like Jagger” by Maroon Five in his chair, he keeps staring at me. Over and over again. I don’t know why. I’m on my MacBook Pro writing. I’ve showered, though I am sorta dressed like a lumberjack. I’ve looked WAY weirder than this in Lawrence and gotten no looks at all. When children stare at me, I feel weird and wonder why I am worth staring at. But he’s the one touching all the sugar cubes, so maybe he’s the weird one.

But I digress: A major part of my first week of Moscow life was going to my job. I arrived in Moscow Friday morning (8/24) and started work on Monday (8/27). At first I was worried that starting work so soon was a bad idea, but in hindsight it seems perfect. Going to work and having a purpose and meeting a lot of people was just what I needed to help myself feel more settled here.

I haven’t exactly told you what I’m doing. Many of you know because we are friends or you’re in my family but here’s a quick description of my job. This is an extended version of what I tell the Russians when they look at me, perplexed, and say “But why Moscow?”

When I chose Rhetoric and Composition for my Master’s, my goal was to focus on writing center work and eventually get an administrative job in a writing center, ideally as an Assistant Director so I’d have some practice working with someone before I went for a big, ol Director position.

I maintained my interest in writing centers throughout graduate school and so as graduation approached, I applied primarily for writing center jobs. This job at the New Economic School in Moscow was listed, so I thought about it for a few days and then applied. Because I have zero Russian experience and zero economics/business experience, I didn’t expect to even get an interview for this job. But then when I did, I was really excited. And when the job was offered to me—the exact position I’d hoped for paired with a major adventure—I couldn’t imagine not taking it.

These things are also worth noting: 1) NES is one of the best economic schools in Russia. 2) This is the first writing center in Russia. The first writing center in Russia. My boss Olga started the Writing and Communication Center on her own last year and realized she needed an assistant. So, I’m coming in at a great time for growth/development/professional experience 3) The discipline Rhetoric and Composition (my field) doesn’t really exist in Russia.  We are bringing new teaching practices/theories here. So, I’m really getting to do something quite unique.

So here I am. As the Assistant Director of the Writing and Communication Center at NES, I’ll have a number of roles. Right now, my goals and responsibilities are as follows: 1) I will work with students one-on-one—on academic writing, professional writing, personal writing, maybe even creative writing. I will help plan and lead workshops for students. I will work with English faculty, helping them design their courses/syllabi/writing assignments. Obviously my goals and responsibilities will change/develop as the academic year progresses, but for now, these are the most pressing issues at NES. Eventually, I may teach a course but for my first year, I will only do writing center stuff.

It’s also worth noting that this is my first ever real, adult job. Obviously, teaching for three years in graduate school was a real job; however, grad school is in between being a grown up/having a job-job and being a student. So, then it was appropriate for me to wear flannel and/or Keds to work and also to fill my backpack with leftover food from department events. Oddly enough, when I was preparing and being super anxious/excited/nervous, I thought very little about the fact that I was making a transition into a job-job. I think that’s because I assumed the job in a writing center/academia, would be the most normal/comfortable part of my Russian life.

And after a week at work, I think it definitely is. I mean, there are lots of differences between this school and KU, I’m still meeting people, and I’m definitely still figuring out my place/role at NES, but from this first week, I think I am going to love this job and the people here. Much of the week was spent doing paperwork and getting an email account and having long lunches and being shuttled around the school meeting people. But, I’ve had little moments of a “normal” day and those moments feel really good.  I also kind of like wearing work clothes; I think it makes me seem important on the Metro. Side note: That’s how ugly my temporary apartment is. We’ll talk more about Russian decor later.

Highlights from the first work week include:

1) Brainstorming with Olga, an English teacher, and the website content manager (who is also a painter) about how we should decorate the WCC.

2) I’m embarrassed to admit this, but…the cafeteria (“canteen” here). It’s just that–a cafeteria–where you walk through with a tray and ask for food. Very orderly, very Soviet. The food is actually quite good and it’s allowing me to try things inexpensively.

Every day here’s what happens: Olga reads the menu to me in English. Regardless of what the entrees are, I have pretty much the same thing. Some kind of cabbage/beet/or greek salad. And soup because I’m usually cold.  And, then, even though I say I won’t, I always have a pirozhki. If I get fat from Russian food, these guys will be to blame.

The first time I ordered this “small” lunch (a Russian lunch would be these things plus an entree), the women who work in the cafeteria were surprised and asked in Russian “Is that all?” but now they understand my system. They smile when I come through the aisle, and on Thursday, when I asked for borscht for a second day in a row and they had run out, they told Olga that they wanted me to try another one instead. Then, the women at the cash register told Olga that she liked it that I ate pirozhki every day.

3) Having two lovely evenings out in Moscow with colleagues at two ultra hip restaurants. (I’m easing my way into nightlife here).

4) There are free cookies and tea every single day at work. Cookies. Every. Single. Day.

5) Attending two orientations for students—one for the MA program and one for the BA program. It was actually quite funny…Olga would talk somewhere between 5 and 7 minutes in Russian about the WCC and the services we offer students. And then I’d hear “Kara Bollinger” and I’d take the microphone and talk for about 45 seconds. I spoke my English slowly so they’d understand. I introduced myself. And said my Russian was bad and then laughed. And explained to them why I was at NES. And told them that I was really excited to work with them at the WCC. And both times, the students leaned forward. And laughed when I laughed. And nodded at me encouragingly. And smiled real big.