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.