Parents in Moscow.

September 10, 2013

I apologize for my absence. I moved back to the US about a month ago, found an apartment, bought a car, started a new job, and tried to see friends. This move has been almost as jarring (and quick!) as my move to Moscow, so I’ve slacked with blogging. I’ve got a few more Moscow stories for you, though, starting with my parents’ takes on their time here. I was lucky enough to have them visit me (only a few weeks before I left), and like my other visitors, I was excited to read what they thought. Since this experience was so influential on me, it was really important to me that my parents get to experience it.
IMG_0149The trip started off a little rocky–the airline lost their luggage. And for a few days, it seemed legitimately lost. Each time we called the airline, we were told it was in a different spot (in NYC, in Moscow, one bag in each place). Eventually, they just started hanging out on my dad, which as you might imagine, frustrated him. Finally, with Svetlana’s Russian language skills, we found the luggage. I was so proud of them, though. 
Despite this major mishap, they were so calm. “Are these my parents?” I asked myself and my friends. This is the same dad who has thrown crazy traffic jam tantrums on interstates all over the US, the mom who has never ever pack lightly, who just can’t go without all of her makeup. But they were calm. So calm. I bought them a change of clothes, a toothbrush, some shampoo. They did laundry. We called the airline a few times a day to check in. And then we went out. They were fine. More than fine, they were happy. After I explained that what people did in Moscow for fun was the theater, etc, my dad even agreed to a ballet. First, I’ll put my dad’s blog (Jeff) and then, since her blog references his, my mom’s blog (Dawn). Enjoy! 
Jeff says:
Moscow Russia–as a child of the Cold War era you would think that this would not be on my list of places to visit. But since my daughter moved there a year ago, it became more apparent that this should be on my bucket list sooner than later. So, on July 9th 2013, we packed our bags and off we went to a strange place I never thought I would see. With Kara being there for almost a year, we had a list of things she and others had told us about so we were really excited to get started. So, where do I start?
  I could talk about the 3 days of lost baggage and how we had to make a trip back to the airport to claim it. Or how I almost got Kara in trouble the minute I arrived by trying to drag her into customs, a secure part of the airport and how she got yelled at by a Russian customs officer.
I could also talk about the labyrinth of tunnels and steps of the Moscow Metro she led us through and that seemed so confusing at times getting to our apartment. And how I learned very fast that lines mean nothing to a true Russian. How I was amazed at the underground shops and boutiques where you can buy almost anything from cigarettes to underwear. And how parking on sidewalks is normal and almost encouraged.
But some of these things are just cultural things that are normal in big cities of the world.
People now ask me what I think of Moscow and Russia, and I have to say it was really a great experience. Standing in Red Square or inside the Kremlin was almost like being in a dream. This is a place any child of the Cold War would never have believed they would ever be. Walking in Gorky Park and along the Moscow River was some really great people watching.IMG_0070
I could go on and on about the things I saw , but really the best part was the people I met. From the coffee shop barista who knew that I could only say Kofe Americano who helped me every morning to the door lady at our apartment who tried to learn a new English word every day and all the people we met at NES ( Kara’s employer).  At first, my impression of the Russian people were that they were cold and unfriendly, but after a few days and meeting the people she worked with, I think they were just focused, because everyone we met was great, and I really appreciate that she had she wonderful people to help here while she was there. Svetlana, this is especially for you. Thank you for all your help with our luggage trouble while we were there.
When we left for Germany I wished I had had time to experience more of Russia; I learned a lot. Thank you, Kara, for sharing your Moscow experience with us, leading us around and being a reverse parent to us.

Dawn says:
I just have to say this: Jeff took all of my stuff. He said WHAT I was going to say. He is always doing that to me.  It’s just not fair. But, maybe if I try really hard I can find some little delicious detail that he might have dropped along the way.
Oh, good—I found something.

IMG_0162Upon our arrival to Moscow, Kara graciously guided her travel-worn parents to the flat. After many long hours of travel, we had arrived!! We were there; our luggage was not.  Kara gave us several clear, concise instructions: take a nap, take a shower, and most importantly, DO NOT leave this apartment without me.

But, just in case we did not heed her sage advice, she gave us an index  card filled with strange, scary looking scribbling, which according to her was our Russian address. She sincerely hoped that we would not venture out without her.

Just for the record, I never went anywhere without Kara. I was good; I listened. Jeff did not. He had to show off every morning by going out into the world to get coffee. The little note card reminded me of the little laminated yellow school bus that I attached to Kara’s shirt on the first day of Kindergarten.  I remember her being so excited about getting on that big old yellow bus and going away from me. I worried whether I had prepared her for going out into the world. Would she really be able to find her bus to get back home? All of the little things that we parents agonize over again and again.  She was fine; I was fine.

After having been all the way to Moscow to see my daughter, I am amazed at just how far away our children may go. I was very proud and impressed with her ability to navigate the metro in Moscow, and how very protective she was with us.  Learning a new culture, a new language, a new money system are not easy tasks.

After hearing Kara talk about her Moscow—the Kremlin, Gorky Park, Georgian food, St.  Basil’s Cathedral, well like anyone, I began to whine and say: “I want to go too. Why can’t I come?” I am so very thankful that we were able to see Kara’s Moscow. So, Kara, thanks watching out  for us. Your friends were all so kind and helpful. Without Sveta ‘s help, I seriously doubt we would have gotten our luggage before we were to leave on the next leg of our journey. And thanks for being such a wonderful friend to Kara.

My only question is where are we going next?  And can we bring your little sister?

A guest blog from my third visitor, my boyfriend, Jack Kynion III, who visited Moscow at the end of May/beginning of June. 

What to say of Moscow? Was it a good trip? Uh… what’s a good trip? For those of you with a weak stomach for rom-coms, read no further. After all, my only incentive for visiting Moscow, Russia, was to see a particular bright-eyed, beautiful young woman. The creator of this blog in fact. As such, I imagine this rambling, self-involved blog post will be full of corny moments, with over-indulgent descriptions of scenery sprinkled in. Well, unless the editor (take a guess who that is) cuts out all of the aforementioned gooey moments.

It seems cliché, but how do you not mention the flight over? A ten hour flight over the extreme northern hemisphere is a trek so few of us take that it makes us all curious about it. My review? It’s not so bad. Kind of boring because clouds, though magnificent, are pretty much just clouds. The inflight entertainment isn’t terrible. New releases, not-yet-released releases, and a fascinating graphic where the plane is gigantic compared to the incredibly inarticulate map. In truth, I didn’t really notice much of the time because on the flight and during my last two weeks of law school finals, in my mind, I was already in Moscow.

SONY DSC I don’t know if the relatively lax nature of Russian airport security is a good reflection on the TSA or not. On the one hand, we can rest assured that there is nowhere in the world (save maybe Israel) where more people are frisked, eyed, and made generally uncomfortable in order to fly than the U.S. of A. This should provide a relative sense of safety. On the other hand, I’m not sure what it says about one of the most liberal (read philosophically, not politically) democracies in the world, that the capital of the FORMER SOVIET UNION has easier entrance policies than we do. Interestingly, I wrote this line a couple of weeks before Snowden Gate.  No matter, I didn’t notice much of it anyways.

The whole walk from the airplane was just entranceway after entranceway. Not being a frequent international flyer I wasn’t sure which entrance way was the one that finally let me out. The one that finally let me get to Kara. So, I rounded every corner with an air of expectancy only to be disappointed. But I remained focused. Passport control, Customs, none of these were going to deter me. When I finally got through, there she was, smiling and not completely sure how to greet me.

When you don’t see someone for nearly five months you aren’t sure where to put your hands. You sort of have to remember through trial and error how to hug. And then you do and you remember why it was so hard to focus through finals week. Most everything else was a blur that day. 5,000 miles in the air can do that to a person. I didn’t care much because I was where I wanted to be for the first time in a while.

SONY DSCAs for Moscow, I didn’t like it very much, but my position softened as the days went by. The feeling of pressure that permeates the air became more understandable with time. What seems to be a fairly authoritarian government may still be an improvement from darker times. The effects of both of those systems can still be felt. But as I grew accustomed to that feeling, I was able to notice the little things a little bit more. Little things like the necessity of exact change, the lady on the street that sells the yogurt Kara likes, the incredible efficiency of the Moscow Metro system. And eventually I made up my mind about Moscow: it’s a tough place to live that has scores and scores of pretty decent people, trying to make it through the day. The strangest thing about it was that it didn’t seem to possess that rabid energy indicative of big cities like London or New York, except in a few places. Actually, the weirdest feeling came in the evening for me. Dusk seems to last from 7:30 to 11:30, which leaves you in a state of perpetual shutting down. Like computers trying to install an update of Windows 98. You look outside, it’s 10:30-11:00, and the sun is still peaking back at you. It makes everything slightly nostalgic.

For me, going to Moscow had some unintended results. I hadn’t considered how much sitting time I would have because Kara had to work part of the time I was here. I didn’t anticipate that I would spend time thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t know that having nothing to do would be such a liberating feeling. I think they call it vacation. Mostly, though, I didn’t know that being with Kara was going to make everything feel more in its own place.

SONY DSCI’ve been trying for weeks to explain in conversation what my trip to Moscow was like. Sometimes I express it in a series of vignettes. Sometimes I try to work deductively from broad principles to explain what Moscow is. Most of the time, I sheepishly explain that I didn’t see many tourist-y things because I didn’t care much about seeing much besides Kara. And now I have to describe in writing something I can’t explain in talking. I’m much better at talking.

So, in lieu of trying to write as well as Ben Pfeiffer or be as funny as Molly McCleery, I will conclude with a short list. Anyone that knows Kara M. Bollinger will understand that this ending is an homage of sorts to her, the ultimate list maker.

  1. I love being an American. I am thankful to God for the cosmic event that allowed me to be born here. And there is nothing like Kansas heat and humidity during summer, a strange thing that I missed.
  2. Kara’s friends in Moscow are caring, hospitable, people who I hope will be well loved and taken care of in their lives. They have done a wonderful job of caring for her and I am thankful for that.
  3. The only thing I feel I missed out on was sitting in one of the huge beanbag chairs in Gorky Park.
  4. It’s inexpressible how blessed I am to have been able to travel to Russia to see my girlfriend AND visit Jerusalem, Israel  AND visit Venice, Italy a week after getting out of law school. They haven’t yet made words in English that can express the immensity of my blessings.
  5. Little things on big trips are worth more to me than big things. Like the family in the airport in Rostov. Three daughters, mother and father. Abuzz in the waiting room chatting, arguing, smiling, just being a family. I couldn’t understand a single word but I’m real happy I got to watch them awhile.
  6. Kara is a friggin’ champion for braving Moscow for an entire year.
  7. I’m proud of her.
  8. I love her more now than before I went to Russia.

So, yeah, I had a good trip.

About a month ago, boyfriend Jack graduated from law school. Five days after that, he came to Moscow, and though he’s been back in KS for a few weeks now, I’m incredibly happy and thankful about his 2.5 week visit here. Obviously, I’ve been incredibly happy and thankful for all my visitors, but because of some visa complications, I thought boyfriend Jack wasn’t going to make it here…or at least not on time. In a nutshell, the travel service we used for his visa lost all of his application materials (including his passport).

When Jack called to inquire (multiple times a day for weeks), they said “We’ll call back” and then never did. I thought I might be able to help from Moscow, thinking that maybe the moral support and more “forceful” communication style of the three Russian women digitally and physically with me (Russia bestie Sveta, boss/friend Olga, and travel coordinator Oxana) would help. Below is the conversation I had with the travel company (tc):

tc: “Uh…Ma’am, we’re currently looking for that application.”

kb: “What do you mean you’re ‘looking for it’?”

tc: “Well, just that.”

*Silence*

SONY DSCAnyone who has traveled to Russia (or any other country requiring a visa) will tell you that visa stuff is frustrating and difficult and that no matter what you do, you will probably make a mistake. I made a mistake in my visa that caused me to come to Russia a week late in August; bestie Molly had to resubmit her application; and the Pfeiffers had to wait a long, long time for theirs to arrive. This was the worst problem I’d encountered though…and there wasn’t much we could do about it.

They eventually found it (four days before his flight)–it had apparently gone from the Russian consultant in Washington DC to the Russian consulate in Seattle without anyone really making note of that.

*Silence*

The consulate requested a new document from Russia, and Oxana got that within two hours (even though it was already 8 pm in Moscow). Sveta was even willing to forge documents, though she may not admit it now. Jack and I prayed a lot. And the visa arrived two days before his flight.

I say all that to say:

1. When you think your boyfriend you haven’t seen for almost five months isn’t going to get to come to Moscow, you are sad. When you find out that said boyfriend does in fact get to come and then you actually see him in the airport–in real life 3D and not through a Google+ Hangout–you are thankful and relieved and though you have to work during the days, you take him to all the Moscow places and make him pose for photos in the evenings. SONY DSC

2. You bring him to work with you the first few days because even though he can’t really do anything there and you are busy, you just. can’t. bear. to. be. apart. Plus, you’ve told all these great stories about people at work and you’ve complained so much about the stairwell with the tiles that are coming unglued and you’ve said zapekanka is so so good that you want him to meet these people and see these things and try this food. So, he sits outside of your office and contentedly reads and plays Solitaire, and your Russian friends are more hospitable to him than you are, because you know he is totally happy, but it is in their nature to continually ask if he is comfortable or hungry or thirsty.

3. You cook for him a lot because you are happy and because you realize you’ve gotten lazy with meals in the last few months. You assume he won’t want to have scrambled eggs both for breakfast and dinner, so you decide on spaghetti. The two of you can’t find garlic, but you improvise cheese bread and the whole meal is actually quite good. He insists on moving the tiny table from the kitchen to the living room so you can sit across from one another, and though it blocks the doorway to the kitchen and makes getting anything from the kitchen difficult (because your apartment is real small) it ends up being a great idea so you do it for every meal. You both decide that successful meals, even simple ones, taste better in Russia because they’re harder to make.  And then the sunsets around 10:30 pm. SONY DSC

4. He cooks for you, too, normally breakfast. On your birthday, he goes to the grocery store alone and comes back with keifer instead of milk, which is not what you use for French toast, so you go back to the store with him. 995676_974705989582_2074914979_n

5. You also realize that it’s pretty awesome to be treated on your birthday. After church, he takes you out for coffee and cake and then Georgian food with your friends and buys you a ukulele and flowers.  SONY DSC

6. You try new things. You want to take him golfing. To get there you have to confront one of your greatest fears–the bus–and it only ends up being a little scary. Even though you stare at the Moscow map on your tablet and then check street names out the window the whole time because you are just that nervous about getting lost (or perhaps because you check the street names with the Moscow map on your tablet the whole time), you don’t get lost. SONY DSC

You were never afraid of the ice cream stand, but you go there for the first time and discover the Maxibon (a Nestle crunch ice cream bar plus an ice cream sandwich). He convinces you that the Maxibon can serve as lunch. Some days you have two. SONY DSC

7. You also might travel. But that’s another blog.

 

 

 

As promised, a guest blog by the always lovely and supportive Ben and Sarah Pfeiffer, my second guests in Russia. Learn more about Ben and his writing here.

We promised to visit our friend, and we keep our promises. So we arrived after sixteen hours breathing recycled air and eating prepackaged airplane food and watching movies in the back of the headrests and reading Crime and Punishment. One stop in New York City and then hours suspended over the Atlantic. Kara met us at the airport, Sheremetyevo International (SVO). She met us outside of customs where a single, bored looking Russian waved us through without inspecting us. We took the train into the city and walked to the subway station. Kara pointed out the feral dogs, and, even though we wanted to, we didn’t pet them.

We rode the subway to Red Square and walked past the Bolshoi Theatre (Большóй Теáтр) to our hotel, a Marriott across the street from the Historical Museum of Gulag (Музей Истории Гулага). We couldn’t check in for a few hours and so we people watched in the lobby and paid the equivalent of $30 for two glasses of iced tea because we weren’t used to the currency. We went up to the room, a plain, clean, red-and-white space, plugged our iPhones into the strange two-pronged outlets, and fell asleep.

Kara met us that evening after work and took us to dinner and afterward we walked to Red Square. We took pictures of the cathedrals and the State Historical Museum. In the morning, we went back alone and stumbled around until we found the entrance to the Kremlin. Inside we passed the office buildings and the gold-white cathedrals and went on along the river. We took a tour of the Armory in the afternoon, peered through thick glass at the tsarist treasures, pressed the audio tour headphones into our ears to keep from dropping them. Then we went out again and went looking for something to eat. We found a London pub and ordered Pepsi (Пепси). That night Kara took us through a part of town called Clear Ponds (Чистый Пруди) to a hip and excellent restaurant where they wouldn’t let you take pictures. We drank beer and took a picture anyway when the staff wasn’t looking.

The next day, Wednesday, we rode the subway by ourselves. I took Russian in college and some of it returned to me in Moscow and I could sort of sound out the places and we didn’t get lost like we thought we might. Kara met us at the subway stop and we walked past an enormous abandoned fortress complex to the university where she teaches. The New Economic School is in a tall office building with a sculpture hanging on the front, a gray concrete platelet of epic proportions, or some kind of flattened doughnut ring, a piece of modern or soviet art. We ate in the cafeteria. She showed us the damaged sheetrock outside her office where a man who works in her school’s building shoots an airsoft gun into a paper target. He just stands on a balcony and smokes cigars and fires his toy guns down the hall or into the open air above the city. We met Olga, Kara’s boss, and we met her friends, who we would see again that night at dinner.

Another short subway ride brought us to a sculpture park filled with broken monuments to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Lenin’s head. Stalin’s head with the nose chiseled off. Hammers and sickles, a cage of poured concrete heads. Angels, rabbits in a boat, a soviet worker woman, a cartoon statue of Albert Einstein (Альберт Эйнштейн) and Neils Bohr (Нильс Бор). We walked through the park to the river and gazed at the enormous statue of Peter the Great. Russians hate the statue. Urban legend claims at the statue—the eighth tallest in the world at 98 meters—was ordered for America as a statue of Christopher Columbus. That’s why Peter is on a bunch of ships and has a golden map. When America rejected the design, apparently they just knocked off Columbus’s head and put Peter’s on, which involved changing the features to have fashionable mustaches and crazy eyes. The statue supposedly commemorates 300 years of the Russian navy, which Peter started, and was designed by a Georgian named Zurab Tsereteli. Peter the Great hated Moscow so it’s strange that his 15-story-tall statue should appear in this city that he abandoned to start St. Petersburg. Apparently this same Tsereteli did design a statue of Christopher Columbus called “Birth of the New World,” and the U.S. did in fact reject the design, so there might be something to those legends about the origins. People think Tsereteli’s designs are pompous and self-important. We didn’t care. Then to kill time we went to Gorky Park and bought more Pepsis. In line, a kid asked us, “Are you Americans?” Strangely enough, he turned out to attend the same small college in Missouri that Kara had gone to, a coincidence strange enough to appear in a Charles Dickens novel. We were over 5,000 miles from Missouri, after all, so maybe he was lying.

There’s so much more to tell. We ate a wonderful Georgian meal with Kara’s friends, we rode a night train to St. Petersburg, and we spent an evening at the ballet, Swan Lake. We drank liquor made from small red berries of a kind not seen in the U.S. and we stayed up late talking. We went to Peter the Great’s palace, now a museum, the Hermitage. We bought playing cards with tsars on them; we bought a furry Russian hat with earflaps from a man whose nose was dripping snot down his chin and onto his chest. We spent hours walking among the St. Petersburg canals and we rode the deepest subway system in Europe if not the world. We took a day train back to Moscow. At the train station we ate cheese pastries and watched Russian music videos, including one with a sexy bellhop who falls in love with a socialite and one with a rock star who dresses up like Spider-man and drives a tank and one with a fat American who turns into a vicious beast that eats the sun and plunges the world into darkness. Kara took us to the airport the next morning. We passed through customs without speaking to the Russian guards who examined us. On the flight home, before we landed in America again, before we came back to our lives and our jobs, we spent sixteen hours breathing recycled air and eating prepackaged airplane food and watching movies in the back of the headrests and finishing Crime and Punishment. We had promised to visit our friend, and we always keep our promises.

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.

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.