Thursday, September 28, 2006

Day-to-day life

The weather has been really nice recently. Mostly in the 60s-70s and sunny. I have a feeling that when November rolls around, things will change.
Tomorrow we are going on an excursion to another medievel Russian city. It should be exciting. The city, Bogolyubovo, is a really historic and pretty area.
The culture of Russia is becoming more and more familiar. No longer does it seem ironic that the man driving the ambulance has a Marlboro (or more likely a Soyuz-Apollo) dangling from his lips. Equally, the constant threat of jay-walking tickets (a 50 rouble/$2 fine) is not as worrisome.
The ACTR proram continues to impress me by how effective the teaching is, and in how structured the program is. All of the different subjects work in unison, to drive home points. For instance: The grammar class we are learning "verbs of motion". So in the reading class, we read poems heavy in motion verbs. At the same time, in the conversation class, we spoke at length about travel. Everything is connected.
Day-after-day I am delighted that I chose the ACTR program. And day-after-day I realize that Vladimir was the best city offered.
I would strongly encourage all students of Russian to apply for the same scholarship that I did. Additionally, I would highly recommend the ACTR-RLASP Vladimir program. Studying in Russia has increased my active vocabulary by more than 500 words already.
I have heard (while here in Vladimir) that the linguistic gains of students in Moscow or St Peteresburg is less than that of students in Vladimir. So that is reassuring.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Several people have emailed and asked how the classes are coming along. Well, since the people that asked are studying Russian, I will get into the specifics: They have really picked-up in pace recently. In grammar we will have covered numbers and non-prefixed verbs of motion in just two weeks.
This sounds easy, but as an example, the word "one" has 13 different ways of being written. For each case (i.e. nominative, genitvie, prepositional, dative, instrumental, accusitive (animate or inanimate)) the word "one" is written differently. The "one" (or any other number) must agree is gender and number of what it is quantifying. So the object can be masculine, neuter, feminine or plural. So really, there are 22 options of how the word "one" can be written. Of course, it sounds funny that there is a plural of "one". But some objects (i.e. jeanS) are only found in the plural, not in the singular.
Motion verbs are an equally tricky subject... Just take my word for it.
I am spending more and more hours every night in the battle to keep ahead of the classs. Aside from the grammar which I have described above, I am taking several other classes. I have honestly found that Schaum's Guide to Russian Grammar has been tremendously helpful. It conscisely and clearly details everything that we have covered thus far, and will likely do so for the entire year that I am in Russia. I have used it as my auxillary source of information to my class-textbook and as my primary source for my independent study of other areas (i.e. verbal adverbs or formation of the compound comparitives).
Phontetics have also proved to be tremendously difficult. I would rather learn phonetics by listening/talking to Russians. But this, in the end, will prove to be helpful in my pronunciation of the Russian language. We essentially take words (usually poems, etc) and put the words into photetic form. Phontetic form is how the dictionary writes words, to show exactly how they should be pronounced.
I met with one of my Russian friends last night and went over phonetics and grammar for a couple of hours. Conveniently, she has recently completed her degree in teaching Russian to foreigners. So the time was very well spent!
This Friday we are taking an excursion to the neighboring village for a couple of hours. Next week we are off to Suzdal. And in a couple of more weeks, we go to St Petersburg for a week!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Saturday in Vladimir

Not much has been happening. Last night I went out to the local discos/clubs. They were nice... But not worth the 150 rouble cover to enter. I figured I had to try it once to see if it was worthwhile.
Today there is some kind of a demonstration in the city center. It is being organized by Nashi33.
Nashi 33 is a nationalist, yet anti-fascist, youth movement. They seem extremely tame and only interested in encouraging nationalism.
In regards to my previous post on Russia. The average teacher in Vladimir gets paid about $100 a month. A government employee earns about $200. So it really depends on the occupation.
Increasingly I am coming to appreciate the Russian life more and more. The Russians are tremendously generous and warm, once you get past their austere outward appearance and behavior.
Last night I went out to the clubs with one of my American friends. He tried to bum a cigarette off of a Russian youth. When the youth heard my friend's heavy American accent, he asked where he was from. When the youth heard, "America", he was shocked. He gave my friend two cigarettes, then preceeded to ask a long series of questions. We spent the next hour talking to these Russian students about the US. We then exchanged phone numbers and they gave us a good deal of advice on the night life in Vladimir. It was pretty neat.
Well, I will post more next time.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Politics in Russia

Politically, Russia is unique. It is a former socialist state, transforming itself into a democratic nation. It is a former command economy, becoming a market economy. What does that translate into for the average American?
Well, the average Russian seems to like Americans. They seem to enjoy the thought of the "American Dream". Really, they don't have too much in common with the average American though.
The average person in Vladimir makes about $180 a month. They may (or may not) have a dishwasher, clothes washer, clothes dryer, blender or car... My host family has non of those.
Equally, the average Russian woman will have between 5-7 abortions in her lifetime. As abortion remains the common means of birth control, 5-7 is considered quite normal. The average Russian family does not have enough children for poluation replacement (i.e. the birth rate is far too low.)
The average Russian doesn't really give a damn about what the US is doing in Iraq. They have too many other problems.
Nobody (legally) owns firearms. The NRA perspective is really something new to them. I think that it sort of frightens them to find out that there are more guns than people in the US.
As you stroll the streets you see a good deal of nationalist as neo-nazi graffiti. 60 years ago the Russians lost nearly 25 million people because of the Nazis. Equally, it is quite clear that Hitler believed the Slavs to be sub-human. So how neo-nazism appeals to people in Russia is a mystery.
Free markets are a popular idea still. Though many have become disenfranchised by the "unsuccess" of the marketization of the Russian economy. I will say that it did not work because of a failure of free market values, but rather because of the extreme corruption in privatizing the major industries.
You can still bribe a cop in Moscow for less than $20. I met two Canadians as I was waiting to enter Lenin's tomb. They had left their passports at their hotel to be registered (as required by Russian law). A cop arbitrarly asked to see their passports, when they couldn't produce them, he accepted a $ 25 "fine". (Note: Real "fines" are paid at the national bank... Not to the cop in cash, without a receipt.)
The communist party still has a good deal of support. In my town there are several statues of Lenin (and a Lenin Stadium, a Lenin Street, etc). I saw a guy who was about 25 today,on the trolley, who was sporting his communist party pins.
Also, the Russian political system is much, much fractionalised than our two party system.
All-and-all, Russia is a rapidly changing place.
One of my favorite books is Genevra Gerhart's A Russian's World. It was published in 2001. It proved to be right-on when I was in the Ukraine. I have found that the sections covering entertainment, the youth, music, the telephone, etc are not up-to-date for Russia. The country has changed too much in 5 years.
Well, that is a brief capsule of life in Russia today.
At the behest of my babushka, I went to the Russian used clothes store today. She seems rather certain that I will die this winter because of the cold. But since I spent $35 and bought a heavy jacket and a sweater, I will apparently now be able to survive the winter!
Tomorrow, the group is taking an excursion to another small city, so it should be fun. Poka!

Monday, September 18, 2006


The ACTR organized a trip to Moscow. We left on Friday at 0720 by chartered bus. We arrived about four hours later. The only plans for the day were to visit the fanous Tretyakov Gallery. It houses some of the most beautiful paintings in Russia.
That evening I met with my friend, Artem's, father. He picked me up from the student dormitories and took me for an evening drive in Moscow. It was as we were conversing in his car that I saw the Kremlin for the first time. It was magnificently lit up and was dream-like.
On the other side I saw the Bolshoi Theater (under renovation) and St Basil's Cathedral.
The next day the group set off for the Kremlin. We visited Lenin's mausoleum as well as took a guided tour of the major sites around the Kremlin (cathedrals, GUM). The tour, of course, was in Russian.
That evening we went to the Moscow Circus. It was significantly more impressive than I remember the American circus being. And the cost (less than $ 8) was a lot more attractive than the American circus.
Sunday morning we took a trip to the WWII Memorial/Museum. This also encloded a tour conducted in Russian.
Overall, Moscow was an incredible city with many interesting sites. Even the metro stations are beautifully ornate. Though it is a huge, sprawling and fairly dirty city.
When we got back to Vladimir, we passed a nationalistic anti-immigrant rally in the city center. It seemed fairly well attended (30 people). Oddly, several of my fellow students on the bus identified one of the protesters as a guy that they had met in a bar a few days before.
This is an exception to life in Vladimir. It is the first time that I had seen, any political activity. The more time that I spend in Vladimir, the happier I am that I came here. A number of the people in my ACTR group had listed Moscow or St Pete as their first choice, but were instead given Vladimir. I think that nearly all of them have now conceded that Vladimir was probably the better destination.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Another Day in Russia

Nothing too new or exciting in Vladimir. Friday we leave for a three day excursion in Moscow. Where we will stay at the Moscow State University (MGU) dorms. It should be a very exciting trip.
In response to the questions regarding what my home life is like: I live in a second story apartment (without any pets) located about five minutes (by foot) from the Golden Gates (the landmark in the dead center of town). All the cafes, etc are not more than 5-10 mins from my apartment. The internet cafe and Cathderal are a little less than a mile from my house.
There is one main drag (Uleetsa Bolshaya Moscovskaya) where everything is located. In any side road there are few stores, mostly apartments. The town is rather sprawling, so there are different attractions in every direction of where I live.
The trolley busy costs 5 r and the bus costs 6. A taxi to any point in town is about 100r. The exchange rate is about $1=26r.
I am starting to gain a better appreciation for the Russian' remarkable respect for human life. I was walking to meet my classmates at the Golden Gates last week when I came across a man sprawled on the sidewalk bleeding from the head. He was paper white and not moving. I saw a cop up the street conversing with a a motorist about (presumably) whether to give him a ticket. I went up to the cop and told him of the situation. His response was, "Sure, I'll look into it." As I walked another hundred yards up the street, I noticed that the cop had not moved and was still laughing with the motorist about something (presumably my Russian).
Well, the man (or body) was gone when I got home, so I assume that it worked out alright. When I got home, I began to tell the babushka that I live with the story. She cut me off to say that he was probably a drunkard and deserved it.
So, apparently "empathy" is not a real big thing in Russia.
Young people here go for lots of walks. It is cheap and something to do. Yesterday I went for a walk with two Russian girls that I have befriended. Tonight it looks like I will be going to the local soccer team's game. The staduim is about a 15 minute walk from my apartment.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Friday in the Russia

I have come to conclude that the quote, "Russia is a third world country with first world weapons" is probably true. I went to the market (rinok) this afternoon. Everything imaginable is for sale: Boots, beer, kittens, underwear, jeans, meat, fish, vegetables, etc. It is a pretty neat place, and the prices are reasonable. A t-shirt costs about 50 roubles ($2) and cigarettes vary from 3.5 roubles to 35 roubles a pack (12 cents - $1.30). A bottle of vodka that costs about $25 in the States can be bought for about $5 here. Though cheap vodka is a little over a dollar or two.
Aside from that, classes have been good. A few people have asked what the classes/day-to-day routine is, so I briefly composed it below:
I have Russian/local history, phonetics, grammar, reading, and conversation. They are all taught by seperate teachers. Each class will consist of probably four tests per semester (one a month). The homework varies, but every night (including the necessary prepatory work for the next day's classes) I probably spend about 2-3 hours studying. It is not a bad lifestyle.
I have class at 0900. So I get up around 0730 to have time to boil water for a "shower". After this, I eat breakfast (cooked by my host mother) (hozaika)), and finish getting ready. Because my host mother likes to talk so much, I get up extra early as to allow time for this. I then walk about 15 minutes (down a paved/gravel/dirt road) to school.
The list of which subjects I will have that week come out on Thursdays. After the first period of class, there is a five minute break. Then a second period followed by a ten minute break. Then a third period followed by lunch. Lunch is forty minutes and there are two more periods until school ends at about 1430. There are usually two period back-to-back of the same thing (say grammer). So really there are only three seperate classes per day.
I then have the rest of the day free. Since everything closes early (or just doesn't open), I run errands until the evening, when I go home for dinner.
Following dinner are hours of homework. Concluded by an evening walk before bed. It is before going to bed that I like to once again review the new words that I learned (that day), then watch Russian television, or more commonly, read from a book of Russian stories for foreigners.
The Russians really do seem to like Americans. They go well out of their way to introduce themselves and to wish me luck.
All-and-all I am amazed by how much I have already learned. If nothing else, the ease that I feel when speaking Russian is tremendous. Sure, I am still butchering the language, but I don't fear an encounter with a Russian. I look for more encounters.
Well, off I go to study some more! Poka!

Monday, September 04, 2006

First post from Russia!

Today is the first day that the internet cafe has been working! Russia has been really wonderful thus far. Granted, there is no hot water in the apartment until December, but other than that, its great. I have been delighted by how much the locals seem to really love Americans. Everything about the US seems to interest them.
I went to my first day of classes today, and really enjoyed it. There is about 4-5 hours of classes a day, plus 2-3 hrs of homework. The students that I study with are very dedicated. My Russian seems to be on par with theirs. Today we had a preliminary Russian language test that included over 150 questions (multiple choice, short answer and phonetics). There was also an oral that was conducted by three professors.
My host mother is a delight. She has hosted a number of Americans, so she is really very good. She really is very nice and is a great cook. I will keep you posted!