I showed up at the office today at nine and got to work. Well, really I just took advantage of the quick internet connection to send some emails, publish my blog post, check Facebook, the news, and ESPN. Then I began skimming a book I’ve got on English Grammar as a Second Language--what will likely be an invaluable resource in teaching the professors.
Then I received a phone call from Valeria, one of the assistants in the International Relations office, asking me to come to their office at 1:30 that afternoon to be taken to the office of Information Technology. There I would learn how to edit the English-language version of the university’s website. The meeting was conducted in Russian with Marianna, the head of the office, but I think I understood everything she was telling me despite my lack of technical vocabulary for this sort of thing. But I followed her actions on the screen and should be able to handle it. I’m not sure when they want this project finished, but I suppose I’ll begin working on it tomorrow.
Then into the office came a wonderfully polite and near-fluent English speaking woman named Irina Petrovna. She, it turns out, is the Chair of the ‘Russian Language for Foreigners’ Department, and her office is just around the corner. She was so generous all day, taking me through the whole department to meet the professors, eating lunch with me, and telling me about the university and its operations and history--pretty interesting stuff. For instance, the land on which the university and its many gardens and labs stand (comprising about 60 hectares in the northern part of Moscow) used to belong to the mother of Peter I, aka Peter the Great, the tsar who founded St. Petersburg and turned Russia’s ideology and production westward at the turn of the 18th century. She even explained to me that the ‘Dendrological’ Gardens, or arboretum area, is still actually a natural forest, with most of the original species still roaming wild, such as foxes and hares. She boasted Moscow is the only metropolis in the world with a naturally-standing forest. I’ll certainly take a stroll through there when I have the chance.
Later, Irina Petrovna took myself and Kristyna through the Foreign Languages department to meet professors and even step into a few of the English classes in session. Students are required to take language classes for at least 2 years (at least that’s how I understood it) in order to receive a document or degree of sorts that certifies them to be official translators in their language for their specific agricultural field. Therefore, the students in the agronomy department will study both basic conversational English as well as English for agronomists. Or they may do this in French. Or German. Anyways, Irina Petrovna was very proud to show us off as fluent English speakers, and did not hesitate to simply barge into classrooms, make all the students stand at attention, and introduce us to them. Then she forced the students to ask us each a few questions, and then asked us to say a few words to them in English and in Russian. Today’s classes were all first-year English students (that is, first year at the university level, although they have been taking English in their equivalent of high school for a varied number of years), so they were understandably nervous when asked to talk in front of us. But Irina Petrovna considered it motivational learning for them to know that there are fluent speakers with whom they can converse. I told all the students that once I receive my class schedule, I plan on making some timeslots for conversation hours each week where students can come and chat with me in English. We can also likely watch movies, listen to music, so on and so forth. I’m actually really excited to do this since I will be able to interact with students. I hope they are excited to come!
One funny part of all this was that Irina Petrovna kept introducing me to everyone as a “bachelor from Virginia State University who is a linguist and will be with us for one whole year. Yes? You know where Virginia is?” A few students would nod their heads, and then Irina Petrovna would ask them how many states there are in the US. Of the people that answered, about 60 or 70 percent thought there were 51. The rest said 50. I guess the first bunch were thinking of Washington, D.C.? Or Puerto Rico? I have no idea. Anyways, it was enjoyable, although Kristyna told me later she felt like we were torturing them since their English was not as advanced as the others and Irina Petrovna was forcing them to ask questions as a way to impress us. I told her that it’s just the pecking order here in Russia, and there’s not a whole lot anyone can do about it.
After this we had tea and cookies while watching ‘Bruce Almighy’ dubbed in Russian on a television in one of the offices. We had a long conversation in Russian about the weather and what to expect, but I only followed about 30-35% of the conversation. This one guy was speaking very fast and using words I had never heard before, he would speak for so long at a time that there was never an opportunity for me to interrupt and ask him to clarify something. By the time he finished talking I had forgotten all of my questions.
I also met a very interesting man in the office named Francois. He is from Cameroon, but has been here for 7 years teaching and finishing his PhD dissertation. He is married to a Russian woman and has at least one daughter. On top of all of this, he is a pastor at a local Baptist Church (to which he invited Kristyna and myself), his is a diplomat and works in the visa department of the Cameroon embassy, and he also leads conversation groups in English and French at the university, while speaking fluent Russian. He offered to have Kristyna and myself over to dinner, saying he would love for us to meet his family and meet other families through his Church, and he even offered to get us expedited visas to Cameroon if we ever wanted to go! I don’t know how he has time in his days to do everything, especially since he will be defending his dissertation in March. Anyways, he seems like a really great guy and was very excited to meet us.
In the evening, Kristyna and I ventured back into central Moscow. We went to Охотний Ряд, the underground shopping center near Red Square where Kristyna needed to exchange a belt and a t-shirt she bought that were not big enough. Piece of advice if you are ever in Russia: if you buy anything and try to return it, be sure to plan on it taking about 15-20 minutes. The bureaucracy and form-filling-out culture of Russia extends even to merchandise. The cashiers needed to see Kristyna’s passport, visa, immigration card, and registration. Then they filled out about 4 forms by hand, had Kristyna sign them all, and then finally put the money back on her credit card. I will say, however, that I was surprised that the stores accepted credit.
After Охотний Ряд, we went just past the State Historical Museum in at one end of Red Square and entered ГУМ, the state department store, from its end. Don’t let the title ‘department store’ fool you. It’s like department stores in the US, but is rather like a shopping mall with boutique shops. Most everything there is very expensive, but I will say this: ГУМ on the inside is gorgeous. It is three floors high, three levels across, and runs the length of Red Square. There are a ton of shops, most of them very high-end. In the center of ГУМ we even came across a red-roped VIP benefit party filled with people dressed to the nines and several photographers as well as waiters carrying trays of champagne and hors d‘ouevres. Upon closer examination, I realized that everyone was wearing the signal pink ribbon, so it must have been a charity event for breast cancer. Kristyna and I hopped into the food court area where we ate at a Russian cafeteria type place. I had boiled white fish, chicken soup, a pickle, and cranberry juice.
Then, we exited on the other side of ГУМ right beside St. Basil’s Cathedral. I know I already raved about the expansiveness and beauty of Red Square, but humor me please, and allow me to do it once more, this time with a twist. Red Square at night is something entirely different to behold. Spotlights shine from below on the domes of St. Basils as well as up the towers of the State Historical Museum and the walls of the Kremlin, simply adding to the majesty of it all. ГУМ, on the other hand, is outlined completely in what appear to be giant white Christmas lights. And I mean, outlined completely. Every door and every window for about 600 yards across and 50 yards high. It is mystical to behold. I did not have my camera on me tonight, but I will try to get plenty of shots of the square at night---it’s truly enchanting. Plus, there are not many people walking around, and we were lucky with the weather. It was about 10 degrees Celsius, but there was no wind or rain to speak of. So, despite being able to see our breath, it was definitely bearable. I will probably return to praising the beauty of Red Square sometime in the next few months once the snows begin to fall. That’s what I’m really looking forward to seeing.
And with those images of a lit-up Red Square firmly imprinted in our minds, our evening , and day 4 as a whole came to an end.