Friday, June 29, 2012

Weekly Rundown and an Awkward Bus Stop Conversation


Alas, it is Friday! It has been a busy and intense week of classes! CLS Vladimir participants are divided into five groups of six and we take classes everyday on everything from Russian phonetics to Russian grammar, history, classical texts, oral practice and conversation and media. I usually have 3 to 4 hours of homework every night.  

On the CLS Program in Vladimir, students choose to participate in two electives out of Russian cooking, Russian rock music, Russian folklore and Russian films, with the last two options meeting every week. I signed up for Russian rock music and folklore because I have no patience for cinematic trilogies and my "cooking" is limited to a microwave. 

Folklore class on Tuesday was a riot. Two older women taught the class: one sat quietly and played the accordion and the other, a stout and passionate Russian probably in her 60s, lead us in song and dance. We sat in a circle and sang "Podmoskovnie Vechera" and "Korobeiniki." We then played what is essentially the Russian version of "Duck Duck Goose" when participants sit in a circle and hold their hands out, and one person pretends to put a ring in one person's hands. After the leader goes around the circle, the person with the ring must stand up and switch spots with the leader without getting tagged. We also learned a Russian folk dance. After the first five minutes, I managed to keep a fairly straight face throughout the class. On a more serious note, it is pretty interesting to learn and participate in traditional Russian cultural activities.

Wednesday afternoon, we had a scavenger hunt around the city. I shall spare you the ridiculous details of our adventure other than to say my group was last (we started the tour at 2:30, finished around 4:45) and we had obscene amounts of fun.

One of my Georgetown Professors said that you can always judge whether civilization exists in a city by the number of Irish pubs. So far, I have counted one in Vladimir -- Guinness Bar. On Thursday evening, a group of us ventured there for a few drinks. It was a nice break from schoolwork, but the real highlight of the night occurred at the bus stop.  Sayrula, one of the program participants who lives near me, and I met at the bus stop around 8 in the evening to head downtown. We were conversing in Russian and one man (~40 yrs) sitting on the bench overheard us and asked where we were from. The conversation continued:

"America? What brings you to Vladimir?"
"We are studying Russian and living with host families."
"Oh. My daughter studies English in school. I always tell her though that there is no need to study English, it is better to study French. English is not that important."
"Why do you think that?"
"The USA will not exist in five, maybe ten, years," the man suggested with a poker face. "The USA will be overtaken by Russia or China....maybe Korea...but it will probably become a part of Russia or China. There will then be no need for English."

Saryla and I were speechless. Seriously? This man was convinced the US would be overtaken by Russia or China. Neither of us were interested in engaging in a serious political discussion with this man, who I consider to be a relentless "Cold Warrior." So we altered the direction of the conversation and asked where he is from. It turns out he was born in Tajikistan but moved to Russia after 1991. This is a fairly common phenomena as many ethnic Russians born in the Central Asian Republics during the USSR returned to the Russian Federation after 1991 to live amongst their ethnic kingship.

Fortunately, the man's bus came within five minutes of ending the awkward conversation. With that said, that was an encounter I will surely never forget. Any comments from you, readers? What would you have said?

Tomorrow, I am visiting Bogoloobodov, a small town that houses a monastery. Tomorrow is also a local holiday, "youth day," so I might go to the Central Park and observe the celebrations. Sunday, I am visiting a park for homework and going to the movies with my host mom, Sayrula and her host moms (our host moms are essentially peas and the pod -- they are always on the phone gossiping).

Alas, that is all for now. Poka!


  1. What a hilarious encounter! I would have proceeded to speak with him in French...

  2. Hahaha. I enjoyed reading this!