Getting Comfortable

Apparently it’s already March – I hadn’t noticed how quickly time here seems to pass. I still remember in perfect detail the first night I arrived in Vladimir, and my host-mother was the first person I saw when I stepped out of our bus from Moscow. “There! My Hannechka!” (I happen to go by “Hanna” here most of the time. My first name is actually pronounced “Cha-hi-yah”, but in Russian, it also resmbles the verb to sneeze.) From Seattle, to Washington D.C., to Moscow, to peaceful little Vladimir, I finally had a chance to cozy up in what would be my bed for the next four months.

Studying the Russian language five hours every day from Monday to Friday proved to be nothing but intense. Learning a new language all in Russian has been like taking a huge misshapen jigsaw puzzle apart and learning to put it together correctly without understanding exactly what the final product looks like (or sounds like rather). But that’s exactly it! I quickly accepted that learning a language like Russian would continuously be a process, and the goal is to simply just make as much improvement as possible! Still after every lesson, I felt as though I understood some aspect of the language more clearly. At this point, I am confident I could probably explain Russian grammar better than I could English grammar. I might try to break and dissect a sentence in English, but I probably could not tell you what each bit of information means.

Another aspect of living in Russia, I noticed as someone who is still just learning the language, is that eventually I became used to not understanding, confused looks, and asking “repeat that please… slowly.” In fact, I feel confidently confused most of the time. I noticed all the grammatical mistakes as they come out of my mouth. Yet, all is well, and I feel no embarrassment for my tremendous effort. Afterwards, I can say I successfully gave so-and-so directions – perhaps, not very eloquently, but sometimes it is a matter of making practical accomplishments. On that note, there is no way of knowing whether my directions were ultimately clear or that the person I helped reached his destination. Well, that’s just something else!

Having a Russian tutor has been the best experience, especially with one who speaks absolutely no English. I am not a huge fan of whipping out the English-Russian dictionary every time I try to converse with a Russian. That meant that first our conversations were very slow and probably not very detailed. I prefer the inconvenient strategy of trying to describe what you are attempting to talk about. In any case, our ability to communicate quickly flourished without the trusty dictionary. One of the most memorable experiences so far was going through her family albums as she told me about the lives of her mother, father, and grandmother in Vladimir long, long ago. Top that off with her beautiful performance on their family piano – it became a very picturesque experience.

Perhaps I wouldn’t say winter in Russia is the most pleasurable time of the year, but the icy cold winds and never-ending snow made me quickly realize how cozy and warm it can be inside. Simply chit-chatting at the table with my host-mother or conversing over coffee at the café with my tutor has already made Vladimir feel a bit like home.

By: Cahaya Dan

Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program (RLASP)

Term: Spring 2011

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