The Biggest Berry of Them All

My summer in St. Petersburg is quickly wrapping itself up! Like most people, I’m sad to leave this exciting city, but I’m excited to reflect back on my adventures and progress through my language acquisition journey.

I have gained a new appreciation of the Russian language over the past couple weeks. Russian has so many simple words that we don’t have in the English language, and I find myself wanting to use these words while I’m speaking in English with people. In English, we sometimes have to use three or four words to describe something that the Russian language has one, special word for. It feels more meaningful that you can convey many feelings, actions, or descriptions with one word. Maybe I like the roots and meanings of the words, or maybe I just like using fewer words – either way, I appreciate this part of Russian language!
Of course, I still have native Russians scratching their heads when I say things like, “I was offended by those berries” instead of, “I adore those berries.” and other phrases that make absolutely no sense. I wish I could express my gratitude to every Russian that has patiently listened to me as I explain something simple for entirely too long, especially when I first arrived in Russia.

This week, I felt accomplished after we took the end-of-the-year exam for the ACTR program, the same exam I took two months ago. The first time around, I felt completely overwhelmed at the pace of the native Russian speakers and difficulty of the texts. This week, I felt confident answering the questions and picking out what the people speaking were saying. I was actually impressed with myself in being able to understand the basic concepts and root words – something that I couldn’t do eight weeks ago.

Although I don’t recognize every word that my host family says to me, I think they have become more comfortable talking to me about things other than the weather. For instance, last week my host mother said, “I am going to cut this watermelon. Do you know the word for watermelon?” I only learned the word for watermelon after coming to Russia, and without this vital word, there would be no interesting story. I answered yes and patiently awaited my slice of the juicy melon. Five minutes later, my host mother said, “Here it is – the berry that you love!” “BERRY? Why did you just call the watermelon a BERRY?” I asked, thinking I misheard her. My host mom explained, “Ask anyone in the store if watermelons are the ‘biggest berry of them all,’ and they will say yes!” I love this story, I love that berry, and I love asking people if watermelon holds the title of the biggest berry of them all and having them answer, “Yes, of course.”

I know that a story about a watermelon and feeling good about understanding people speak is a pretty poor wrap-up for my entire time in St. Petersburg, but it’s difficult to describe what I’ve learned! I’ve experienced much more than just learning a language. I’ve taken the night train to Moscow and stood in front of the Kremlin at 7 A.M. in the pouring rain, gotten lost while running and gotten even more lost after asking for directions, tried many interesting new dairy products, and stood in a marshrutka for over an hour, surrounded by babushkas heading to their dachas. My experiences here are strange and lovely and awful and awesome and truthfully, indescribable. I am ready to return to Wisconsin with a new-found confidence in myself, my ability to survive and my ability to learn outside the classroom. I love Russia (and this program!) and everything that I’ve been handed this summer.

By: Elizabeth Kuckuk

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

Term: Summer 2011

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