Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cleaning Brings You Together

Yesterday, Raisa decided that it was time to do a major clean-up of the apartment. My guess is it was because one, New Year's is coming, and Two, Aita comes home tomorrow. I did the dishes and was sitting in the kitchen watching TV and I felt kind of bad that I wasn't helping so, I got up and got up the nerve to ask Raisa if she needed any help.

My first job was to spritz the plants in my room with water. Having completed that, my next task was to sweep the floor of my room. It felt really odd to be sweeping a floor with a vacum when there's no carpet on it. A lot of Russian Apartments don't do the carpet thing. In our whole apartment we have two squares of carpet. One under Raisa's bed, and one under the couch. Following the sweepage, I dusted my bookshelf and re-arranged things.

Honestly, I didn't mind the work. It felt good. Do you know how much exercise you get from working? It's amazing what muscles I stretched and how many calories I probably burned. And since my room wasn't that bad off to start with, it's not a problem or a big issue to straighten it up.

Basically when I finished my room, I asked Raisa what else needed to be done. She told me she could do the rest herself, but I did help her dust some hard to reach places. It's nice being tall with long arms. :)

Tyotya Lena called and brought us some apples and mandarins for a New Year's gift. A big box of mandarins and A huge box of apples. So I helped Raisa carry those in too. Since Raisa told me that she could handle the rest herself, I plopped down on the couch and ate some fruit while watching our Russian soap opera. (Ah, the drama!) While I was doing said activity, Alex called and Raisa answered the phone.

One of the people I've been hanging out with lately is a guy named Alex. I met him though my tutor at the Ped Akademia, which is the teaching college here in the city. He spent six months doing work and travel in California last year I believe, and wanted to meet me and keep up his english skills, so we occasionally get together, pit' chai, and talk.

Raisa has never met said friend and him being a guy and all, I was a little worried that she'd like freak out or something. Especially since this is the second time she's answered the domashnee phone when he's called. However, she merely handed the phone over to me, and I chatted for a bit, and she made some calls of her own on her sotovii, or cell.

When we both got off the phone, the Spanish Inquisition began. I knew it was coming, but I was really nervous.
"Who was that?" Raisa asked.
"Uh...A friend from the Ped Akademia. He's one of Lena's Students."
"What does he study?"
"English. He lived in California for six months."
"Last year I think."
"What's his name?"
"What year is he?"
"Is he tall?"
"Is he tall or is he little."
"Uh, tall, taller than me."
"Oh that's okay then. You can hang out with him if he's tall."

And we laughed, and it was hilarious because I learned a new colloquial word which means "to hang out" and I don't know it was just really funny because she was like "Oh he's okay, you can hang out with him." And it was just funny. And so with that, and the work, I came out feeling closer to Raisa and it was a good feeling.

Raisa's daughter in America changes families on the 6th or 7th of January. I don't know if I'll be changing families here after the holidays or not. When Maria, the club president talked to me at my birthday about changing families I think she said something about changing in January. So I suppose that I'll have to ask again. If they leave the choice up to me, it'll be really hard because I like it here with Raisa, but at the same time it would be cool to see how another family works. Who I'd really like to live with is Maria, but she has a little baby (For those of you who've seen the flickr pictures) so I don't think that would happen. Who knows though. I'm not going to worry about it right now. I'll deal with it after the holidays.

Speaking of the holidays, my friend Nina invited me to meet the new year with her and her family. It was really cool and I was honored that she asked me, however I refused, because I've been planning on meeting the New Year with Raisa, Aita, and the family for a while and I don't know, I just felt like I should keep to my plan. Perhaps it was not good, perhaps I should've met the new year with Nina but I'm not. Nina wasn't insulted when I turned her down. At least, I hope not.

I do believe that 2008 is the year of the Rat according to the chinese calender? How do I know this? Because there are mice suddenly appearing everywhere. tree ornaments, decorations, stuffed animals, as the TV channel ТНТ's logo thingy. It's interesting how much that influences the celebration here.

I was planning on going to a random Targovii center today. Maybe randomly riding a bus or something. Raisa called a little bit ago and is like "Be home around five because you're going to a corporate dinner with Maria." ooh. Okay. I have no idea what I'll be doing (if anything) there or even who will be there. I just know that it's at a restaurant (thouh I don't know which one) and that I have to wear my Tufli (good shoes). It starts at five I guess. I'm praying it's over before ten because Love Actually is going to be on TV tonight and I want to watch it sooo bad. I've been in the mood to see it for weeks. It's one of my favorite movies, and my all-time favorite christmas movie!

Edit: By the way, for those of you who check my pictures, I've recently updated with some pictures of the trees in various squares around the city. Check it out!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Exam

Today we had an exam at school. It was the stupidest exam I think I've ever taken in my life. I don't see how it's supposed to judge how smart you are. It's actually worse than a standardized test.

The first thing that happened was they gave us a little sheet of paper with a bunch of math problems on it (Though it was fairly basic math) and told that we had one minute to complete the problems. After wasting 45 seconds figuring out that : meant divide I successfully completed one problem. (I also wasted time trying to figure out what they wanted us to do)

The other kids all seemed to do it fairly quickly though.

The next task was that we were given a sheet of paper with a text on it and had one minute to write as much of the text by hand on our answer sheet as we could. I wrote one sentence.

Then we had the rest of the hour and a half time period to answer questions.

It took me forever because I had to look up words. One of the parts was like "look up in the 9th grade physics book the following things" and I was like "Whoo hoo! I'll be able to do that!" So I get one of the four (There are like six or seventh 11th graders and they have four physics books) books and I go to look up the words they want the definitions of. There's no glossery in the back. Okay, fine, I can deal with this. So I hunt for the index. Nope. Not one of those either. What kind of textbook has a table of contents, and no index or glossery?

there was also a part where you were given a paper with a text and had one minute to read as much of the text as you could outloud.

I tried to do my best on the test. I put effort into it and all. NOt that it matters because I don't get grades anyway.

I'm just having trouble seeing how an exam like that shows your true potential, and really shows how smart you are. All it does is show that you're a fast writer, or reader, or mathmetician. HOnestly even the part of the test that took longer wasn't a good evaluation of knowledge because it was heavy on the science questions.

It was an interesting experience, to take said exam, but I don't think it was a very good exam. I think there are better ways of testing knowledge.

Monday, December 24, 2007


First off, Raisa told me on Saturday that it was the longest day of the year and that we have gained one extra minute of sunlight today. WHOOO! and I'm not being sarcastic at all. I'm being entirely serious. one extra minute of sunlight means that spring will soon be here. Sure, I still have to get through the coldest months, january and february, but I don't think about that. what i do think about is that soon it will be april! whoo!

Anyway, on to my real topic of the day.

The consensus from the several fellow Russian Inbounds I'm incontact with and from what i've heard from the russian rebounds, it's incredibly hard to make friends in Russia. one of the main topics of conversation I have with said fellow inbounds is about how our social lives are coming. It's an interesting Phenomenon. I say this because from what i've heard, and infact experienced, Russians are some of the warmest, most hospitable people in the world.

Unlike many exchange students who, the minute they step off the plane in their host country they have made a whole ton of new friends, the Russian inbounders often wonder why, at several months into the program they may have met a ton of people without actually having made any real friends. I think part of this is explained by the fact that the Russian Inbounders have a unique problem.

you see, for most exchange students, one of the first things that happens when they get to their host country is that they meet the other exchange students. This surrounds them instantly with a cushion of friends because everyone knows that the bond inbounders share with each other is unique and no one quite understands you like your fellow exchange students. Now, I'm not saying that the other exchangers are bad always hanging out with eacher other. They might not see each other all the time, but in most other countries, if you don't have another exchanger in your school or town, it's not to hard to hop on a train and go see the ones in nearby towns. That's Russia's unique problem.

As most of you know, Russia is a big country. spanning two continents and 11 time zones. There aren't usually a ton of exchange students wanting to come to Russia and because RUssia is so big it's usually a 'one exchange student per city' kind of thing. Not only that, but it's not very easy to 'just hop on the train and go' take where I am for example. The nearest exchange student to me is in a city called Nirungry. This city is even in the same Republic as yakutsk. Nirungry is a relatively close city by Russian standards. This means that it's only a four hour plane ride away. So right there is our problem. The Russian exchange students don't have a roaring social life because we're so far apart.

not only that, but even though Russians are some of the nicest people in the world, you still have to break through that tough Russian exterior which in itself takes a while to do. It can be very frustrating because just when you think you've made a friend, said friend backs off and you have to keep trying.

I realized the other day that though it was unintentional, I tend to gravitate towards people who've done traveling. And I don't mean just tourist traveling because everyone in Russia does that. I mean people traveling like I am. people who've seen what it's really like in said country. The people I've gotten to know better than just a preliminary meeting learning about them are all people who've done traveling traveling. I take Khomus lessons with a guy who traveled and did a homestay in germany, I've hung out with last year's outbound who spent her exchange year in germany, Vika spent time in malta practicing her english. The guy from the ped akademia who I occasionally hang out with spent six months in California doing a work and travel program, and my closest friend here, Nina, has spent several summers in England.

They're all native Russians so that's cool. I just think it's interesting that these are the kind of people I gravitate towards. It's not intentional, I promise, I just think it's interesting. Perhaps an subconsious understanding that these people will understand where I'm coming from better than others.

The point is that I've almost completed my fourth month, and even though the friend thing got off to a slow start, it's getting better. My social life is starting to take off and I can only hope that it will keep getting better and better!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Slice of Life

It's December 22nd. All of you will be celebrating Christmas next week. I have three more days of school before break.

The dog is back visitng again. I don't mind her so much when she's not freaking out whining that Raisa's gone. She seems to have accepted me as more a part of the family.

As of this writing, my parents are either on a plane to, or have landed in Minnesota where my brother lives. They're spending the holidays there. I was only slightly disappointed about this, as I figure being in Yakutsk is a once in a lifetime opportunity and while I may in the future come back to Russia, who knows if and when I'll make it back to Yakutsk specifically. Besides, I can't wait to see what the holidays are like here.

My Russian grammar, both spoken and written is horrible. Yet, I've found that I'm now able to express myself more in Russian. I finished the journal I brought with me two nights ago, and I've started a new one. Officially, it's bilingual, but you'd be surprised and impressed at how much of it is in Russian, and how much of my inner thoughts I'm able to express.

My host sister comes home the morning of the 28th. That evening we're having a concert and discoteka at school.

Our homework in Literature is to learn and recite a Poem by Ecenin. This is a normal thing that the kids do here. A typical assignment. I mention it though because on monday, I too will be reciting a poem by Ecenin. Which for some reason I'm really nervous about.

I feel like I do a lot of waiting here. At first, I was waiting for december because I know back in September that if I could make it through the holidays, I'd be okay, and make it through the rest of my exchange year. Now that december's here, I'm waiting for April. April is spring. Spring is warm, Spring means the end of school is coming up. April is also when we have our big tour of the country. As I told my journal today, when April finally rolls around, I'll probably be waiting for July so I can go home. I hate the fact that I feel like I'm always waiting. First I was waiting to come to Russia, now I'm waiting more. I don't like the feeling and want it to go away.

I've made myself answer the phone so many times that I'm not afraid of doing it anymore, and often can have conversations with the people on the other end of the line.

Most all of the food here tastes better than in America. Is fresher and less processed. The two exceptions to this are Milk and Snickers candy bars. Both of which are pretty nasty.

My favorite breakfast ceral here is called "Little Pillows"

You can tell how cold it is here recently, by how much fog is outside.

I've discovered that if you eat about fifteen minutes before making a journey outdoors, you stay warmer.

When you live in Russia, it forces the OCD out of you in regards to food. They are a lot less weird about food sitting out and stuff. Raisa often puts Piroshki with meat in them, in the bread box. And There was one time, I accidentally left the milk out all day and Raisa was like "oh, it's fine, just stick it in the fridge." So I've stopped thinking/worrying/wondering about where the food's been stored, and hopefully I'll take that back with me to America.

Stuff that I do here that I hope to take back with me:
Drinking uber hot tea
Being more responsible
eating jelly right out of the jar

It really irritates me when people treat me like I don't understand Russian. It also really really bothers me when people talk about me in Russian, and don't address me directly, thinking I don't understand. The other thing that bothers me is when people translate for me. I'm here to learn Russian, I've been here for four months, I started learning before I came. I'm not a complete idiot!

okay, I'm done now.

Friday, December 21, 2007


The fourth saw movie just came out here. I imagine that it came out in the states too. I don't really know as I don't pay attention. I was sitting with a group of students in the Cafeteria of the Teaching College yesterday, just chatting because some of them enjoy practicing their English. (good for them, Bad for me) And the subject of movies came up and the movie Saw came up and I was like "yeah, I've only seen the first one, and it scared me to death, but was really really good."

Then someone told me about a joke. I asked the word for "saw" in Russian. It turns out that said word is пила. Пила not only is the word for "saw" but also happens to be the feminie past tense of "To drink" i.e. She drank.

So the joke is that "Oh yeah, that's the movie about that drunk girl"

Personally, I thought it was pretty funny and I thought you all would appreciate it.

Our winter break starts next week. We didn't have school today. We have school tomorrow and then monday through Wednesday. After that it's two weeks of freedom! whoo hoo! Although I will admit that I've come to enjoy school if nothing else it gives me something to do everyday, and now that I'm making more of an effort to participate, and I have people I talk to, it's gotten a whole ton better. Yet at the same time, I don't mind vacation one little bit and so I'm looking forward to the two weeks of holiday.

I had to ask my parents last night when I chatted with them online, which day was christmas on. I just don't pay attention to it here. Seeing as it's on Tuesday, I wish you all a merry christmas and happy new year and all of that sort of thing. I hope it's a good one.

well, I think that's about all I've got for now, just another small piece of what my life is like here.

You know what's interesting? Even three and a half months in, I still occasionally wake up, or lay in bed and think "oh my goodness, I'm in Russia. That's kind of cool." And at the same time, it's also kind of a freaky feeling. Russia has been my goal for a couple of years, and to actually be here, living my dream, well that's just a cool feeling.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Speaking of Everyday Speech...

So Yesterday, I mentioned that whole thing about wanting to know how the ordinary people speak, and that sort of thing. Well, I had an adventure in that today, and learned something quite interesting.

Last night Raisa and I were watching our nightly soap opera "Tatiyanin den' " Most Russians roll there eyes when you mention the name of this program, and yes, it's a soap opera and that includes all the obnoxiousness that goes with it, but in some ways it's very good at displaying Russian life, and I kind of got used to watching it, and once you get started, you kind of get involved. My life does not revolve around the serial though and if I miss a night or two I don't cry and have a spaz.

Anyway, so we were watching our program and Raisa, referring to one of the character's suddenly goes
"He's a rag!" And I do a little double take.
And Raisa replies.
"Do you know what "rag" means?"
"Uh..." I thought I meant "rag" but apparently it had a different meaning "No."
"So look it up."
I start paging through the little dictionary that we keep in the kitchen for just such emergency's then suddenly I go.
"Wait isn't it like..." And I point to my napking and make a swiping motion.
"Yes, but it can be used for people to."
I found this to be very interesting. Raisa then proceeded to explain to me that since the character on the show, Serge, had a thing for like three different women, he was therefore what in English we'd refer to as a jerk, or a player, or a variety of other names, and in Russian Apparently one of the words they use to denote such a man is "rag."

If you think that's all, it gets better.

Today I was talking about some good and bad points of guys, with Nina. Suddenly, I saw an opening to try out this not particularaly knew vocabulary word, but the word in a new context so I casually go "Yeah, You don't want a guy who's a rag" and Nina looks at me for a second and busts up laughing.

I wasn't insulted as I occasionally get this type of reaction when I try out words in a new context that I've learned (Such as the word 'cotton' which is a slang term for 'boring' it's always entertaining when I try that out on new people) so I go "Can I say that?" And she's like "Yes! That's awesome!" and so that made me feel really good about myself. and I had to explain where I learned the way to use the word, and it was quite cool. Nina told me that it's a word that ordinary people use and I was like "good, because that's what I want to learn."

And apparently, I'm working on it!

Russia Update #4

I know this is late. I'm not going to apologize for it because first, Sometimes I tend to loose track of the time, and second, I've been putting it off on purpose. Although why those aren't reasons to apologize, I don't know.

I've been trying to think how best to sum up my third (and now over half of my fourth) month here. My last e-mail, as you all know, was full of inner wonderings as I was trying to figure out how to fit in here, and that sort of thing. It's not that these last few weeks havn't been full of inner wonderings, it's just, they've become harder to express.

The good news is that for the most part I'm doing really well here. Yeah, I have my occasional melt-downs and freak-outs and irritations, but they're becoming less common now. Sure, I sometimes get tired of wearing underarmour everytime I want to go out, not having the all american "convenience foods" and so forth, but I have all the basics here that I need to survive, and that's good. The rest are just nice. Besides, I've discovered that a lot of the stuff I think I "need" can be found here, but maybe in a different form than in America, or possibly I have to look a little harder for it. The only thing that I haven't been able to find here that would be really nice, is more solution for my contacts (I wear hard,) but that's an entirely different story, and not really for this e-mail.

I've made a friend at school. Which is about the best thing ever because school goes so much faster when you have someone to talk too. Even though I don't get grades, and don't always turn the work in, I still make an effort to do it, because it's one thing that helps keep me sane sometimes, just having something to do.

I've been here three and a half months, and it still takes me a long long time to do my homework. Wow, three and a half months, when I say it like that, it doesn't really seem to be that long, but in someways, like stuff I've learned, it seems like forever. I got off that plane a long time ago.

While homework still takes a while, the good news is that my language is coming along great. I'm getting better at being able to say exactly what I want. I don't have to pantomime nearly as much, and my listening vocabulary is pretty big. I follow other people's conversations, I have some slight difficulty, but am working on people who monologue. i.e. newscasters and such. The thing I have the most difficulty with is when people talk directly too me, but even that's getting better.

As I was walking home from school today, a lady was like "You're the foreigner eh?" and I said "yeah" and we stopped and had a little conversation. In Russian. I mean, how cool is that? And how many people can say they can do that.

The weather here isn't too bad. It's been colder these last couple of days, and in fact, it's supposed to be in the 40s (That's negative) all week. So far the cold hasn't hit me too hard because once you get used to it, it's not so bad. You just bundle up well.

For those of you who read my blog, you heard about my slight visa problem. Apparently it's a pretty common thing, as one of the other rotary exchangers in Russia right now was also having problems with hers. For not very long, maybe an hour, I thought I might have to go home, and you know what? That thought terrified me, made me angry. In that moment, it hit me how much I'd come to love it here. I guess you don't notice how used to things you get until they might be taken away from you.

I keep a paper journal as well as my blog, and I write in it every night. One of the questions I've been exploring lately is "what will it be like to go back?" It seems to me that exchangers are from two schools when it comes time to go home. They either don't want to leave the country and would stay forever if Rotary and their visas allowed, or they're sick of the country and ready to go home. I'm not sure that I'm going to be either one. The thought of going home now, makes me want to dig my heels in and stay because, well, I'm not finished learning yet. I think when the time comes, I'll be sad, but ready to go. Because then, it will be time.

Perhaps it seems odd to be thinking about this when I'm only half-way though my fourth month, but suddenly july doesn't seem so far away anymore. Back in september I was sitting here thinking "Oh my word! July is such a long time away!" Yet, at the same time, in the back of my head, I knew it really wasn't. I have a feeling that it's going to go quickly.

Sometimes it feels like I'm living in a dream here. I'm afraid that I'll wake up and will be in a college dorm, or back home, and have never come to Russia. What scares me the most is the idea that after I get back, me being here might be the part that feels like a dream, and I don't want to forget about these people or this place.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about growing up too. Because I realized that when I get back home, I'll be starting college and suddenly have all these responsiblities. Adult responsibilities that I'm not sure I'm ready for because a part of me likes being a teenager. But then I suppose you can't stop time, and everyday is a new adventure, da?

OOh, so I just realized I found my philosophy vein again. I'm sorry that it always seems to happen when I'm writing these e-mails, but it's like all the inner stuff that I write and think about over the month, just bleed out onto the screen infront of me. Odd.

Well, in other news (Not to kill the mood) New Year's is coming up very very quickly. We have school monday through friday next week and then we get a two week holiday to celebrate. Christmas here is on the 7th of January as it's still celebrated on the day of the old calender. Raisa's oldest daughter is flying in on the 28th, and from what Raisa's said, the whole family's coming over on the night of the 31st to celebrate. I'm planning on giving everyone a little something and when I mentioned it to Raisa she said that I didn't have to do a bunch of big presents, and I said, it's not, just a few small things. Because a few small things is all I've got.

I've decided to begin my souvenier shopping for various people after New Year's. It'll give me something to do in the dead time between New Year's and Spring. Ooh, I'm not looking forward to that. we have a span between New Year's and Spring break where as far as I know there are no holidays. It's going to be a long haul. Yet the good news is that when Spring break rolls around I'll be heading to the orientation in Vladivostok and then to Moscow and St. Petersburg. After that, we have district conference the first week of June, Ysakh, the Yakutian new year at the end of June and then two weeks later I hit home, so I think that part's going to go fast. It's just keeping busy during the winter stretch that's going to be hard. Perhaps it would be a good time to visit some other sites such as the permafrost institute.

Oh, I forgot. The reason that I started the above paragraph before getting distracted is if there's anything relatively small (I only have two suitcases remember) that people want from here, please send me an e-mail and let me know. I'll see if I can work something out for you.

Okay, I guess that's all from here. My next update probalby won't be until the middle of january, after the holidaying has ceased (Unless of course, I get lazy or have trouble figuring out what to write.) Until then, I hope and pray that you are all doing well.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Since I don't know what to write about, I thought I'd think back over the last couple of weeks and just share some little stories with you, as I probably don't do that enough. I hope you enjoy them.

I'm one of those people who's like "I want to learn the way that real people speak," so naturally, I'm always interested in the slang and what the kids here say as much as they are interested in what the american kids say. So I make every effort to learn and to teach.

One day I was at a cafe with my friend Nina. we weren't really talking about anything, just random stuff and I was like 'ooh, let me tell you about this game my friends and I play. For those of you who've seen "whose line is it anyway," you will recognize this game. It's called "If you know what i mean" Basically the way we play the game, is after we say something, we add the phrase "if you know what i mean" after what we've said and it makes the sentence sound kind of bad, it can get pretty funny.

So I was telling Nina about this game and I was like "The phrase doesn't translate really well into Russian, but..." And so I explained how it worked and everything. And Nina thought it was pretty cool. In fact, she's started using it. Since the phrase doesn't translate well into Russian, she does it in English, but we speak russian, so we'll be talking and she'll say something in Russian and then in english go "If you know what I mean." The other day, she pulled a really good one and I laughed for a long time.

we were talking about how we sometimes just sit at home alone, and don't do anything. And Nina goes in Russian "I like it when I'm home alone because then I call up a friend and say 'hey, come on over to my place and have some tea' If you know what I mean." And I just laughed. It's not nearly as funny in translation because part of what made it awesome was the fact that we were speaking in russian and then she bursts out with "If you know what I mean" in English.

While I'm on the subject of colloquial speech, I was at a cafe once with some classmates. One got a couple of beers in him and started opening right up. ha ha. Anyway, he asked me whether in English we "read" rap or "sing" rap. It didn't take me long to think about it before answering "Neither, Rap is a verb. I rap, you rap and so on and so forth." He thought that was pretty cool and then I was like "And what is it in Russian." I was then told that in Russian they don't have the verb "to rap" so Russians "читать рап" or "read rap." So I found that to be very interesting.

Finally, My computer class teacher just came up to me and told me that you have to watch in the cold that your cell phone doesn't freeze and that even your cell phone should have a little шуба or fur coat. Ha ha ha. Sometimes the conversations I have with people here crack me up.

well, other than that I'm doing well. I had a slight slump the last couple of days where i was just generally irritated with just about everything, but I'm dealing with it so that's good. The other day I also realized that I'm halfway through my fourth month here and I was like "wow, already?"

This is our last full week of school before the holidays so that's awesome. Raisa's older daughter flies in on the 28th which I'm pretty excited about. I can't wait to meet her. Yay! Heard back home they're having a snowstorm. sounds to me like the weather there's been worse than it has here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Scientific Experiment #1: Online Translation

I love it when the kids here use online translators to translate something for an english class. Why? Because the grammer constructions are absolutely hilarous. I can always tell when someone's used an internet translator, just like I can tell when someone's taken something straight from the internet. So to enlighten you about the amusment that comes from online translators, I've decided to conduct a scientific experiement. For this experiement, I will be using the first two sentences from the book The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

Here are the first two sentences in English:
Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of air-raids.

And now, the first two sentences from the Russian version:
Жили-были на свете четверо ребят, их звали Питер, Сьюзан, Эдмунд и Люси. В этой книжке расскаэывается о том, что приключилось с ними во время войны, когда их вывезли из Лондона, чтобы они не пострадали из-за воздушных налетов.

And now, let the scientific experimenting begin. I have no idea what tranlation tool the kids here use for their english projects, but I have chosen to use Having that said, here's goes nothing.

Part 1: English to Russian to English
For the first part I have taken the english text above, changed it into Russian, and then back to english. The original is above. The translated Russian version is as follows:
Однажды было четыре ребенка, названиями которых был Питер, Сьюзен, Эдмунд, и Люси. Эта история - кое о чем, что случилось с ними, когда они были отосланы из Лондона в течение войны из-за воздушных налетов.

As you can see, even those of you who don't know Russian, the above translation doesn't match the translation of the official Russian version of the book. Actually the above translation is much more of a literal translation. And now, back to english:
Once there were four children which names were Peter, Susan, Эдмунд, and Lucy. This history - which about what, that happens with them when they have been sent from London during war because of air strikes.

Doesn't really match the original, though not bad. I was surprised at how well it did considering. If you'll follow me, we'll move on to part two.

Part Two: Russian to English to Russian
We will now do what we did above in part one with the Russian text.
Lived-were on light of four children, them called Peter, Susan, Эдмунд and Lucy. In this book расскаэывается that has happened to them during war when them have taken out from London that they have not suffered because of air strikes.

Even for those of you who can't read russian, I'm sure that you can still see that the translator doesn't do nearly as good of a job going from Russian to English. It has some trouble with grammar. And now, back to Russian:
Живший - были на свету четырех детей, их назвал Питера, Сьюзен?????? и Люси. В этой книге?????????????? это случилось с ними в течение войны, когда их взяли из Лондона, который они не перенесли из-за воздушных ударов.

Ha ha ha! I have no idea, this is just what the translator spit out for me.

Well, the conclusion I came to from doing this experiment basically confirmed my hypothesis which is that Online translators aren't really the best option out there. It's always better and preferable to do it yourself, and don't think the native speakers won't know. Some ways I could improve this experiment are by testing more than one online translater.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Keep Your Eye on the Bear

See this guy? I bet you fifty roubles that when the march elections roll around he's going to be the next President of Russia. Why do I think this? Possibly because he's the canidate running for Единая Россия.(announced yesterday.) For those of you who don't know, that's President Putin's political party. My host mom doesn't like this guy. (his name by the way is Dmitri Medvedev) She say's he's really young, hasn't really done anything. I was like "How ironic, we have a canidate like that too. Barak Obama." We had a conversation about it at dinner. Want to know what the Russians know about current american politics? They know that Hillary is going to try to run.

Anyway, the point of this post is just to tell you to keep an eye on this guy. Knowing what I know about Russian politics there's all likelyhood that you'll be hearing his name a lot more in March. If you'd like to read more about him, you could always check out good old Wiki Though there's not a whole whole ton of info in the english version.

День Самоуправления

Today was a sort of holiday type thing at school. День самоуправления. This is another one of those cool Russian "Let's take two words and combine them to make one" things. The second word comes from the words for "Self" and "Administration" (Goodness, I feel like the father from My Big Fat Greek Wedding) Anyway, in English we'd probably just call it "Be a Teacher day" or something because that's what we were doing. When I found out about it, I really wanted to participate because I realized even though I don't really know enough Russian to teach a class, I know enough English to teach an english class. So I talked to some people and they got me all set up, and today I taught two classes. Both 9th grade.

My day started out with a mad sprint to the school because I was running late. Everytime we have a late start, the time throws me and I tend to run late. Today was not a good day to be late. Fortunately, I wasn't too horribly late, and it all worked out and no one was angry or anything.

The ninth graders have been talking in their english classes about shopping and famous stores in Britain. So my job was to talk about Shopping in America. I focused on several stores. Abercrombie and Fitch, Macy's, Wal-Mart, The Mall of America, and a Giant Eagle Grocery store. I taught in a very not Russian style because I don't know how to teach Russian style. Though I did incorperate some russian things i.e. "Write this down." But I tried to get the kids to interact with me. It was very interesting.

I told the first group I had one rule (The second group I added another) But I basically have one rule and that is when I ask a question, answer it because then I know you're not sleeping and at least pretending to pay attention. My other rule is usually Don't talk while I'm talking.

Anyway, since I didn't really know what they were talking about I asked "What have you been talking about?" It took some tooth pulling but I finally got the groups to answer. The first group told me "shopping" and when I asked if in England and what stores they gave me some answers. When I asked the second group they finally answered shopping and I go "In Britain? Or what?" And this girl goes "It's on page two hundred and..." And I'm like "I don't have a book. That's why I asked." And she goes "oh." I found it rather amusing. The second group was also the one where when I asked if there were any questions after the presentation this girl goes "What are famous stores in america?" And I'm standing there thinking "Devushka, where have you been for the last twenty minutes?"

I was worried that my presentation would be too short as it was only five or six slides long, but after the introductions and speaking slowly, it was just right for the forty minute period. At the end of my presentation, I made up a slide with some little quiz questions on it, to see who was paying attention. I gave out some Ohio state quarters as prizes which the kids thought were really cool. Though I didn't bring enough. The lesson was just long enough in the sense that we didn't get through all the questions on my last slide before the bell rang. Excellent.

After my two teaching periods, I went to my classes. We only had a total of four lessons today. The last two were Physics and Astronomy. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but we were taking tests in both (Somehow I missed the memo) and as I'm always a bit fried after I do a presentation I really really didn't feel like taking the physics test. The kid who was teaching got after me, and so I pretended to work, and then stopped, and then the real teacher got after me, so I pretened to work some more. I ended up translating one question on the Physics test. When I finally understood what it said it was something like "What is the historical significance of " and then some guy's name. I had no idea who the guy was or was even aware that we'd studied them (Just because I take notes in class doesn't mean I always understand them) so I wrote something like "I have no idea who this guy is, but I imagine that his historical significance is that he did or discovered something important to physics." Then the bell rang and they took the test sheet away and so I didn't get to any other questions.

On the Astronomy test I answered two questions. One was "Why can't you find the position of planets on a star chart." Once again I had no idea so I was like "You can't find the position of planets on a star chart because planets move and also because it's a star chart, not a planet chart" heh heh heh, sometimes I love being an exchange student.

After school, Nina and I had made plans to go to the National Museum. First though we decided to hit a cafe, Margarita's. There we dined on pizza, Chai, and Tiramasu and talked. Finally, Nina was like "are we going to go to the museum?" oh. yeah. Right. So off we went. Except today is tuesday. Apparently Tuesdays are выходные days at the Museum. i.e. It's closed. So we walked across ploshad Lenina and admired the New Year's tree because it now has lights (For those of you who've looked at my flickr recently, you can see the tree, I'll be taking more pictures of the tree with the lights in the next couple of days.) then we waited for my bus at the bus stop until Nina's mom randomly showed up and offered to give me a ride home. So they dropped me off, and that was my day. Despite the rough start, I think it was a good one. I'm really enjoying myself right now! Life is awesome!

Monday, December 10, 2007


Yesterday's blog didn't turn out how I originally thought. Funny how that works. How my fingers just kind of follow my brain. Anyway, once again it's monday and I'm sitting in computer class not doing what we're supposed to be doing and have no idea what we're supposed to be doing because I wasn't listening. Then I decided to update because I've been meaning to do a detailed entry about what school's like so why not do it now?

Please excuse lack of capitals and occasional spaces because as always, the computer I use here has a horrible keyboard. Also please excuse that this is in no particular order, as I'm just typing as I think.

School here is different than it is back home. I mean there are some things that are the same such as some of the classes, but it's a lot different too.

For starters, how many school districts do you think are in Yakutsk? The correct answer is zero. There isn't one or two school districts were all the kids in the city go. Instead, there are a ton of smallers schools all over, and you go to one. THe highest school number I've heard of is 33 though I'm not sure that there's every single number in between.

I go to school number 8 as most of you probably already know from me mentioning. School number 8 is a gimnasium. (Prounounced with a 'g' like in the word "gum") from what I hear, a gimnasium is a school for smart people, not the smartest people because there's a separate school for them, but still fairly smart people.

I do not go to a high school. There is no such thing as "high school" here. My school holds the littlest grades, up to the last grade. There are some differences in the way grades work too.

First grade is about the same age as first graders in america. The last grade is 11. There is no twelfth grade and from what I understand there's no fourth grade either. students graduate when they are 16/17.

I change classes, but I have the same people in every class. There are three "tracks" you can choose here. One is a Math/Science track and most of your classes are like algebra, chemistry, bio, etc. The second track is a literature track where you take more Russian/literature/language classes, and the third track is the Law track and most of your classes are like History/social studies. I am in the Literature track. This means that I sit in Literature class five days a week. That's every day but tuesday.

SPeaking of which, for those of you who don't know, I go to school six days a week. monday through saturday. I am required to wear "formal" clothing to school. This means that I wear black pants, a white blouse and a black sweater though occasionally i wear my rotary jacket when my sweater is in the wash. Saturday is cool because we don't have to wear said "formals" and can wear what we want. At first I didn't like the "uniform" thing but I've gotten used to it and it's kind of nice to already know what you're going to wear for the day. plus, it makes washing clothes easier.

At first, I had to look at a schedule to figure out what classes i had each day because they changed. After a while though, the schedule became fixed and now i basically have the same classes on the same days every week.

school starts at 815 in the morning and goes until 1:10 or 2:00. It depends on the day. On Mondays, and Fridays, I have seven lessons blocks and so I get done about 2. Tuesdays and Thursdays i have 6 and I get done about 1:10. Wednesdays I go to the rotary meeting so I get out at 12:20. Saturdays I have five lessons and the time schedule is different so i get done at 12:15.

Having 7 lesson blocks doesn't mean i have seven classes. hence the reason i call it a block. an example is today. today is monday so i have 7 blocks. two blocks are computer class, two blocks are literature, one block is Algebra and the last two blocks are history. and that's how that works.

There is like no truant policy as far as I understand, and no policy that says you can only miss so many days of school. there's one girl in class who's missed like 3 weeks of school. A while back she was sick for a week. then two weeks ago she wasn't at school, she came one day and then was gone last week too. i have no idea if she's back now or not.

we occasionally have holidays at school. Russians are really big on celebrating random things. hence, the night back in october celebrating day of teacher, and tomorrow which is like 'be a teacher for a day' day.

The highest grade is a five. the lowest is a one. The class has a grade book that someone is responsible for making sure it gets to the teachers. often grades are read outloud.

Everyone in class takes turn 'being on duty' this varies from watching the halls, to erasing chalkboards, to who knows what else.

NOw I must go because i actually have an assignment I"m supposed to be doing, so I'll have to continue this later.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Actually, it's not that I'm lackadazical, it's just that the past few days I honestly haven't felt like getting on the computer. So I haven't. So maybe that makes me lackadazical. I don't know. It's not that I don't care about what's going on at home, it's just that lately I've been feeling rather what I call "abstract" about stuff. Like Home. i.e. The people and the building back home in the states is there, but in an "abstract" way.

Ooh, just a random thought, but you know that guy with the cat in the box? Schrodinger? Maybe? And it's like while the box is closed up the cat doesn't exist because it can't be seen? My question is since I can't see the people back home does it mean that they don't exist? But they e-mail me so what does that prove? And what's more since they can't see me does that mean that I don't exisit either? Then why am I sitting here in Russia typing this?

Okay, enough philosophy, back to the entry. Maybe the best way to describe these feelings is sort of a lack of emotion. Apathy? no, that's "I don't Care" there's a word for it, but I forget what it is. I've been noticing that about other stuff too. It's like I'm not happy, and not sad, I just am.

Another example is the holidays. They're coming up. In America I guess that there's like two weeks until christmas. I'm not excited about Christmas because it's not a major holiday here. New Year's is. Yet, I'm not really excited about New Year's either. It's just like, I am.

The good news is that I've discovered that I really do enjoy my time here. Remember how I mentioned the deportation thing in my last blog entry? I mentioned it because we went to finish getting me registered in the city and the guy told us I had the wrong kind of visa, that mine was only good for three months and I was going to have to leave in two days. When he said that, I was ready to dig my feet in and start fighting. Because doggone it, my departure date is July 11th and I'm not leaving a moment before. The Rotary club here has been amazing with helping me get that straightened out, and so it turns out there's nothing to worry about.

SO yeah, I'm more content here, My language is going well. I even had a dream worth remembering in Russian. That was pretty exciting! I'd been talking with Raisa about speaking up during class and then that night I had a dream. In it we were having history in our english room (Which we sometimes do) only my english teacher was teaching it. And my deskmate asked me if there were questions I had about what we were going over, so I raised my hands and asked questions. The funniest thing was that in my dream, my russian was as broken and ungrammatically correct as it was in real life. Heh heh heh.

What else can I report? Well, I'm pretty sure I'm going on the trip to China. I found out that it's technically not a rotary trip, but the woman who's running it is the rotary youth exchange coordinator for our district. The only thing is that I have to ask her a question about Muti-entry visas.

My question of the day is why in English can't we combine words to make new ones? it's really frustrating. Like in Russian the word госплан which we were talking about in history class. I'd never heard/seen that word before but knew immediately that it was state-plan. See? there's like no good translation for it. It's a combination of the word for "state" and the word for "plan" or I was reading the newspaper the other day, and in a political cartoon the guy said something about "многопартиность" (I don't remember the exact word) once again, I'd never seen the word before but I took the parts and came to the conclusion that it was "Many parties" or something like that. Again, it doesn't translate well.

Speaking of the newspaper, I know that news on TV here and the TV channels in general are basically state run, but I'm not sure about the newspapers. When I was reading the paper yesterday there were several articles that seemed to be criticizing Putin. The political cartoon had a man asking a shadowy figure "What happend to 'multi-parties' " and the shadowy figure replying that "it drowned" (Or maybe didn't succeed as the verb means both) and the title of another article was "Not 'state' duma" (It's hard to convey the tone in english) so I think that maybe there's still some freedom of the press here.

I read a newspaper article once about how putin said that in the news, the United States should be portrayed as an enemy. So since I've been here, I've been trying to see if that's the truth. Honestly, I have no idea. I will say that most of the times they report on the United states, it's in a not very good light, but then doesn't the news always report on the bad things? They did have a news story on the Christmas tree that was going to be put up in Rockefeller center so isn't that a positive thing?

I don't know it seems to me like I'm trying to find truth when there is none. I mean if you think about in America don't we do what Russia's doing in our own way? I mean everytime we learn about Russia in history class, it's always in a negative light. That doesn't mean I'm excusing Stalin, but how many schoolkids in America think that all russians are communists? And most of the news articles you read about Russia in the newspaper are negative too.

It doesn't mean that I'm all in love with the Motherland. It doesn't mean that I'm un-american. I don't think the Russians are right about everything either. I'm just an observer of this world, wondering how do you define truth, when it seems like there is more than definition?

Monday, December 03, 2007

To All Potential Outbounds, exchange students

Dear Potential Outbounds,
I am writing this letter to any of you who may happen to stumble upon, or regularly read this blog, because I know that the time is coming soon (if it hasn't already) for you to pick your top countries. The country where you will spend ten months of your life.

As you may or may not know, I have chosen to spend ten and a half months in the country of Russia. At the risk of sounding negative and rude, I do not encourage all exchange students to apply for Russia. Yet I have a good reason for this.

Being a future exchange student, you probably realize that exchange students are a rare breed of people. They are ready for anything and they like a challenge. They want to meet new people, learn new things, and learn more about themselves and the world around them.

Yet I do not encourage all exchange students to apply for Russia because spending a year in Russia is not for the faint of heart. It is for the rarest of the rare. i.e. it is for the exchange student who wants to go above and beyond the above and beyond. An exchange to Russia is not your grandma's exchange. If you're looking for a year of parties and good times, then you should pick Brazil or Spain, if you're looking for a quick language learn, then you want Chile or Belgium. If you want to meet a lot of other exchange students then go for Germany or Taiwan.

For those of you considering Russia, this letter is not meant to scare you off, I just want to let you know what you're getting yourself into. Russia has a unique set of exchange challenges not to be found in any other country. This includes Good, old Russian Bureaucracy (Read: occasionally not being allowed into libraries, having the threat of deportation over your head, filling out eight copies of official papers by hand, that sort of thing) A difficult language (read: six cases, and about a thousand verbs of going), and icy cold winters (Layers are not an option. Neither are thick coats and fur hats) just to name a few.

For those of you, who are still considering Russia, good for you, you've probably got what it takes. It's a hard country, that's no lie, but Like many extra difficult things, When you come out of it, the learning and growing you have done will be worth it.

I hope this letter has given you a bit of insight before making your choice. Whichever country you decide to choose, I wish you luck in your year abroad.

Yakutsk, Russia
December 2007

Sunday, December 02, 2007

No Hanging Chads: Experiencing the Russian Vote

Today was December second. Do you know what december second is? If you said the second day of my fourth month here, then good job, but that's not the answer I was looking for. The correct answer is today was voting day. How do I know this? Mostly because for the last few weeks the TV has been advertising two things. 1. The new season of TV shows starting, and 2. that December second is voting day 2007.

I had said something to Raisa about a week ago about going with her to vote. I didn't get to go with her, but her sister, Lena, was working the polls today and so basically, Raisa made a phone call and I went and sat and watched people for a couple of hours. I know, you're probably thinking a couple of hours, are you nuts? But as an exchanger, and a not very social one sometimes, a couple of hours was no biggie. Besides, it's not like I had anywhere else to be and a couple of hours gave me the chance to really see how things worked. So that I can know make a detailed report to all of you.

Voting over here is one thing I was particularly interested in. Probably because I have this thing about voting. It's like a really big deal to me. Probably because I've been going to the polls with my parents and watched them vote since I was like five and every time, they'd tell me (Especially dad) how voting is an important right granted to us under the U.S. constituion and it's important that we exercise that right. I will never forget when I got to vote in my first election. That was exciting stuff!

Anyway, enough reminicing, let me tell you how it works here. (Mom, I even made notes while I was watching so I wouldn't forget anything)

I went and sat at school number 33 which is the school located in my neighborhood, 202 mikrorayon. (That's dvesti ftoroi, not two hundred and two :) ) The first thing I notcied is that you vote based on your korpus. For those of you who don't know, the korpus is the apartment building you live in. So rather than having a big spread out area that's like "district one" they have signs up that say "Korpus 17" and such.

When you first arrive, you find where your korpus is located and you stand in line. When it's your turn you show your passport (A passport here not only allows Russians to move from country to country, but also serves as their main form of ID within the city/country) The workers look at your passport and then write your name down on a list. They do not have a book with the names already written down in Alphabetical order like we do in the states, they just write your name down as you come in. After they write your name down, you sign by it, just like in America. They then give you your ballot and you're ready to go.

They do not vote electronically here. I think in some places they are just starting too as there was something about electronic voting machines on the news tonight, but here they use a paper ballot. And when I say paper ballot, I mean paper. This is not like our old ballot system with the punch cards. Basically you go into a curtained little voting both, take a little pen and check off the issuses. There is one box for each issue. I imagine that if you check the box you vote yes, and to leave it blank means no.

When you have finished your vote, you leave the booth, fold your paper up and drop it into a slot in a big huge box. After that I have no idea what happens to the ballots. In Russia, as in America, the voting age is 18. If you are a first time voter, when you've completed your vote, you go to a special table and say "I'm a first time voter." You then get a special little pin that says "First time voter" in Russian, and a little present in the form of a little address book, or calender. They tell you "Congratulations, the next vote is March 2nd"

One interesting thing is for each little voting section, there is a group of people sitting kind of off to the side. I asked Lena why, and she said that they are there to make sure that the vote is done right. Hmm...interesting.

I also found out that in Russia, the law says you have to vote. I'm not sure if I agree with making this a law. I vote in America because I have the right to choose to vote or not, and since I have the option of having a voice in my country, I chose to use my voice and I vote and I feel special because I feel like I've made a difference in my country. I don't know, making people vote just seems. Not backwards really, but it seems like making people vote defeats the purpose of being able to vote in the first place.

But then you don't have a small percent of the people making the majority of the decisions either. I guess I can see both sides to it, but prefer the fact that in America there is no law forcing me to vote.

Oh, incidentally, today's vote was for the State Duma, which is kind of like a parliament/congress thing. You can read more about it on Wiki. Also, the people elected a new Mayor of Yakutsk today.

Oh and for those of you who don't know a lot about Russia and still think they're all communists, yes, there is a communist party, but there are other parties too.

Actually, one interesting thing about communism that I've noticed. In America when we learn about the cold war era, and we talk about Communism, there are always these jokes and stuff about it. The Russian kids make the same kind of jokes that american kids do when they learn about the Cold war/Communist era. Just thought you'd all find that interesting.

So I think that about covers it. If there are any questions, let me know.