Monday, November 24, 2008

Interviewing: A View from the Other Side

Several years ago, I went through a Club Interview and a District Interview in order to become an exchange student. Yesterday, I got to see the interview process from the other side. It was an interesting experience.

Several weeks ago, one of the Rotarians in charge of the district exchange program got a hold of me and said "Do you want to help interview potential outbounds?" I answered with a very enthusiastic "Yes!" The interviews were yesterday. I was on an interview team with three other people and we interviewed four students, two guys and two girls. Three of the students were interested in Spanish speaking countries, and one was interested in India. It was a really fun experience. The interviews themselves were tiring, but it was fun to interact as well. We interviewed two students, broke for lunch and then interviewed two more. In some ways, my favorite part was that break for lunch. It gave me a chance to walk around and talk to some of the potentials that I wasn't interviewing, see where they were interested in going, and share some of my stories. Actually, what's great is everyone knows me as "The girl who went to Russia last year and almost got deported."

There was a meeting during the noon hour for all the parents and their students. One of the Rotarians told me that he was going to tell my Korea story. I went to eat lunch and then I popped into the meeting to see what was going on about half-way through. The Rotarian had already told my story, but he had me talk a little about the training program that the students will go through before leaving, and told the crowd that I was the student he'd mentioned earlier. I also got to talk a little bit about the orientation things that go on in-country. The Rotarians embarrassed me because they said that they'd heard from people in my Russian district about how integrated I became and how well I spoke the language. If it was Eleonora saying this, she had a tendency to exaggerate, and if it was the Alaskan in charge of Youth Exchange, he didn't know Russian and wouldn't know. I did mention though how one of the most interesting experiences I had on exchange was at district conference. It was interesting because I was able to speak Russian to the Russians and feel completely Russian and then turn around and speak English and deal with Americans no problem. It was cool how I was able to slip between cultures.

An interesting thing about the interviews was seeing it from this side. We'd call the kids in and they'd be all nervous and that sort of thing, and they're all so naive in some ways. Naive not in a bad sense, but because the unknown is before them. They don't have those experiences yet. Part of me just wanted to be like "wipe those expectations out of your head because it's completely different when you're there" But I doubt it would do much good. I didn't listen when I was in their place, so why should they be any different. It's one of those things you just have to experience and see for yourself.

Our team kept up more of a dialog with the students rather than an actual interview. We asked them questions, of course, but we also just kind of talked to them as well, about their interests, things they'd written on their applications, expectations for exchange. That sort of thing. My favorite question to ask was pulled from my own experiences "What do you do if you get there, and you hate the city and you go to school and you have no friends and feel like no one likes you?" Most of the students had to stop and really think about this question. This is something most of them don't think about when they're getting ready for exchange. They're prepared for questions about homesickness, tolerence, and why they want to do exchange but the fact that they might get in-country and not have the time of their lives from the very beginning is something they never considered. I sure didn't.

It was odd. Several of my exchange buddies, people who trained with me and went out in 07-08 were there, but I didn't spend a ton ton of time talking to them. I didn't quite feel connected and I don't know why. Is Russia that scarring? (Ha!) Was my exchange that different? Did it mature me in different ways? Or am I just at a different point in my life now? One thing I did enjoy was talking to a student who was in the Czech Republic in 06-07. The languages are similar and the cultures in some ways are similar and so it was a very enlightening conversation.

I enjoyed yesterday's experience a lot. It made me feel like I was being useful and using what I learned in Russia to help people out. I'm hoping to go to some of the overnighters that are coming up in the next few months.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My College Posse

So, I get these groups of friends. The ones I hang out with the most are the ones who I am closest too and therefore become what I call "my posse." Don't ask me why I use this term I just do. There are four of us in my posse here. Me, Puppy, Zhin, and a newer addition, Chatter. I knew all of them individually and then Puppy hung out with Zhin and I once so they met. I knew Chatter from the karaoke night here, and took Zhin with me one week and so they met, and Puppy and Chatter met each other one day when we had lunch and ended up sitting in the Center from about 2 in the afternoon until 5:30. So it was just a matter of bringing them all together. Which I did last Tuesday. Tuesday, we didn't have class and after going to lunch with Chatter, I wanted to walk Downtown to the music store. We decided to invite Puppy because he's into music and he's hilarious, and I said let's make a party of it and so we invited Zhin too.

I honestly cannot tell you what we do when we hang out, because in just telling you, it doesn't seem like much of anything. We walk around and hang out different places. We often end up at The Diner which is a place on campus open all night that has decent food. Also, almost every time we hang out, we end up in the Music building so Puppy can play the piano. But I mean other than that we hang out, and we talk, and we act completely stupid, and we pretty much speak almost entirely in inside jokes which means that anyone listening either thinks we're really creepy, or has no idea what we're talking about. From playing catch phrase, and the bottle game in The Diner at one in the morning, to wandering around aimlessly, being loud and people telling us drunks to go home (though we really aren't drunk. I promise) hanging out with my friends is always a very very interesting experience. It's memories like these that you look back on later and think "man, college was a great time!"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dealing With It

I recently got a Facebook message from one of my fellow Russian exchangers. She needed someone who understood and so told me how she was tired of people not listening to her view on Russian politics, of people implying that even though she spent nine months in country, she was too far from Moscow and therefore didn't really know the political situation in the country. That got me thinking about some of my own experiences and I decided to do this entry about it, so you would know. For those of you who may be reading this and are in Russia right now, this is what you have to look forward to. For any other exchangers who might be reading this, you will probably go through something similar. For the rest of you, I hope that by reading this, you get a better understanding.

It's really hard coming back from Russia. Not just because of the general leaving your second culture behind thing. It's hard because you don't realize how prejudiced Americans are against Russia until you get back and start facing it. It also doesn't help when barely two weeks after you get back, the front page of the newspapers are splashed with headlines about Russia invading Georgia. Immediately the questions started. "Were you in Russia when that happened?" "no." "Did you see this coming?" "Not really." And my least favorite of all: "What do you think of this whole situation." Apparently having just come back from Russia, Everyone wanted my opinion and my insight into the conflict. It quickly became my least favorite question though when I had several conversations that went sort of like this:
"What do you think about this whole thing?"
"Well, I think it's interesting."
"Yeah, Russia's so power hungry right?"
"Actually, you do realize that Georgia started it...?"
"What? No!"
"They invaded the Breakaway regions first."
"Yeah, but Putin is evil and power hungry and trying to grab up land!"

I started avoiding the topic. How can you explain your side to someone who doesn't want to listen? To someone who just wants you to confirm their stereotypes? Because you get a lot of that. This is what we're taught, this is the way it is. I got very tired very quickly of, as soon as I said anything to defend the Russian government in any way, people looking at me like I was a communist, or making comments to that effect. What most people don't realize is that Russians know their government is corrupt, but their attitude is that this is the way life is. There is no history of democracy in that country so most people don't know any way to change it. Oh and by the way, if you actually ask the Russians, many of them will tell you that they approve of Putin because he's done some good things for the country. And I know what you'll probably say "It's because there's a history of Putin eliminating any and all competition and opposers." I'm not saying that this isn't true, I'm just telling you what it's like.

The other thing that really bothers me is the actual "communist" comments. I have a few friends who make this sort of comment, mostly because they know it gets to me. You fake smile and shrug, or make threats under your breath in Russian and go on. I hide how much it really bothers me and I think this is something I need to stop doing. Hiding. I need to stand up and be like "look, this really bothers me when you say things like that. " Because it does and maybe if I spoke up people would understand better.

I guess you could say this is where I'm at right now, piloting through the remnants of my exchange. It seems so long ago, sometimes it just feels like a dream. Some days I wake up and I think "Was I really in Russia? Oh. I guess so." It's rather depressing in some ways.