Name: Robert Mogollon
Location of Study: Moscow, Russia
Program of Study: Arizona in Russia
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Nanovic Institute for European Studies
A brief personal bio:
I was born in Venezuela and moved to the United States when I was five years old. I went to Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando and am now a freshman here at Notre Dame. I am planning on studying PLS and Russian. I have always had an interest in languages and am planning on mastering Russian and eventually learning more languages.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
My SLA grant allows me to go study in Moscow for the Summer. This is important for multiple reasons. To begin, this will really help me get better at speaking and writing in Russian because of the increased practice. This will help me do better in my Russian classes. I will also learn a lot about Russian culture and art while I am there. I will also make connections in Moscow which could eventually help my career, since I hope I can get some job that has me traveling often.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
I hope to learn to speak Russian well, to make connections with Russian people, and to explore Russian art and culture as much as I can. Language-wise, I want to practice Russian often so that I can learn to speak fluently. I also want to learn to write and read faster and with fewer mistakes in Russian. I also want to meet people, which will happen naturally as I walk around Moscow. Learning about Russian culture will happen as I walk around, talking to people, and observing Russian mannerisms. Lastly, I really hope to get into Russian art. I hope to do this by going to Russian art museums, hopefully meeting some modern poets, and attending plays.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the ends of the Summer, I will be able to speak Russian well enough that I could have intelligent conversations with native about Russian literature and art.
- At the end of the Summer, I will be able to read in Russian well enough that I will be able to read classic Russian literature and understand most of what I am reading.
- At the end of the Summer, I will be able to find my way around Moscow with little difficulty.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
Our driver from the airport to the school is Russian and speaks nothing but English, so I will begin practicing my Russian there. At the school, I will have a Russian roommate so that will give me plenty of opportunities to practice my Russian. As soon as I can, I will head to the center of the city so I can walk around and explore, and of course talk to people as often as I can. Every day after class, I also hope to go to different parts of Moscow and learn as much as I can.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
I arrived in Russia expecting a complicated customs process. I had to do a passport check, which was just the passport check officers checking my paperwork and then asking me questions they thought would illicit funny responses, like who the presidents in the American passport are. After that it was really easy to walk through. I walked out the airport and had to follow our driver through about 10 lanes of traffic. He didn’t care and wouldn’t even look at the cars. The drivers did not seem to care that we were there either, and we barely escaped being hit by a few cars. The drive into Moscow was very unimpressive, but the school campus is beautiful. It seems more like a forest with school buildings placed into it then it does a school. The day I got here, I met a few of the other students and went to explore the surrounding area. I learned there is a really nice park close by and a few stores and restaurants. Most importantly, there is a metro stop a little over a mile away. That night we went to a restaurant, where I learned that a year’s worth of Russian lessons did very little to prepare me for talking to people here. The speed with which they talk, the accents, and the colloquial phrases have made communication more difficult. Even with all that, I have somehow become acquaintances with about ten or twelve Russians an have had nice conversations with Russians in the city. The city is one of the most impressive I have seen. The metro is beautiful and there are wonderful sights all the inner part. The city is covered in graffiti, which some people do not like, but it seems to me like the graffiti helps add personality to the streets. During my second week we are going to see a ballet and going to the Kremlin, so I will write more on that soon.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
I have now been in Russia for a little over two weeks. I have met a lot of Russian students who are very friendly and invite us over. One of the big cultural differences is how much people here smoke, and they invite us (the American students) over to smoke with them. Many times indoors. Most of the Americans do not smoke but we will occasionally go over to get to know them. From talking to them I have learned a lot of Russian, which has been pretty useful in class. We went to see a ballet, which was actually more like a folk dance show. It was really interesting to see and the dancers were all wonderful. At times it seemed like hey were almost acting. Over the weekend we went to see the Kremlin. The entire fortress is extremely impressive and very well done. Today it is not difficult to enter because they do tours. Inside they have multiple government buildings (which one is not allowed to enter) and multiple cathedrals, gardens, and a giant bell. The cathedrals are all Russian Orthodox, so they are covered in icons and hold items used by the tsars or by the patriarchs. They are made to make one feel small and a little overwhelmed, and in the domes they have images of God looking down at one. It was all beautifully done. The giant bell was also interesting. It was believed that the sound from a deep bell would reach God and please him, so a lot of the tsars tried to make the biggest bell they could. For a while, each tsar outdid the one that came behind him. The biggest bell was in the process of being built when that building caught on fire, and the people putting out the fire poured water on the bell’s cast and it cracked. It is so big it cannot be hung anywhere, so they just have it on the ground where anyone can touch it, and people like taking pictures of it.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
My third week in Moscow was one of the most exciting so far. We went to the Tretyakov gallery. It is the best gallery of Russian art I have ever seen, and it includes many beautiful pieces I have never before seen and whose creators I had never heard of. I was stunned by some of the pieces, and in my wonder, I lost the tour group. I would recommend to anyone who came not to pay for the tour, because they focus on specific things they believe are good and ignore the rest. Also, the tour guides tell you what is good, which leaves very little room for exploring what is actually there and finding your preferences. However, without the tour group I found many wonderful paintings which I had never seen before, and which in all honesty surprised me. My favorite was Vrubel’s Lilac, which in Russian is called Siren. The size of the lady, and her eyes following one really draw one to it, which makes the Russian name extremely apt. I ended the week by visiting the gallery of contemporary art, which is huge. It houses many awesome works of contemporary art, which sadly is not appreciated by many. I got there around 3 and I was still not done with one floor when the gallery closed at 5:30. I’m going back today. Classes are going very well, and she is helping us learn a few specific things which will expand what we are able to say by quite a bit.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
This week we took a trip on the train to St. Petersburg. The train ride there was over night, and one gets beds, and the train even has a restaurant and a bar for the people taking the night trip. We got to the city early and had a bus tour. Although we were all exhausted, the bus showed us a few very interesting places, including a few cathedrals like none other. Orthodox cathedrals are covered in beautiful symbols, which often make one feel as if one were in an extremely sacred place. They also make one feel small under the eyes of God, who is painted in all the domes. We also met a few people. One woman told me that “Moscow is for making money. Once people have money, or if they don’t care about money, they come to St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg is to live.” The more I walked around that city, the more I realized she was right. The atmosphere is extremely relaxed, and people do things which will please them and make them comfortable. It is also a beautiful city, and the design which is focused around the rivers makes it seem like many small islands instead of one big city. While there, we visited the Ermitage gallery. Again, we were part of a tour, which made the experience miserable. One of the main focuses of the tour seemed to be to show how the Ermitage is as great as or greater than all the other great galleries from around the world. In reality, it is one of the greatest collections in the world, but I would not recommend the tour. We skipped entire sections of the gallery because their artists are not as big as Rembrandt or Davinci, and we spent way too much time in the Rembrandt and Davinci rooms. I want to go back without a guide and when we are not in tourist season. The day we went there was some special holiday, and the gallery was packed. Even with very little time to wonder around though, I managed to find many marvelous pieces I had never seen before.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
This week involved some of the most interesting excursions into Russian culture. We went to see the Swan Lake ballet and went to the Jewish Museum. I have never seen a ballet before, and Swan Lake was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. The music and the visuals serve to express emotions perfectly, and left me mesmerized. I could not look away, and I understood the prince when he thought the black swan was his beautiful swan queen, and then I felt the panic he felt when he realized he was wrong, and it was just a seductress. Ballet is, in my opinion, the most powerful of the arts that combine visuals and music, and I now know why the Russians love ballet so much. The Jewish museum was just as powerful, but a very different experience. The Jewish museum does a fantastic job of telling the story of centuries of persecutions, which leads up to World War II. The Russians call it the Great Patriotic War, and insist it was a different war than what was happening in the rest of the world, because it was their independent struggle against an enemy trying to destroy them. The museum had hours of videos of testimonies from the Great Patriotic War, of the things faced by both Jewish and non Jewish Russians fighting the Nazis. The emotions shown by the people from these videos, who seem like they are talking directly to whoever is listening, the way their voices at times broke, their tears, and their eyes, made for the most powerful memoirs from this awful period in our history I have ever seen.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
This past week we went to see the crown jewels from the Romanov dynasty. It is a priceless collection of diamonds an other precious stones, gold, silver, and jewelry which belonged to the Romanov dynasty. Before I saw these I never understood communism. But seeing how one family hoarded all this treasure, which is worth so much it is actually priceless, while others all around the country suffered, made me angry. The exhibition of the crown jewels houses what is left here in Russia, and I think the tour guide said it was only about one tenth of what the family owned. The fact that any ruling family could ever accumulate so much wealth while their people suffer shows that a political reform was needed. Sadly, the system chosen was not the best, but when a country has so much of value as Russia does, it is easy to imagine that if everything was evenly split, everyone could live happily.
Reflective Journal Entry 7:
This week we went to a dance show and the great patriotic war museum. The dance show was nice to watch and it was interesting, but it is seemed like mostly a spectacle for tourists. In my opinion, The Great Patriotic War museum was much more interesting. Our experience began with five dioramas which were scenes from different stages of the war. Not only were these beautiful, but standing in an episode of from the war was extremely powerful. The destruction changed from an imaginary scenery into a tangible location, and with very little imagination it was easy to hear the sounds of the tanks, the screams of dying comrades and enemies, the panic that came with the battles, the sight of watching a city you love, being destroyed. Together, the five dioramas brought upon a curious mix of wonder and horror that I have never felt before, and ended with a very satisfying image of a Berlin that had been destroyed. The satisfaction I felt was also strange. I felt happy that the enemy,who had become my enemy, was shattered. He could feel my misery. Yet, his destruction did nothing to alleviate my pain, which I realized when I walked outside and into a room that had a chain for each dead soviet. That was twenty million chains in a very long hall. Following this, we walked into a room of heroes. There was a database one could look into to see find one’s family heroes, and I was looking through it when a Russian lady came up and asked me if any of my family members had died in the war. I explained I was from another country and she walked away, but I could see from her expression she had a family member who had died. I remember seeing that the youngest hero of the soviet union from that was died when he was around thirteen years old. One last detail which I noticed was that most of the post war posters seemed to celebrate a camaraderie with the US and Great Britain, which makes the cold war and current animosities between our countries seem strange.
Reflective Journal Entry 8:
This week we went to the Don Quixote ballet and the Cosmonaut museum. The ballet was a nice show with beautiful dancing, and a piece of the story of Don Quixote. I would watch it again and definitely recommend it, but it is hard to describe a ballet without actually watching it. The ballet did sell bacon flavored Pringles, which were strange. They taste the same as my dog’s treats smell. The cosmonaut museum had a lot of cool stuff, like the first Sputnik and the first two dogs the survived a trip into space. They also had a few Russian spaceships, which have a different design from ours. They ditch most of the ship and end up more parachuting down and hitting the ground, while we use a vehicle similar to airplane which actually lands. I believe ours is a lot more expensive but could be reusable. They also had meteorites one could rub for good luck and a spaceship to walk into. Very close to the museum is the park VDXH (ВДХН) which is beautiful and huge. It often has exhibits in its buildings and it is easy to spend hours walking around there. This week we also went to the zoo and saw animals which were way to fat to do much more than walk a little bit and eat. I had a staring contest with a big cat.
Reflective Journal Entry 9:
Next week is my last week in Moscow, so this week was spent mostly seeing last minute sights and buying souvenirs. We also went to see a circus on Wednesday that was really cool. They did not have many animals, but they had some awesome acrobats and it was really entertaining. This week I’m focusing more on the city and its people with my blog post. To begin with, I interviewed a three people about their opinions of the US, something many Americans are curious about.The three people I interviewed had different pinions towards the US. The first person I interviewed was a Russian hipster who has been to the US, and he loves it. He thinks we do a lot of things right and wants to go back. The second person I interviewed was a young student who is a fervent nationalist. He loves Putin and Russia. When I first met him, he tad me we had to toast. His toast was “To Putin, F**k Obama.” His general attitude was that the Russia is better, but when asked why he had nothing to say, except that this was his home. The third person was my professor, who was ambivalent to the US. She was curious, but had never been. Her curiosity stemmed from teaching American students, didn’t really have anything negative or positive to say about the US. Here, strength is highly valued, so a President who does not flex his power seems weak to them. Also, the economic sanctions on Russia do hurt them in some aspects, so that also gives the Russians a reason not to like us. Overall, most of the people I have met here do not care too much for the US, but are not too overtly negative about it. They just prefer Russia quite a bit, and most other countries are worse. Next, I looked in depth a delicious Russian dessert.Ponchiki are essentially russian donuts, and are a dessert that can be found all over Moscow. They are different fro our donuts in that they are usually served right off of the fryer with some powdered sugar sprinkled on top the way we would top a funnel cake. They are often small and sold by weight, and very inexpensive. Due to constant visits to different ponchiki stores, I became friends with a lady that owns one of the stores. She told me they were really easy to make, and I found recipes online pretty easily. Most ponchiki places use very similar recipes, so the only difference comes from how much powdered sugar goes on top. When I asked the lady why they are so popular, she said it was just because they are delicious, easy to make, and inexpensive. One can usually by about 100 grams, which is usually around 3 donuts, for $1-2. The only thing that makes the preparation good is how fresh they are served. The fresher the better. In fact, the only ponchiki I thought were mediocre were ones that were about 5 minutes old. I looked up their history and could find nothing especially historically significant except for speculation that the dish was made constantly before lent to use up ingredients they could not eat during lent. Ponchiki are also a pride thing here in Moscow. Moscow and St. Petersburg are very different, and the people are adamant about highlighting their differences and usually have a belief that one is much better. St. Petersburg does not have ponchiki. They have pishki, which are the exact same thing, but just use different regional names. Along the week I saw a curious article in a newspaper from earlier this year, and I thought I would ask around about a topic that is controversial both here and back in the US.A controversial topic here is people’s perception of LGBTQ. I asked the same three people above about this question. The guy who identifies as a hipster is all right with lgbtq. He said we should just embrace them, but he does not want to know any. He is very weird about other guys touching or hugging him, and said he would not want to be hit on by a homosexual guy. He does not mind their existence as long as they do not interact with him. My teacher just thought they are strange. We read something about transexuals in class, and after she told me it was not good how many we have today, and that it was weird why people get a gender change. I asked her about gays and lesbians and she said it was not natural. Then I asked the more conservative Russian students, and he said he agrees with the law that says LGBTQs are perverts and he does not want to deal with them. He seemed to be getting angry speaking about them, so I changed the conversation. Russia has some very deep roots and the people here do not seem to change their minds easily. They are also not very tolerant of all people, so I do not imagine they will accept LGBTQ people any time soon, but I did learnt that there is a small LGBTQ community here that has places they hang out at. Lastly, I revisited the Great Patriotic War Museum, and thought I would write some about a Russian holiday, Victory Day.The local holiday that struck me the most was Victory Day. For the Russians, their Victory over the Nazis in the Great Patriotic War is their most important recent event. Because of how much was lost in the war and how almost every family in Russia was affected, that victory was something that the people really celebrate. Both one of the employees at the Great Patriotic War Museum and the regular citizen I spoke to told me that the holiday shows the might of the Russian people and their ability to withstand disaster. They also considered Hitler and his attack on Russia to be evil, and it was the Russians defeating evil. When one looks at the scenes of destruction and the number of the dead, which were both shown in the museum, it is easy to see why the Nazis and Hitler are considered evil.
Reflective Journal Entry 10:
I am now back from Russia. I have learned a lot of Russian and feel a lot more confident in my skills. I have also learned a lot about the Russian culture. The last week we went to the observatory in the Moscow TV tower. The sight from there was amazing, and one could see for miles out in every direction. There were bits of the floor that instead of being concrete were squares of glass, and you could see to the people hundreds of feet below, and they looked smaller than ants. It was a beautiful sight and fascinating experience. As I was leaving in the morning I finally realized how bad traffic in Moscow actually is. When we were coming in it took about two hours to get to our school, but that was at about 4 pm. As we left at about 3 am, it took about 40 minutes to get to the airport. The same distance and the same route, but a much lower amount of traffic. There was still some traffic though, which was a bit surprising. This is all I really had to say, and if anyone actually reads this, then I recommend you visit Moscow some day.
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
My expectations all around were surpassed. I never thought I could learn this much in ten weeks. When I was going into the program i thought I would be studying something similar to a second year of Russian. But when I got to the program we took an entry test and I was put in the highest level class, along with people who had all taken a second year of Russian and even some who had taken a third year. So I had to quickly catch up and did what I had to to catch up. I eventually made it and I managed to learn things that were even new to third year students in the language. The program also had weekly outings that served as insights into the culture, which I usually wrote about in detail in my blog. There was also Russian students at the school for a while which I also spoke to and learned from.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
I have learned much about Russia, its people, and its language through my SLA experience. I also learned I do not have a problem going off to a strange land without really speaking the language. I now realize that the world is open for me. I also realized that no matter the misconceptions, I should go out there and explore. The only advice I would give anyone trying to get an SLA grant is to go for it. They can lorn a lot more than what they expected from the SLA grant.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
Now I try to perfect my Russian language skills. Reach fluency, and hopefully take a full semester in Russia. I’m also trying to find movies and stuff like that in Russian so I can watch and expand my vocabulary even more. Of course, I will also keep taking classes. Since Russian is one of my majors my SLA experience will really help increase my gpa in Russian classes since I already know the what I need, I just need more practice. My SLA experience is a turning point, The knowledge I had has increased drastically and I can know actually use the language. Academically I can know read and understand a lot more literature that I could not before. Personally and professionally this now opens up new opportunities with Russian speaking people and jobs.