As my flight back home comes closer and closer, the more reluctant I am to leave. I knew the summer would feel short, but I didn’t realize how much I would feel at home in Russia. While my Russian still has a long way to go, there are a few events that have proven to me that I have improved despite still feeling utterly incompetent.
- Being able to order a meal. It’s not just about the language skills, although this is an important part. There’s a very different set of rules in Russian cafes and restaurants than in America. Waiters and waitresses are to be addressed as “young man” or “girl” which I’m still not entirely comfortable with. There are five or six different ways of ordering, depending on the impression one wants to give. Additionally, one rarely has to pick up one’s tray, even in a fast food place. The system of etiquette goes on and on, and I’m happy to say I can navigate it without too much trouble. I think back to the first meal I ordered and what a mess that was and am astounded at the ease with which I can do it now.
- Successfully giving directions. Learning a new city is hard enough without the added difficulty of not being able to speak the language. I tried to visit some place new every single day, to facilitate my learning the city and to see as much of Moscow as possible. During my first week in Moscow, a woman asked me for directions. Not only did it take me a while to understand what she wanted, but I also had to explain it was my first time in that particular Metro station. I frequently get asked for directions, but by this point I not only know where the place is located but have developed the language skills to explain how to get there. I always get a surprised look from the Russian when they first hear my accent (Oh no, I’ve asked a foreigner; they won’t know) but in the end, they understand me and know where to go. It’s something I never thought possible so soon.
- Getting my bag repaired. Moscow can be pretty hard on clothes, shoes, and bags. I’ve lost a pair of shoes, an umbrella, and various other things to this city. At one point, one of the straps of my bag ripped off. Fortunately, one of my professors was able to recommend a repair shop not too far from the university. I was successfully able to discuss the repair and price with the repairsman, all in Russian, without any outside help. It was one of the first things I did independently, and I was so satisfied to get it done without too much difficulty.
- Holding conversations with Russians without disrupting the flow too much. I can really only do this for two or so hours at a time until my Russian starts to really degrade. All the members in my group had ‘tutors’, who were Russians who were interested in culture exchange and were willing to show us the city, have conversations with us, etc. I used my tutor primarily as a conversation partner. We would walk around a park and chat about our lives and studies. The last time I met with her, we talked for a little more than two hours and I didn’t once not understand her or have to stop to look something in a dictionary. This more than anything really shows me how far I’ve come.
Although my time in Moscow has come to an end, I intend to keep practicing regularly and someday return to Russia. I’ve seen sights I’ve only ever read about, traveled outside of Moscow, and now have an idea of what Russia is really like. It’s not the foreign place it was not so long ago. I can’t imagine not ever coming back.