Finishing Up

My time in Russia is now drawing to a close. On the one hand, it feels like I have just arrived, but on the other hand, it seems like ages since I set foot in America. In my next and final post, I will offer my reflections and thoughts on my time here, but for now, I want to discuss my final actions and closing activities.

My class has now finished up. I won’t know my grade until early September, but it seems that I did well, probably receiving around an A-. I was in Group 2; there were six groups ranging from absolute beginner (Group 0) to fluent (Group 5). I have only 1 year of experience; everyone else with one year tested into Group 1 (plus some people with two years’ experience). I was the only one one in my class with less than two years of Russian, and two of the ten people had taken Russian for three years. In spite of this, I was the top student in the class or close to it, including receiving the only A on the midterm. My Russian abilities have vastly expanded during this brief time here. Russian grammar is not particularly complex; by now I have essentially learned every major grammatical topic. The major job of learning which I am undertaking is the expansion of vocabulary and the promotion of active knowledge over passive knowledge, that is, learning to produce forms and sentences on the spot, rather than simply recognizing them. I learn around a dozen words daily on average; I reckon I have learned around 400 words in my time here and been exposed to hundreds more. This experience has been hugely helpful for my Russian abilities.

I have been spending this last week, in addition to seeing whatever sights there are left to see, trying to meet some more Russians. During my first weekend here, the program director said that Americans are like peaches and Russians are like coconuts. Peaches are soft and sweet on the outside, but inside is a hard pit that is difficult to break into. Likewise, Americans are kind and happy on the outside, glad to talk with strangers and always putting up the fa├žade of a great life, but on the inside they can be hard to truly get to know. On the other hand, coconuts have a hard outer shell that is very difficult to get through and hides everything. Once you break through that shell, however, the inside is sweet and rewarding. Russians likewise are very difficult to get to know, but they are amazing once you get inside. This analogy has proven accurate. Unfortunately, as a foreigner with still limited Russian conversational skills, I have barely managed to break through the coconut with any of the people I have met. I hope in this last weekend to finally do as much.

My final organized activity was a toast given in Russian by all the students in the program to our professors. Unfortunately, my professor had to leave town and could not be there, but my class nonetheless took part and thanked our instructor for all she had done for us. It was great to see how everyone has learned.

I leave in just a couple days. I will have an overnight layover in Vienna. While I have limited time there, and I know no German beyond basic phrases, as someone strongly interested both in foreign culture and in classical music, I hope that my brief time there will be rewarding. After all, a lot of this study abroad is about becoming a citizen of the world.