Sunday, September 30, 2012

9/30 - MosFilm - First Month Concludes

I can't believe that a month has already passed in Moscow, and the amount of things I've seen and explored in this month has been truly amazing. Back home, I just got notification from my Air Force ROTC detachment that we will be hearing about our AFSC selections (job selections) this week. I am hoping and praying that I get my number 1 choice, Intelligence. If so, I'd be able to utilize my Russian language skills acquired during this study abroad and at American University. Secondly, I've been growing a beard for the first time in my life! Its really my only chance to do so as I'm on a leave of absence from ROTC for the only semester in college. 

This week, we had to miss our first day at school due to our train arriving from St. Petersburg in early afternoon last Monday. Other than that, this week at the university was productive. I attended two Russian-American seminars. The first was a weekly meeting of the Russian-American club, where only 2 Russian students showed up, but we covered a ton of cultural questions. I remember one issue in particular, we discussed alcohol culture in Russia and the United States. Russians were perplexed about the American concept of "pre-gaming" or getting drunk early in the night before even getting to a club or bar. Moreover, how we will hardly show empathy to our friends who have drank too much. Russians hardly ever intentionally binge drink (much to the surprise of Americans). If they happen to get drunk, they always offer to walk each other home.

Yesterday, we had a 4 hour seminar on "the Russian mentality," which was required. We got to speak with 8 or 9 Russians (mixed gender) about a myriad of cultural questions. The major point was the concept of the "locus of control," where Americans possess a more internal, individual locus of control. Meaning, we are strict about our personal space, and we are more concerned with ourselves over others, but we are willing to take blame for our personal mistakes. While Russians possess a more external, collectivist locus of control. They have no concept of privacy/personal space (there's no word for privacy in Russian), they always rely on each other to get by, and they never take blame for their own mistakes. In addition, we discussed the concepts of "yes" and "no", or "да" and "нет" in Russian. While "yes" in the United States can mean "yes" or "maybe," it is always 100% confirmation in Russia. If you tell a friend you will meet in the future, you are always expected to follow through. 

My next topic was our trip to MosFilm (МосФильм) on Friday morning. This excursion took us to the largest and oldest film studio in Russia and Europe. It's cinematic output possesses some of the most widely-acclaimed, and Oscar-winning films in history. The studio began its operations in November 1923. We got a behind-the-scenes tour of the production rooms, makeup areas, and even a few sets. 

In front of the MosFilm Poster in the basement

"Old Moscow" (Старая Москва) Set

MosFilm (МосФильм) Production Logo

MosFilm is essentially the "Hollywood" of Moscow. It doesn't necessarily compare in size and notoriety of Hollywood, but its cinematic production and influence definitely does. I've had the pleasure of watching some MosFilm movies for the Initiative for Russian Culture at American University, and in my classes in the US. I'd highly recommend watching "Ballad of a Soldier" (Баллада о солдате) - 1959, a love/war drama about a Soviet soldier during World War II. Another favorite is "Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears," (Москва слезам не верит) - the 1980 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, which is about three women who move to Moscow from three rural provinces. There are hundreds of other films I'm neglecting to mention, but its a way to experience Russian history and culture, without having to come here. The majority of the films have English subtitles as well!

Screen shot from "Ballad of a Soldier" (Баллада о солдате) - 1959

Production set in MosFilm

The adventures only continue - next weekend we will be starting our weeklong trip on the Volga River. We are taking a cruise and stopping everyday at a new Russian city - from Nizhny Novgorod to Kazan to Ulyanovsk to Samara, then finally, Volgograd. I'll make sure to update the blog before I leave. Thank you all for reading, I hope its been an interesting blog so far!

Countdown to returning home: 80 days  

Monday, September 24, 2012

9/24 - Санкт-Петербург (Saint Petersburg)

At noon today, I just returned from one of the most amazing, and breathtaking adventures thus far. A group of 9 including me took an independent journey to Saint Petersburg, (Санки-Петербург) this past weekend. We left on Friday morning on train that left at 2AM, and returned to Moscow today at noon. We were able to successfully navigate the major sites within the city, in only about three and a half days time. So my first impressions of the city were much different than Moscow. St. Petersburg is extremely Westernized and definitely benefitted more from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It also inherited a much younger population, and more people speak English as their second language. However, almost an hour into our arrival after an overnight train, we were struck by confusion. Our friend, Seth, had booked a hostel nearly a week before, but (in typical Russian fashion), we could not find the place. Thinking it was a scam, we settled on a hostel, which allowed all 9 of us to live in one room for two nights. And it was only $50 per person!

Our first adventure on Friday took us to the famous "Church on Spilled Blood," or Собор Спаса на Крови. It was built in 1883, to commemorate the death of Tsar Alexander II, who was murdered at that spot in 1881. Other than the bloody history of the area, the church is as beautiful as St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square. Secondly, we walked to the most famous tourist attraction in the area - Tsar Peter I's Winter Palace, or Зимий Дворец. The history of the palace dates back to 1732, when it officially became the residence for the Russian Tsar. It also was the site where the Soviet Red Army stormed it in 1917 during the revolution, leaving it heavily damaged. Today, it remains a Russian State historical site and art museum. It was truly beautiful. 

Church on Spilled Blood - "Собор Спаса на Крови"

Winter Palace - "Зимий Дворец"

On Saturday, we did our best to see the top exhibits in the Winter Palace. As it is one of the largest museums in the world, this was nearly an impossible feat. However, my favorite part of the weekend was our trek to St. Isaac's Cathedral, or Исаакиевский Собор. From the top of this building, we could see nearly every point in the city. Reaching the top wasn't easy, we had to climb over 200 steps to get up and down. Elevators were not an option here. 

Dan, Brooke, and I on the colonnade of St. Isaac's Cathedral (Исаакиевский Собор)

Top to Bottom (Bridget, Dan, Duncan, Me) - Staircase at St. Issac's

The last day in Petersburg was extremely rainy and cloudy, but that did not stop us. Even with the thought in mind that we had to board another train at 2AM on Monday morning. We made our way to the Russian State Museum or Российский государственный музей to view more beautiful Russian imperial, Soviet, and modern art. At this point, I had seen enough paintings for the whole weekend! Then we made our way across the Neva River to the Peter and Paul Fortress (Петропавелская крепость), which was built under the guidance of Tsar Peter I as a defense post in 1703. Later in its history, it became better known for housing prisoners, and as a burial place for some of the Tsars, including the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II. 

Outside the Peter and Paul Fortress (Петропавелская крепость)

Overall, it was a fabulous weekend in St. Petersburg. I wish I was still there. In many ways, it has some of the attributes that are missing from Moscow. But it also made me appreciate the cultural education and linguistic gain that benefits me living in the capital city. I hope to go back later in the semester, we are aiming for early November! 

Countdown to returning home: 86 days

Thursday, September 20, 2012

9/20 - Cruise on the Moscow River, Zoo

I know its been a while since I've posted on the blog. Its been an extremely eventful week, and due to my slow internet at home, its been next to impossible to put up anything new. I just finished my third week at International University in Moscow, and its going really well. I have some awesome professors here, and I can already see that my Russian is improving through constant use of it at home, at school, and on the street with natives and friends. So my favorite class so far is called SMI, essentially current events review. My professor is hilarious, he was telling us that Russians only like Michelle Obama and Condoleezza Rice because they have "nice legs." This is one of many ridiculous things he's said, but we have to remember that Russian humor is ofter more crude and direct than we're accustomed to in the United States. 

Last Friday, we went on our fourth excursion on cruise on the Moscow River (Москва река). We got to see all the major sights along the river, including Red Square, the 1980 Olympics Stadium, Church of Christ the Savior, and the burial place of Nikita Khrushchev and Boris Yeltsin. It was a beautiful day, and about 65 degrees in Moscow. In addition to the city tour on our first weekend, this excursion provided us with a bigger picture of the city, and a way to connect the dots, if you will. 

In front of the Olympic Stadium  - Home of the 1980 Summer Games (Олимпийские игры)

Near the Kremlin (Кремль) and Red Square (Красная площадь)

Last Saturday, we ventured to the Moscow Zoo. It had just about as many animals as the Washington National Zoo (where I interned this past summer), but it was in terrible condition. In addition, it was unsafe for visitors. The cheetah, tiger, and bears weren't even contained by an electric fence! Only a chain-link fence held the animals within, and kids were sticking their hands through. EEEEK! But regardless, we engaged in some great conversation with some native Russians while we were there. 

Sign for the Moscow Zoo (Московский зоопарк)

My last mini-excursion this week took me to Kolomensky Park in southeastern Moscow. It was one of the biggest, and most beautiful parks I've ever been to. It seemed to have endless trees, and sat on a quiet part of the Moscow river. My tutor was nice enough to show me around, and help me with my speaking and listening comprehension as we walked along. It was very European in nature, and had about three or four cathedrals that were scattered throughout the park. I'm definitely going there again. Also, my tutor helped me discover the first McDonald's in post-Soviet Russia, which I went to with my friends last week. It was delicious, and reminded me a lot about home!

A Big 'n' Tasty (Биг тейсти) at McDonald's (Макдональдс)

Kolomensky Park (Коломенский парк)

I know that my blog is supposed to only focus on my abroad excursions, but I wanted to draw attention to two special events that happened on September 18th. Firstly, my parents (Judy and Dennis King) celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. Since 1982, they've lived a happy, healthy, and prosperous marriage that I want to model my future marriage after. Secondly, the United States Air Force turned 65 years old on the same day. I wish I could have been home to celebrate the date with my friends in ROTC. 

This weekend I'll be taking an 8-hour train ride to St. Petersburg, so I'll be letting everyone know how the trip went when I return on the 24th! Thanks for reading!

Countdown to returning home: 90 days

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 - Red Square, Tretyakov Art Gallery

This weekend was full of adventures - starting with the tour of the Russian State Library on Friday, Red Square on Saturday, and the Tretyakov Art Gallery on Sunday. Again, like it always goes in Russia, nothing comes easy. In order to get prime admission to see Red Square and Lenin's mausoleum, we showed up early, so we could get through security. We weren't allowed to take pictures when we got through, but we saw the gravesites of some of the most famous leaders and innovators from the Soviet Union era. Included were the graves of Josef Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Konstanin Chernenko, and other Supreme Soviet leaders who have passed. In addition, the grave site of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (the first man to be in space) was a popular site. Of the weirdest sites of seen so far, Vladimir Lenin's grave has topped the list. Lenin died in 1924, and his body is STILL on preserve, making it just over 88 years old. Another student informed me that his body has decomposed up to the chest area, which makes it even more eerie to look at. 

Area outside Vladimir Lenin's Mausoleum (Мавзолей Ленина)

Our next site to see was around Red Square or Krasnaya Ploshad (Красная площадь). This is easily the most famous area in Moscow, and it has the widest range of Russians I've seen to date. From clowns and pirates to entertain children, to soldiers on horseback, and a ton of foreign tourists speaking a myriad of languages. We saw another famous site, known as St. Basil's Cathedral or Prokrovsky cabor  (Покровский собор) with its multicolored, twisted domes. Littler known is the statue in front, which depicts the heroes of the Russo-Polish wars of 1612. These two men, Minin and Pozharsky, gathered an all Russian volunteer army, which helped expel the invading Poles from Moscow. Its amazing that the historical references in the square run from the Russian Imperial era to the Soviet Union to the current Russian Federation.  

Outside St. Basil's Cathedral

Monument to Pozharsky and Minin (Памятнк Минину и Пожарскому)

On Sunday, we made a trip to the Tretyakov Gallery, which features art from the pre-Soviet era in Russia. Before photographs were able to be taken, this gallery featured some of the most beautiful art I've ever seen, it depicted paintings of writers Alexsandr Pushkin and Fyodor Dostoevsky. There were also religious themed paintings of Jesus Christ, the angels, and even some of the Tsars like Peter the Great. On top of which, we took a bus tour around the city to get acclimated. Lastly, I wanted to end this post with an update on classes and my host family. The former is going great, there are always struggles, since my classes are completely in Russian. However, my language skills are improving, and I'm only on my second week. My host mom, Elena, and her son, Volodiya, have been helping me greatly with homework and being my conversation partners around the home. The only real way you can learn this language is being in the host country. Its such a great experience so far!

A home-cooked meal from my host mom (моя хозяйка)

My room (моя комната) in the apartment

In front of the Moscow skyline

Countdown to returning home: 98 days

Friday, September 7, 2012

9/7 - Russian State Library

Today was our group's first excursion, we have eight to complete during the course of the semester. Our trip took us to the Russian State Library, Rossiskaya Gosudarstvennaya biblioteka, or Российская государственная библиотека. This library is enormous, its the second-largest in the world, and home to millions of books published in 247 languages. Its also quite old, the foundation was laid in 1862, and was renamed to the V.I. Lenin State Library during the Soviet Union times. 

Entrance Columns to the Russian State Library

In Front of the Statue of Fyodor Dostoyevsky 

The library has books from every famous Russian author, like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gogol, and the like. In addition, we got a great tour around the private reading rooms, which featured some ancient texts, including Russia's largest (and smallest books!) There are thousands of musical records, military records, visual arts and illustrations, maps, a exhibit on the Russian-French wars of 1812, and others. Too bad our libraries in the United States aren't this exciting! 

Inside View of the Library

Also, I met my academic tutor yesterday. Her name is Maria, and she's half-Kazakh, half-Russian, and knows both English and Russian fluently. In the coming months, she will be a great resource for homework assistance, speaking practice, and she's even offered to introduce me to sights around Moscow. In addition, my abroad group is awesome and I'll continue to connect with them. We went to a bar and restaurant called My-My, literally translated to Moo-Moo. Its almost considered gourmet cafeteria food for an extremely affordable price. It was delicious.

My meal at My-My ("Moo, Moo") - Курица с грибами, картофель фри, и салат ("Chicken with mushrooms, french fries, and salad)

Countdown to returning home: 102 days

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

9/4 - New Home

Greetings! So this is my first blog post from Moscow. I finally arrived in late afternoon on Saturday, September 1st! As I walked out of the plane and into the Customs Control Zone at Moscow Domodedovo Airport, I was immediately hit by culture shock. All the people around me were speaking Russian, and every sign in the airport was covered in Cyrillic. At that point, I knew that I would need to use my second-language skills gained at American University to survive for the next six months. In this blog, and in future blogs, I'll be sure to add in some Russian that you can learn from me.

My first two nights were spent at my abroad university - known in English as the International University in Moscow or Международный университет в Москве. As we walked through the streets, we realized that Moscow is not a clean city. My brand new white Champion-brand shoes were covered in mud within the first hour. As we walked into the dorms, it became evident that these were "second-world" living conditions, similar to what a student would have experienced during the era of the Soviet Union. There was no toilet paper, the rugs were torn apart, and some of the light fixtures were extremely difficult to turn on. 

Международный университет в Москве

International University in Moscow
I happened to arrive on a special day for Moscow known as день города (den goroda) or "the day of the city." It was the 865th birthday of the city, since it was first founded by Yuri Dolgorukiy in 1147 AD. We were lucky enough to arrive on time, and our Resident Director John Smith walked us down to Red Square and the Kremlin area to view fireworks that would start at 10pm that night. Thousands of Russians from around the city gathered to watch the show. The Fireworks only lasted a few minutes, but it was all worthwhile by the end of it. Signs everywhere read С днём рождения Москва! (S dnyom rojzdiniya) or "Happy Birthday Moscow!"

Fireworks at Red Square

Москвa с днём города (Moscow's Day of the City)

To conclude, my final post is about my new living situation. I was switched last minute to live with an older woman and her son. So far, Elena Publyova and her son Volodya have been amazing people. They provided me with my own room in their apartment, as well as feeding me large meals twice per day. Elena is an amazing cook! After every breakfast and dinner, I always say Сиасибо, это очень вкусный (Spasiba, eto ochen vkusna) or "Thank you, this was very delicious." Even though I only understand about 50% to 75% of what they are saying to me, they have been great in understanding that I'm adjusting to the country and its language. 

This is already been an outstanding adventure. There's so much more to learn and see!

Countdown to returning home: 105 days