Monday, December 17, 2012

12/17 - Last Classes, Dinner with Professors, End

I can't believe my abroad experience in Russia is about to come to an end! Tomorrow at around 7:30AM MSK (Moscow time) our Lufthansa flight leaves Russia heading for Frankfurt Airport in Germany. I've already packed up all my belongings, and exchanged gifts with my host mother and host brother. Other than my American friends who I spent time with here - all the culture shock, language setbacks, and other tough abroad issues - I'll definitely miss my host family the most. These people were fantastic - making me meals, helping me with my language homework, and even just carrying out conversations with me. How slow I must have sounded when I spoke! I'll be saying my goodbyes today to them as well. At 6:00PM MSK, I'll be moving into the university dormitory for just one night. 

Yesterday, we had our final classes, even though we had already completed all of our exams and other assignments. It was more of a fun day if anything, the teachers more or less wanted to assure us of our progress. For example, my grammar teacher, Tamara, showed us our initial placement tests from the first week we arrived in Moscow. When my group started to look over the mistakes we made then, we laughed at our own errors! We had made so much progress since August! I also took at Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) with a program staff member this week, and I felt like I did extremely well. Compared to my OPI in August, it was outstanding, I could barely understand the questions back then. 

My host mom Elena and I

Last night we finally got to eat some authentic spicy food in Moscow! But that's not the important part, this was our final dinner with all the students and our professors from the International University.  The teachers wanted to thank us for our hard work and dedication with many Russian toasts, such as "За дружбу!" (Za druzhbu) or "To Friendship!" My favorite toast was from our Geography teacher Alexander Ivanovich. After saying that the United States and Russia are technically oceanic neighbors, he said "За наши соседы!" (Za nashi sosyedi) or "To our neighbors!" It was a fun night filled with goodbyes, gift-giving, great wine, and awesome Georgian food.

The group (teachers and students) around the table at the Georgian restaurant

Following the final dinner, we had a final get-together at our favorite bar in Moscow, Вокзал (Vokzal). We realized how close we had actually grown as a group. This trip had been especially frustrating for us due to cliques forming and passive aggression which probably resulted from our homesickness and culture shock symptoms. It was great to have one more night to drink all together and celebrate our friendship. Its amazing how fast I got attached and depended upon my American friends to get through the hard times during our journey in Russia. I'm happy that I got along with the majority of my group, and I hope to get together with them again when we are back in the United States!

Left to Right: Dan, Gizem, Seth, and Brooke at Vokzal

Sadly, this will be my last blog post. The journey has come to an end, as all good things do at one time or another. I am beyond thankful for my time here, and the opportunity to study Russian in Moscow for one semester. Thank you for reading just this post or any posts that I've put up in previous weeks and months, I really appreciate sharing my journey with you. I'll be leaving Moscow in less than 24 hours!

Countdown to returning home: 1 day

Saturday, December 8, 2012

12/9 - Dynamo Hockey, Chocolate Factory

I realize in the past few blog posts, I've been saying how I can't think to much about returning home, or I won't enjoy my last few weeks in Russia. However, its almost impossible at this point. We've spent over three months in Moscow, and we are starting to get homesick especially with the holiday season. I'm always the one complaining about the shopping rushes or the overplaying of Christmas music on the radio, but this year - I actually miss it. Finals are coming up this week in our classes, final program evaluations, written/oral proficiency exams, our final goodbyes, and then we are heading home. I can easily say that the general consensus is that we are ready to head back. 

Amanda, Brooke, and I in front of Christmas Tree or ёлка (yolka)

On Wednesday evening, seven of us attended a KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) or КХЛ Хоккей (pronounced the same in English) game near the old 1980 Olympic Stadium in Moscow. After the NHL, the KHL is considered the second-most talented hockey league in the world. This season, its seeing a growth in popularity primarily because NHL players are choosing this league as a Plan B until the NHL ends its lockout period (all the games are canceled due to salary issues). We saw Moscow's team HC Dynamo Moscow (Динамо Москва) play against Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (ХК Локомотив). Also we got to see Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, both players for the NHL's Washington Capitals, play for Dynamo in Moscow due to the lockout! 

In my opinion, it is necessary to see a hockey game in Russia more than any other sport. This country has a strong hockey tradition, and its also interesting to compare the sport in the US and in Russia. For example, there are hardly any player-player fights or hard checks that happen in the KHL. If the referees see a fight start to boil up, they will rush in to stop it before it gets any worse. Whereas American spectators will expect and often promote fights in hockey games, the exact opposite happens here. Also, if you've experienced or heard about the famous 1980 American-Soviet Olympic hockey game, you should ask how a Russian experienced this event at the time. I asked my host mother about the Russian reaction to their loss in 1980. She said the Soviet people were devastated, and it was shocking to everyone who followed sports at the time. 

The Yaroslavl and Moscow teams shaking hands                             Alexander Ovechkin (Александр Овечкин) 
at the end of the game (seems to be an international                                 in action

Yesterday, we had our last program-sponsored excursion to a famous Chocolate factory in downtown Moscow. There's not a whole lot to say about this excursion except... well, this place produces a lot of chocolate and candy products. However, the content of the excursion exceeded my expectations, our tour guide started by showing us the origins of chocolate in Central and South America back thousands of years ago. Then we learned of the process of how a Cocoa seed is ground up, mixed with butter and sugar, compounded into shapes, and then wrapped for our convenience. Then we got a behind-the-scenes tour of the factory and its production processes. Moreover, we got to taste test their products as our tour guide walked us through. It was delicious chocolate!

Carsten, Nick, Seth, and I in our factory uniforms before entering the production area

Museum portion of the factory

Thanks for reading again! Unfortunately, my next post will be my last in Russia. This journey has been amazing and eye-opening, but all good things must come to an end. 

Countdown to returning home: 9 days

Sunday, December 2, 2012

12/2 - Base, Snowstorm, AIDS Benefit Concert, VDNKh

Big news came my way this week! Yesterday, I found out that I'll be stationed at Pope Army Airfield in North Carolina as my first assignment as a Logistics Readiness Officer in the U.S. Air Force. I received my sixth choice out of six for my base, but I have already realized that you can't have high expectations for job and base placements in the military. However, I definitely consider myself lucky to be stationed here, its a beautiful town with a strong military community and culture. The base itself is famous for the 440th Airlift wing, which is one of the finest and largest in the Air Force, and has over 16 C-130 cargo airplanes. As part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure program, Pope Field was combined with Fort Bragg (controlled by the U.S. Army) - the home of the Army Airbourne and Special Forces training. It's great news, and I'm excited to go on active duty. The last piece of information I'll need is my EAD, or the date I need to report in for duty. 

This weekend started with one of the longest snowstorms (or метель/metel) that I've ever witnessed, even as a kid who grew up with Nor'easters in New Hampshire. It was snowing nonstop for almost 2 straight days, and it was so much that my host family was even surprised. Some news agencies reported that they hadn't seen a snowstorm of that longevity and caliber in over 50 years. However, it made the Moscow landscape look beautiful, except for the streets, which were covered in a dark brown slush and often got extremely icy. It inspired me and my friend Dan to go explore Red Square, and we got some awesome pictures in front of St. Basil's Cathedral and the adjacent mall. 

In front of St. Basil's Cathedral (Red Square) in the snowstorm

With Dan and Lena (Лена) with a Coca-Cola polar bear (белый медведь)

On Friday night, our friend Jesse was gracious enough to invite five of us to help volunteer at the Russian Entertainment Awards at the Драматический театр (Dramatichesky Teatr) or Drama Theater in downtown Moscow. This was essentially the Russian version of the MTV music awards, and featured some famous Russian singers and TV personalities. Unfortunately, the Americans hardly knew any of these celebrities, but how would we have known? We aren't avid viewers of Russian entertainment television. The concert was run by the United Nations and the organization Красная ленточка (Krasnaya Lentochka) or "Red Ribbon" to help fight the AIDS (ВИЧ) epidemic. It was an honor to help volunteer with such an important organization with an extremely bold cause. Before the concert I had the responsibility of escorting some of the music stars to the main part of the theater where the awards ceremony and concert were to be held. It was nerve-racking because some of the stars only spoke Russian, but others only knew English. Obviously, I was more inclined to help the latter!

From left to right (Me, Jesse, Becky, Gizem, Amanda) on the Red Carpet!

Some interesting looking Russian "stars" getting interviewed on the Red Carpet

On Saturday, we made a short visit to the All-Russian Exhibition Center or VDNKh (ВДНХ) to do some browsing, shopping, and enjoy some holiday fun. The biggest shocker to me was this center was formerly a Soviet Union Republics memorial that has been converted into a market and amusement park. For example, the Soviets had built a huge memorial to the Russian Soviet Republic called the "House of the People of Russia" or Дом народного России (Dom narodnovo Rossii), which is covered with hammer/sickle logos and has a huge statue of Vladimir Lenin in front. Now its simply a souvenir shopping center for tourists. As we continued to explore, we saw some old Soviet relics, and other buildings dedicated to the former Soviet republics such as Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, and others. We even got to see the old Soviet Vostok rocket, and a small Christmas concert. It was definitely an interesting place...

House of the People of Russia (Дом народного России)

In front of the USSR Vostok rocket (СССР Восток)

Thanks for reading my blog post! My journey is coming to a close soon, so I'll probably only have time for a few more adventures. I can't believe how much I've seen and learned about this language and culture. Finals are on the horizon, so I'll be focused on studying for those. 

Countdown to returning home: 16 days