Archive for ‘Russian’

20 June, 2011

Three Weeks

Three Weeks.

The two scariest words in my world right now.

Lately, I’ve been lying awake at night. I toss. I turn. Sometimes I give up completely and watch Bones.

Because there’s no anxiety that a little grizzly murder can’t cure. Right?

And why can’t I sleep?

Three Weeks.

In the silence of my bedroom, these two words haunt me. As soon as I stop moving — as soon as I give my mind a chance to rest, the anxiety comes.

Three Weeks. In three weeks, I will be going to Russia.

Honestly, that statement is unfathomable to me. I distinctly remember a time only six months ago when I wasn’t even a Russian major. I remember sitting in Russian class the first week, when study abroad in Moscow was brought up, and thinking that it was an interesting idea… but one that I probably wouldn’t take part in. I remember deciding to go and then telling everyone I met that I was going to Russia. But that was then. Russia was a long way away.

Three weeks is barely an eye blink.

And about four days ago, it suddenly dawned on me that I am terrified.

Excited? You bet. For the first time since I took up this unusual major, I’ll be in a place where no one tells me to shut up because I’ve been speaking Russian for two hours. I’ll be able to make huge gains towards my FSI Language Level 2. It’s a photographer’s dream. This trip is going to be forever planted in my memory as my first trip to my area of specialty.

Oh yes, I am excited.

But right now, I’m more terrified. Because I was blessed with a mind that is supremely capable of imagining myriad possibilities of disaster.

I’m afraid of the flight. I do NOT fly well.

I’m afraid that I’m going to arrive in Russia and realize that I don’t understand anything.

I’m afraid that speech paralysis is going to hit and I’m going to open my mouth to speak Russian and nothing will come out.

I’m afraid that I actually suck at Russian and no one is telling me.

I’m afraid that I’m going to hate the food and starve.

I’m afraid of the flight. I’m claustrophobic.

I’m afraid that I’m going to say something inappropriate to someone.

I’m afraid of the flight. Being out of control is extremely hard for me.

I’m afraid that I’m going to fail my classes because I don’t understand anything.

I’m afraid that I’m not going to get everything packed.

I’m afraid that I’m not going to have time in the next three weeks to get everything in order here.

When I lie in bed at night, these thoughts circle my head. Then the OCD Badger grabs them and suddenly my plane is crashing and I’m landing in Russian prison because I’ve misunderstood a policeman and said something I shouldn’t have.

I know it’s irrational. I know that I’m going to have a blast. I know that I’m excited. Really. And I know how to deal with all of these fears.

But if I don’t pay a little homage to this terror, I’m not being honest with myself or anybody else.

Sometimes, just acknowledging that the fears exist is enough.

And if it isn’t?

I still have three weeks.



7 May, 2011

Конец (The End)

The final exam still looms, and next week are our oral proficiency interviews, as daunting as ever… but today, the thing that has consumed my thoughts for the past nine months came to an end.

Today was the last day of Intensive Russian.

I’ll admit that there is a part of me… glad… to have finished. Intensive Russian has been, well, intense. I’ve driven my friends and family to the point of madness. They don’t want to hear Russian. They don’t want to hear about Russian. They don’t want to hear about how much I hate Tanya and Misha, the silly characters from our Russian book. And no, they most certainly do not want to be a part of my Russian portfolio.

For the love of God, couldn’t I please just go back to speaking English? They ask.

And sometimes I ask that too. Like when I’ve lost my car keys, and the only thing that I can think to say is где ключи? (gdeyh klyoochee) Or when I’ve been wandering around the grocery store, talking to myself in Russian, and have trouble finding my English again when the clerk asks me how I’m doing. Or when my english Grammar starts (imperfectively) to resemble on my Russian grammar. I can’t simply ‘go downtown’ anymore. Now, verbs of motion have directionality and mode of transportation embedded in my head, and I catch myself thinking “I’m going to go downtown by vehicle in a unidirectional manner.”

I have breathed in Russian for the last nine months. I trained my dog. I labeled my house. I taught the Chaos children how to say ЧТО! (Shto!) And all of this… it is the fault of Intensive Russian.

And thank God for it. Because the thing is… I’m in love with this language. I want to teach it. I want to speak it at the highest possible level. And for all of the exhaustion, all of the sleepless nights, the pages and pages (and pages and pages) of workbook homework… Intensive Russian has brought me to a level in nine months that I’d be hard pressed to reach in two years of regular study.

Truth be told, the part of me that is glad to be finished is only a tiny part. There is a much larger part of me that is sad.

Every weekday, Intensive Russian has been on my schedule. I’ve gone into a classroom with the same people, the same professor, the same goal. I’ve known what to expect. I’ve known that, for at least an hour a day, I’m going to have fun.

Because our class? It was fun. We laughed. A lot.

Since we started this journey in August, our we’ve become a solid unit. So much so that for our last exam, Dr. Garza allowed us to test collaboratively. We’ve learned how to work together. We’ve supported each other. We’ve made a Facebook group and I’ve watched us go from barely able to string two words together to writing whole paragraphs in Russian, having conversations in Russian, and answering questions in Russian.

I answered a lot of questions. Sometimes I was wrong. Sometimes I got cranky. Sometimes I wished people would just leave me alone, because Lord knows I’m not the definitive Russian expert. Towards the end of this semester, I actually got angry, because I felt like I was only wanted for my question-answering ability. But despite all of this, I loved that part of Russian class. It made me feel useful. It gave me a small taste of what it might be like to teach some day.

I’ve made friends. These guys:

Back: Hilary, Me, Dr. Garza, Sam, Mark, John, Isto, Chris, Misha, Kolya, Fanyu; Front: Katya, Rhiannon, Molly, Haley, Charlotte, Oscar, Michaela, Kim, Lucy, Bonnie

Katya, luckily, had the presence of mind to show up today with a camera. I’m so glad to have a record of this class. Of these people.

And to them, I just want to say: Thank You.

Hilary: For being my Russian-teaching guinea pig this year. I now feel capable of taking on tutoring as a real job in the fall.

Katya: For being so cheerful and for remembering the camera. And for buying me that Mt. Dew during our library homework-a-palooza. You have no idea how much I needed that caffeine. And… for being so sure that I’m actually good at this Russian thing. I’m just as insecure about my ability as everyone else, and you were always reminding me that maybe I CAN speak Russian after all.

Rhiannon: For humoring me during last semester’s oral presentation, for sitting behind me in Jester, and making lots of snide comments about Tanya and Misha. Also, for texting me about a certain espresso order back in December, and making me feel much less like a stalker. Or maybe just as much like a stalker, but less weird, because you were doing it too.

Sam: For always asking relevant questions. And for reminding me not to go off the deep-end when I realized that I had only a day to secure a scholarship recommendation letter.

Molly…Molly…Molly: For being a constant source of entertainment – and I do mean that in a good way, my friend. For taking the time to get to know me outside of the Russian world, and for respecting me even when you thought I was nuts. (I hope you know that it goes both ways… the respect and the occasional certainty that you’re nuts.) And yes, for the Molly-Questions. They made me smile.

Mark: For being a pretty-fracking-awesome TA, being lenient and tolerant about late homework, taking over the class when Dr. Garza was away and being such a good sport about the inadequate attendance.

John: For having much better pronunciation than I do, and giving me something to aspire to. I, of course, also hate you for this.

Haley: For humoring me THIS semester and agreeing to sing as part of our OPI. For bringing doughnuts. For being right – and vocal about it – during Thursday’s exam. And for looking so much like Hilary and having such a similar name that Dr. Garza kept using the wrong one. It was hysterical.

Isto: For everything. For always talking to me before class and being so supportive when I was freaking out about my show, my boyfriend, my life in general.

Charlotte: For SO many things. You, I’ve known since my first semester. Thank you for not being nearly as “scary-cool” as I thought you were then. (This is a good thing too. You know what I mean.) For always having tylenol. For loaning me Dr. Pepper money. For running quick, like a bunny, to gather paper towels when I lost one of the full Dr. Peppers in my lap, in class. For eating pizza with me and being, generally, awesome.

Chris: For my second-hand smoke fixes, hours spent standing outside in the six-pack shooting shit, and being my post-Russian lunch buddy. For not thinking I’m any weirder than your average person… or at least not so scary weird. For listening. And walking out with me to sit that panic attack. You’re pretty cool. For a freak. (It’s okay. I’m a freak too.)

Oscar: For accusing our professor of “trolling” and providing me with much-needed laugh. For making me feel less guilty about the times I missed class. Sorry about that whole test-prank thing.

Misha: For looking just like the guy from Машина Времени. You were a good sport about that.

Michaela: For consistently “liking” my Facebook posts and taking the time to answer questions on the FB group. I think I talked to you more there than I ever did in class.

Kolya: For providing me with an alternative to wandering around the grocery store babbling in Russian, for hanging out after class to chat, and for going along with the whole beard shaving thing. Though, truth be told, I think you should grow it back.

Kim: Why didn’t I get to know you better BEFORE last week? For being so much fun during homework-a-palooza. And for your part in the excellently played FB joke on Oscar. (Katya and Isto also get props.)

Lucy: For being the ONLY one in class to actually come to my show. I really did appreciate that. For being an example of a most awesome Freshman, and for volunteering to go first during oral presentations. You did awesome!

Bonnie: You were so quiet! I’m not sure that we ever really had a conversation. Oddly enough, your birthday is the day after mine. And our names are very similar. I’m not sure how this is relevant, except that I didn’t realize it until a few days ago. For… being someone that I still want to get to know.

Fanyu: Oh, Fanyu. You drove me up the fracking wall. I wanted to kill you. I contemplated it. You’re the first person I’ve actually physically battered since I was about ten. But I do thank you. You make me laugh sometimes. You remind me of how lucky I am to have figured out where I’m going. For providing me with lots and lots of practice in patience  for that day when I have my own students and it’s no longer acceptable to backhand them. And… for putting up with me. For liking me, despite the fact that I’ve been kind of an ass. For seeing through a lot of the ‘tough’ show I put on. For what it’s worth, I see through your bull too. If you ever learn to work that filter between your brain and your mouth, you’re gonna be an okay kid. 😉

Finally, Dr. Garza: I’m not sure there’s much I can say here that I haven’t said to you before. You are the best professor I’ve ever had the privilege of learning from. You’ve tolerated my incessant questions. You’ve put up with my grade freak-outs. You’ve set a new standard for compliance with academic accommodations. You’ve never complained. You’ve shown me respect and given me countless reasons to respect you. No one at this university has done more for me, has believed in me, has pushed me harder than you have. You gave me permission to love Russian and you are teaching me how to teach. There is still an honor’s thesis to be written, a class on foul language, the Russian fairy tale. There’s still graduate school. But I will say this: These last nine months, it has been both my privilege and my pleasure to learn from you and to get to know you. Thank you.

Now about that final exam… I’d like an A. Just saying.

For those of you, my dear readers, who are rejoicing and thinking that this will be the end of my Russian ranting… I’m sorry. I’m going to Moscow in about eight weeks. And then taking Third-Year in the fall with a bunch of these guys. I’m sure there will be more stories… more dreams of Sam losing his goldfish in the swimming pool. This is not the end of Russian.

But this semester, it is the end of this Russian class. Next semester, some people will be gone. Haley will have graduated. Not everyone is taking Third-Year. We’ll be breaking in a brand new professor. No more Tanya and Misha (oh, wait, that’s a good thing). It’s sad. But things change. Жизнь случается.

So for now, we’re at the конец. The end. But it’s been a blast. And I can’t wait to see what happens next.

До скорой встречи,


25 March, 2011

Too Much Russian Homework? Just Buy a Hacksaw.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I have piles of homework, most of it in Russian. I’m being quite literal. Piles. Piles of books. Piles of papers. So much Russian homework that my brain wants to write my English sentences using Russian grammar. For example:

At me, there is a lot of Russian homework. (I have a lot to do.)

To me, it pleases itself, the Russian homework. (But I kind of like it.)

I have never not seen so much Russian homework. (Seriously… 13 workbook pages front and back? And a novel to read? And a portfolio to put together?)

At me, on Monday, will be an exam on Russian language. (Did I forget to mention that?)

Not to fear, though. I’ve come up with a solution for handling the ever-increasing work load. All it required was a little skill with a hacksaw. And some heavy Vicodin usage. And knowledge of how to properly tie off a tourniquet.

With one hand.

There’s the little matter of blood stains, but nothing some hydrogen peroxide, heavy bleach, scrubbing, and new carpet won’t fix. Aside from the blinding pain, I think the plan was good. I’ll leave this hand to perpetually do Russian. The other can occupy itself with the little matter of linguistics homework, e-mail answering, OCD TEXAS, dog walking, and dish washing.


You don’t believe that’s my hand?


Here’s what really happened. During my last visit to Lockhart, my dog found this detached Halloween hand hiding out under the coffee table. I don’t know why it was there. I didn’t ask. What my parents are doing with a detached Halloween hand under their coffee table, I’m not sure I want to know. I was, at the time, doing Russian homework.

Dad said, “You know, if you put the pencil in that hand and leave it there overnight, when you get up in the morning, the homework will be done.”

Never one to dismiss a suggestion that could potentially save me hours of work, I happily handed my pencil over to The Hand.

I am sad to report that The Hand did NOT complete my Russian.

Perhaps the body it was severed from only spoke Hebrew.

Damn those de-hand-itated Hebrew speakers.


P.S. I really do have piles of homework. I may never get through it all.


4 March, 2011

My Favorite Place

I know it’s hard to remember, since I haven’t mentioned it in awhile but… I’m a student. I thought before I forgot completely, I’d take a moment to post these pictures that I took two months ago.

Last month, before OCD TEXAS completely took over my life, I found myself sitting with my back to the solid side of this hallway.I planted myself there, as I had done many times before, with my homework and my iPod, and simply sat – basking in the light that streamed in through the arches and watching the masses of people.

This is, quite simply, my favorite place in the world.

The building, Calhoun, sits in the middle of the non-duck side of the six pack on the south mall. Its first floor is flanked on either side by these hallways, tiled in purples, blues, and greens.

This is my favorite place.

In my first semester of college at UT, when I accidentally ended up in the Vampire Class that changed my life, it was in this building. In fac, it was in the doorway on the solid side of the end of that wall.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, I would sit outside that door, waiting to learn about the history of Slavic vampires. I made friends there. Eric – the director of 13 Past Midnight Fame – would meet me there. And we certainly had fun, making jokes about the vampire movies and Russian music (little did we know that I’d come to actually enjoy that Russian music!)

I couldn’t explain it then, but when I walked into Calhoun, I simply felt at home, in a way that I never quite did in the Social Work building. I felt like it was where I was supposed to be. And the more time I spent there, the stronger that feeling got. The way it smelled. The way it sounded. Whenever I walked inside, I breathed a sigh of relief as my body told me what my brain didn’t quite know:

You belong here.

When I decided to take Russian, I started sitting outside of the room where I used to take Vampire Class. I didn’t have any reason to be at Calhoun, but I just loved doing Russian there.

And when I decided to make Russian my major, the building did become my home on campus – even MORE so when I added the double in Linguistics. Why? Because the Slavic Department (my department) is housed on the fourth floor of this building, and the Linguistics Department is housed on the fifth.


Bikes are kind of like… wildlife… here. They’re just always around.

Those are actually two gals from my Russian class. They didn’t know I was shooting them.

So many stories inside these windows.

When I am here, I feel completely at peace. I feel as if I’m at home. I love to just sit and watch the people. It is impossible for me to be surrounded by so much intelligence and not get giddy. Truly, to me, knowledge is intoxicating, and I get a high here like you can’t imagine. I want to work here. I want to be a part of this school. I just want to be… absorbed, and to absorb all that there is.

I just love this place.