27 February 2013

Thoughts

As I was sitting in my warm and empty classroom, drinking tea and listening to music, I began to think about when I decided I wanted to go abroad.

Ben and I had been tossing the idea around for awhile, but it wasn't until the fall of our "other" senior year that our plans began to take the form of actions. Aaaaand I began to feel hesitant. No, this isn't where my life is supposed to take me. I want to write about music in New York or L.A. not travel across the world to hold a "real" job. I'm not the type who travels--I'm too nervous. Too shy. Too "American". I'll never figure it out. I'll stick out, not make friends, getdepressedfailfreakoutgetrobbedetc. 
I asked my most trusted professor-- he told me to go for it. It will only help your writing, he told me.
I just don't know if I see myself living that kind of life... it's just not what I had been planning, I told him.

Everything felt torn between something for quite awhile until I read the forward of a collection of short stories--I think it was by Stephen King actually--that said (something like), "Go live. Move to another country. Eat food you would never normally eat. Learn a new language. Then when you come back, even if you're still writing about hooking up with a narcissistic biology major in your dorm room, at least you will have lived and the writing will be so much more."
It was much more eloquent wherever I read it, I'm sure, but that's all my memory has for today.

Anyway, I'm not sure why, but that was the most reassuring thing I could have ever read. I had to go abroad. I had to figure out how to make it work. These were things I needed to do. I committed my heart and time to finding a place for me in the world and now here I sit in a small classroom on a forested, snowy street in Moscow. I think of my life and all that has changed about my mindsets. There are so many things I already think about differently not that I have spent time abroad.

I appreciate the Russian mindset. I have come to understand why they do things differently than maybe I would, and I have accepted their culture. One of the main things I'm referring to here is the enormous fur trade that goes on in Russia. There's actually so much fur everywhere, it was startling to me the first week we were here. But since being here awhile and speaking to a few Russians about it, I see the Russian mindset when it comes to fur: it's tradition and it's warmth. Russians do not think about animals the same way Americans do. I'm not saying I agree with it, but I accept it and live amongst it, respectfully.

I understand the hardships this country has been through. And some of the aftereffects of the Soviet Union and communist reign. Some of them are as large as marble murals in Metro stations. Some of them hover over you in the form of threatening buildings built to remind you that you are small, you are just a Muscovite. Other details are so small, you might not even notice them, or worse--misunderstand them. My students cheat on their tests--and in front of me. This is not them being dishonest. This is a cultural thing left over from a time when everyone was "equal" and cheating was the only way to get ahead. This concept has been passed down through generations and Russians really don't see it as anything immoral or wrong. Even my wonderful and motherly administrator  was extremely surprised to learn that Ben and I had never (well, not never, but not since middle school!) cheated on tests.
I have said this before and I'll say it again: Moscow is a very emotional city. It has been burned, it has been seized, it has stopped wars and threatened to start them. To not think about that every time you walk through her streets would be a crime.

I greatly appreciate people who have immigrated to the United States. Especially my grandparents. This topic really deserves it's own post, but I'll touch on it briefly right now. Never before would I have ever been able to picture or understand the feelings that go along with living in a place where you cannot speak or read the language. It is such an overwhelming feeling and many times, kind of embarrassing. But when I feel upset by these circumstances, I think of the millions of people who have come to America and worked their way up from nothing. Some people (like my grandparents) came to America without having even the slightest bit of information about it! No internet! No chances to learn English in their home country! All they had were rumors and the faith that a better life was just across the ocean. It's such an admirable thing, I feel overwhelmed just typing about it. To just climb on a boat with a small child and head out into the great unknown... it takes a type of courage I have never really been able to even scratch the surface of until now. Really, my heart has never before understood the life of an immigrant. I'm not even saying it does now, but at least I now know what it feels like to be lost in translation.

I have learned to live without some comforts. All my water must come from bottles. The plumbing system is as old as Moscow itself and is essentially, undrinkable. So large jugs of water must be bought every week and hauled home. We forgot to pick some up one day and ate a bag of pistachios. Quite the mistake. I don't know if this counts as a comfort, but I have had a hard time using so much plastic and then not being able to recycle it. I feel guilty and strange throwing so much plastic into the trash.
There are other comforts I do without, like "my" products at the store (no more clean shampoo... organic is just not a word heard here) or foods I really loved (bagels. Really hurting without my bagels. And candy--America has the sweetest candy...nothing tastes right here). These are all minor, I know, but they still took some getting used to.

I have become more patient. Maybe it's because I literally can't be anything but patient, haha. Because I have to wait for Ben's translations or people to understand my broken Russian (or my understanding of their broken English) I have become much more quiet and steady. This is something I have needed like, my whole life so it's good that I am taking my time and learning not to grow irritated when interactions are not going at my desired pace.

This really has been a time of magical thinking for me. I have embraced all that is around me so much so that things like the cold or language barriers have shrunk under the excitement I feel when I see a beautiful church or funky shop. I have not been doing as much creative writing as I would have liked, but that's just not where my focus is right now. I keep my notes and I take my photographs, but right now everything is about experience and I am just  d r i n k i n g  it in.

10 comments:

  1. I am hoping to study abroad myself and this is full of great little reminders like I might not get my favorite breakfast every morning or ever.

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    1. Where are you thinking of studying abroad?!

      And yes, life is different anywhere else. Ben was saying to me the other day we've both lost some weight and it's because we eat only two meals a day if we're lucky, ha. But adjusting to a new world, I think, is healthy and eye-opening. : ) I'm sure you'll do great.

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  2. Molly B. - Los AngelesFebruary 27, 2013 at 7:22 PM

    The Russian view-of-life is very, very interesting to me, and honestly a bit puzzling at times. Have you ever encountered any unwelcome or negative attention for being American? I know relations between USSR/USA have been improving, but for example, Putin banned adoptions by Americans just last month. (link here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/14/world/europe/thousands-of-russians-rally-against-adoption-ban.html)

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    1. Oh, of course I've heard about the adoption issue! It's a hot button over here and mentioned in every expat newspaper. And yes, the Russian way can be a puzzling one and a contradicting one. When Ben and I first got here we spoke a lot of English to each other while we were on the Metro and we did encounter some stares and uncomfortable looks. Nothing in particular happened, but I felt that Ben and I should only speak Russian to each other on the Metro.

      But we have had some really positive encounters! In our neighborhood, a lot of places we frequent (grocery store, food stands, makeup shop) the shopkeepers have learned I can't speak English and are very kind to me. And people will try out the few English words they know on us and t is very endearing.
      But unfortunately, you're going to encounter some form of racism anywhere you go. Fingers crossed the most I get are a few angry stares.

      I do hope Russian/American relationships improve because they are both strong countries with a lot to offer the world and each other. It just seems like a difficult time and most Russians strongly disagree with the adoption move.

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  3. Great post! I'm really enjoying reading along with your experiences. It's funny how living in another country really does change you. I'm not sure I could ever go back 'home' now, despite the many things I miss.

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    1. Thank you! That means a lot coming from you! I agree, I already want to stay in Russia for longer than we first anticipated. Home just feels so experienced already... if that makes any sense. But yes... I am sure missing some American food a lot these days : )

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  4. This post is beautiful! I think it is very important for people to experience the world, but it is more important for people to get out of their comfort zones. Exploring different countries and cultures opens your eyes and you will never be the same person you were before you left the States. I'm very proud of you! I'm proud you have challenged yourself to experience a completely different culture. Is it just my perception or are you becoming more understanding and tolerant of other cultures?
    I love your blog more and more...

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    1. Thank you so much! I am certainly trying to make myself the most understanding and tolerant person I can be, and coming to Russia has really given me lots of opportunities to open my eyes! Thank you so much for following, Jazmin. I hope Chicago is treating you well : )

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  5. I just came across your blog today and have spent the whole evening getting totally absorbed. I'm loving your style of writing and your photos say so much! It's a refreshing feeling stumbling upon a new gem of a blog=)

    Ciara
    x

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    1. Thank you so much, Ciara! That's such a wonderful thing to hear. I'm so happy to have you along : )

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