Well, week one has come and gone. Most weeks probably won't be like this, which is both good and bad. The good part is that I've hardly been working at all because people have been giving me time to get settled and teachers don't know their regular schedules yet. The bad part is that I really haven't known what I'm doing. It's taken a week to try to figure out just what sorts of things I should be talking about and what my position is -- am I just a lecturer, am I a teacher, am I just supposed to lead discussions, or is there something else? Well, I don't QUITE have all of this figured out yet, but I think I'm something in between. I'm supposed to think of America-specific topics, share my knowledge, and then try to get the class to talk as much as possible...which means that I need to start brainstorming games and other such sneaky teacher tactics. The hard part is that with the exception of 2 groups I won't be seeing the same students regularly. This means that I have to overcome my innate desire to introduce myself every time I see a new class. I will also have to get over my love of logical progression as far as themes go.

Tolyatti/Togliatti (I like Tolyatti because that's the name in Russian, but on most maps it will be Togliatti) is a big town as far as numbers go, but little when it comes to the atmosphere. A huge contributing factor is that the town is actually physically split up into 3 sections (with woods in between...bizarre, but sort of nice). While it's bigger than Irkutsk, the transportation system doesn't seem as advanced...if one could call Irkutsk's transportation system advanced. I've seen a few buses, but these seem to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to getting around. Mostly people rely on either their own cars or marshrutki, which are generally yellow ~15 seater vans that zip around at breakneck speeds and more or less have regularly marked routes. In Irkutsk I generally avoided them because 1) it cost more, 2) you have to know exactly where you're going so that you can tell the driver to stop, 3) you had to yell out the name of the stop that you wanted...and there's a lot of pressure involved with that! Here they're pretty unavoidable unless you want to take a taxi everywhere (even though they're very cheap..about 50 rubles/$1.60 to go from one part of town to another). Tolyatti marshrutki have taken a small step toward atoning for any discomfort/confusing that they may cause though. Rather than yelling in an uncivilized manner each row of seats is equipped with a buzzer to let the driver know when to stop. You can now pass the entire trip in complete silence! Some of the seats face backwards though, so there is still plenty of awkward eye contact to keep you busy.

Today I didn't have any classes, so I took my first solo Tolyatti marshrutka trip. Luckily technology is catching up to Russia and you can now look on the internet and find out which marshrutki and bus numbers go to the area that you're trying to get to. Additionally the map has all of the stop names on it. This will only help you when it comes to making sure you get in the correct vehicle. The only place that you'll ever find the names of stops written is on maps and on the sides of buses and marshrutki. It's up to you to figure out where the stop is...which can be accomplished either by asking fellow passengers or, my preferred method, gut instinct. Luckily everything went smoothly, and I now know how to get to the mall. My mission for today was to find winter boots and a medium-weight coat. My predecessor left behind a full-length winter coat that fits bearably well. However, it's starting to get a bit chilly, and I wanted something to wear for those days when it's not -25. After about an hour and a half of looking in every store that had coats I finally found one that will suit my needs. As I learned in Irkutsk, for a coat to truly fit in in Russia there must be fur present somewhere on it. Well, this one has a massive fur ruff, which means that I can now fit in. I will probably feel too awkward to wear it anywhere besides Alaska in the US (PETA fanatics everywhere and whatnot), but I may have to since I'll be coming home for 2 weeks in the middle of winter and taking my Russian clothing with me.

I know you're curious to see, and since blogger still won't let me upload any pictures, go HERE.

What do you think, do I look Russian? If you ignore the pajamas? I am obviously way too cool to ever consider looking at the camera.

Unfortunately, I did not succeed in finding boots. After much agonizing I finally found a pair that I intended to buy, only to notice a tag saying that they were the last pair...and not my size. Shopping for size 8-8.5 shoes is like shopping for big foot in Russia. Seriously, it's ridiculous. There is NO way that all the 6'2" women have smaller feet than I do. I think that there must be a secret back room or something where they keep the real shoes. Russia is also one of the few places in the world where fully lined boots can have 6 inch spike heels.

It's really odd being in Russia basically by myself. I'm really used to having at least a small group of other foreigners with me to rely on and hang out with. I'm not completely abandoned because there are still plenty of people to help me get things done, but this first week has been fairly lonely. I think that once my clubs (chat hour and movie time..woo) start up my social life will as well. However, the other day during one of my midday bored naps I got woken up by a knock on my door. It was O. from down the hall (I'd thought that this was mostly just a dorm for visiting professors). It turns out that hiding under my nose are at least 10 students. Well, O is an incredibly chatty and curious girl, and she introduced me to everyone that she knew. Later that night she, S (a guy who lives down the hall) and I went for an evening walk around the town. This seems to be the cool (only?) thing to do. It was very nice, and involved a great deal of Russian. I haven't seen her around since...although to be honest I haven't really looked. I needed time to recover from all of our previous conversations! I will definitely see her again this week though, because coming Monday is a group of Italians that she is especially keen to meet...who, unfortunately, don't know any Russian and must rely on English to communicate here. Sadly, O's English skills are mostly confined to weather observations, so I suspect that I will be sought out as a translator. Should be fun. I've been told by the people at the international office that this will be a great chance for me to learn about Italian cooking. Later tonight, if things go as planned, I've been invited to walk around with one of the other teachers once she finishes work. She's super nice, so that should be good too. I have to say, after several multi-hour walks I know everywhere within walking distance pretty well....but I could always stand another walk. With all the walking that I've been doing I will probably be in great shape by the time that I come home. I will also be spectacular at giving presentations. Both useful skills.

Sunday I'm going to meet up at the mall with another American who's in town. I actually already know her since she was in St. Petersburg with me 4 years ago..I will probably get to know her a lot better though. She's also teaching English somewhere, but I don't know the details. Unfortunately, she's in another section of town and about and hour away by marshrutki...so she might as well be in another town entirely. I suspect that we'll get together from time to time though.

Hopefully in about a month's time I should be completely settled in. I'm currently just hanging out in the dorm because I have a month where I can stay here for free, so I might as well save some rent money. I'm really looking forward to having a permanent place though...more particularly a fully-equipped kitchen. There is a kitchen here, but it's rather sparse when it comes to pots/pans/other useful things. I did, however, find out an address that I can use for getting letters. If any one is interested, just ask. Serious inquiries only though, so if I give you my address you had better send me something. I've also been told that it's a Russian custom to dance before you get your letters, so perhaps I'll come home with some improved dancing skills also.

I'm here!

My trip was fairly devoid of adventures until the last leg of my flight. I spent the majority of it trying to politely avoid having my translation skills put to work translating a heated complaint from my neighbor about one of the stewardesses. It seems that there were some issues when it came to the segregation of business class and economy bathrooms, which resulted in my neighbor getting deeply offended.

Once we landed in Moscow (2 hours late!) the line to get through passport control was tremendous. I spent the next 45 minutes or so inching my way up to the counter, and luckily by the time I was finished my bags were already on the conveyor..and more importantly in Russia in general. After that I quickly found an ATM and spent about 15 minutes following signs for the aeroexpress train that takes you from the airport to the metro system. All of this went pretty smoothly and after 45 minutes I found myself let loose in the Moscow metro system with about 60 pounds of luggage. As I hauled my bag up and down stairs and kept a wary eye on my backpack I was reminded again how much I hate traveling with a lot of things. Aside from the crowds I found my way to the train station without incident. However, somehow I wound up in the basement of the train station and after asking directions from 2 different people (with completely opposite answers) I finally found my way up to the surface. I had a slight moment of panic when I noticed that it was already 3:50 and I was supposed to have met the lady from the Fulbright office who had bought my ticket for me at 3:30. This panic only heightened when I couldn't find her and I wasn't entirely sure what she looked like. After 10 minutes of running around the train station (which luckily isn't very big) I found her standing next to the train to Tolyatti. Let me remind you that it's now 4 and the train leaves at 4:10.

After a minute or two spent clearing my documents I staggered aboard the train in sweaty jubilation. I lugged my backpack and suitcase down the narrow aisle and greeted my coupe mate by misstepping and standing on his foot for more time than is really socially acceptable. I stowed all of my things and sat down to rest and think about my near miss. Soon the train started to move and it turned out that there were only going to be 2 of us in the 4 person coupe. After about 10 minutes of silence I figured that that was how the entire 18 hours was going to be. However, S (as I'll call him since I'm not really supposed to use names...more rules) turned out to be a fairly sociable man in his mid 30s and we talked for an hour or 2. He's a police man in Tolyatti and gave me his address and phone number with instructions to call him if for any reason I run into trouble. He also said that he and his wife would be happy to have me to dinner sometime and I promised to let him know about any English clubs.

Around 6 pm I couldn't stay awake any longer and I went to bed. I tried to add a picture of my train, but my internet wasn't too keen on that idea. After sleeping a solid 10 hours and waking up at 4 am I spent the next 3 hours sleeping fitfully and worrying about missing my stop. I didn't though.

When I got off the train I was met by my coordinator and her husband. I had to stand around for about 2 minutes though mildly wondering if I had a ride because I don't look like my passport picture. So far everyone that I've met has been super nice. L and L took me to a pizzeria and then immediately helped me get a new SIM card for my phone. After that we took a quick walk around the main part of town, and then I got dropped off at the dorm where I'll be staying for the next couple of weeks until we find a regular apartment. The room that I'm staying in is nicer than the regular rooms because it's mostly used like a hotel for visiting teachers. I have a living room, bedroom, bathroom, refrigerator, tea pot, iron, tv, and vacuum cleaner. If it had a kitchen it would be pretty tempting to just live here. The main problem is a lack of good electrical outlets. There's one really nice one that the refrigerator has taken over, and the others range from ok to scary. The one over my couch is kind of hanging out of the wall and I can see arcs of electricity whenever I plug things in...so I've decided that it's off limits.

I had all afternoon to myself, and I intended to spend it exploring the neighborhood, but instead I took a nap. Then I ate dinner with L & L and their son and 2 of their friends. Tomorrow I'm getting picked up at 2 to be taken on a tour of the town by 2 more people that I think work at the school. I start doing official things Monday. From what I understand the way it's going to work is that at first I'll just be helping lead segments of classes, and once I'm comfortable with that I'll be given my own classes. My first topic is appearance...more specifically attraction. That should be interesting!

It's really late.


I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to post this, but since I am trapped on an airplane for 6 more hours, this is probably a good time to write all about what I’ve been doing lately. Since I don’t have internet I’m not sure where I last left off, but I’m certain that it was quite a while ago.

As perhaps you’ve guessed by the fact that I’m on a plane to Moscow (and ideally will be in Russia by the time that I post this), my visa came! The Russian Consulate in San Francisco is extremely efficient and I highly recommend them as well. From the date that I frantically sent off all of my paperwork (so frantically in fact that I left a section blank) to the date that I got my visa back only 8 business days had passed. Now, those 8 days were completely tortuous and I was just sure that I was going to have to change all of my plans and lose all of my money, but luckily none of my worst fears happened…yet. I won’t be in Tolyatti for another 30 hours or so, so there is still plenty of time for things to go wrong. That’s not an invitation though.

Things are starting to sink in a little that I’m actually on my way, but it seems like no matter what there’s always something more pressing to think about. For instance: will I be able to survive another 6 hours of just sitting? Walking already seems like a thing of the past. When an older Russian lady snuggled up to my back while I was waiting in line I did start to feel a little bit more like I’m in Russia though. Goodbye personal space! I’m also starting to get some of my fighting spirit back when it comes to waiting in line too. I may or may not have done some jostling when it came to getting on the plane.

Back to last week. After I got my visa back I basically just spent a day or two gazing lovingly at my visa and feeling intense relief. Around Thursday my parents started to realize how close I was getting to leaving, so I put off packing to do touristy things. Friday we went on a family date to the zoo, a movie, and Olive Garden. We hadn’t done anything like that for a while, and it was fun. Sort of made me feel like a little kid again.

Saturday I had to be serious and pack, and it sucked. It’s no secret that I despise packing. Someday it would be nice to stay in one place long enough to have all of my things handy and in one location, but knowing me that will never actually happen. The good news is that I’ve packed enough that my routine is pretty automated now. The Fulbright office has been kind enough to give me my own personal library of English teaching materials, and I’ve added about 10 books of my own, and I’m definitely looking forward to lugging all of these around the Moscow metro! The good news is that all of these get to stay in Russia, so that should free up roughly 1,000 pounds of space in my luggage.

Sunday passed by pretty quickly. I went to church, came home, packed some more, napped, packed, and went out to dinner. I’m not quite sure what happened to all the time between dinner and 1 am, but somehow it all disappeared, which left me very tired when I had to wake up at 3:45 am to go to the airport. What’s worse is that I couldn’t actually fall asleep right away either. I’m not sure what the cause of this insomnia was, but it was probably a combination of the fact that I hadn’t been to bed before 3 am in a week and I was pretty excited to go to Kansas and see Brian.

There’s a new rule that your visa has to be issued a minimum of 5 days before you can enter Russia, which left me with some days that I just needed to hang around the US. So, I spent 3 of these on a well deserved trip to Kansas. Monday from 12:30 am to 10:00 am Thursday went by in warp speed. Unfortunately, time has a way of doing that when you’re with people that you like. But, even though it was over way too quickly, it was definitely a worthwhile and very enjoyable trip. I recommend Kansas. They do have wolf spiders and brown recluses though, which is a minus. The same minus applies to Arizona.

This brings us to today. Since 10:30 am (approximately 12 hours ago) I’ve been doing absolutely nothing. I had short layovers between all of my flights, which worried me a bit, but there aren’t a whole lot of flights going to Russia. Luckily both of my connecting flights got to the airport about 30 minutes early. This greatly improved my opinion of United Airlines. Until of course my flight to Moscow got delayed 2 hours and they ran out of chicken. However, as long as we don’t get to Moscow too late for me to catch my train my experience will still be on the favorable side. My luggage also needs to make it there in a timely manner. I’m real particular about that.

Maps that chart the progress of your flight are the most depressing thing ever. So are people in front of you who put their seats back. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

Once I’m in Russia my schedule should look something like this:
1) Go through customs
2) Get baggage
3)Check to see if there’s time to use the free wifi that my neighbor says is in every Russian airport (He’s a pretty interesting guy. He says that America should be ashamed of itself for not providing enough food for us on the airplane. He was pretty heartbroken over the fact that he had to eat pasta instead of chicken too.)
4) Locate the airport express train that takes me to the metro system
5) Enter the metro and acquire a ticket
6) Somehow carry all of my stuff
7) Locate the correct train station
8) Meet Oksana, who will give me my tickets for the train
9) Remember how trains work
10) Ride 18 hours on the train…ideally spending about 12 of these sleeping
11) Find my contact in Tolyatti
12) Hope that there’s a place for me to sleep and internet

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Basically I’m going to be busy. This is my first time being mostly just let loose in Russia, and it’s a little intimidating. Generally there’s a group leader who takes care of all things travel and lodging related, or at least friends to consult with, but this time I’m going solo. I suppose it’s a good thing to know how to do though.

Weeeeellll…..that’s really about everything that I can think to write about. Airplanes aren’t very good at conjuring up inspiration for writing. I deeply envy everyone who can sleep on planes.

About this blog

Good news: no more required disclaimer!
Bad news: I'm really lazy about posting when I'm not in Russia