Just barely over jetlag, I hopped on a plane to Moscow this weekend, for the in-country Fulbright orientation. It was a three-day whirlwind of information, emotions, new friends, and the whimsical, merciless magic that is Moscow.
On Friday, we went to the U.S. Embassy, where we had a security briefing, as well as talks from various people about American Corners and English teaching in Russia, and the political situation. It was very overwhelming for me. I have only been in Arkhangelsk about the length of a good vacation, and we were being inundated with a million new ideas and possibilities: writing for The Moscow Times, organizing recycling programs, speaking at American Corners, advocating for colleagues applying for U.S. grant money, networking with Fulbright alumni… I felt like so much was expected of me, and I had an obligation to make use of the unique position I am in—when I still haven’t done things like putting up pictures of my family on my walls, or buying plants for my room, or finding a Russian class.
What diffused that tension, for me, was making new friends with some of the people I hadn’t hung out with in D.C. On Saturday and Sunday, we had training from the ebullient and passionate Thomas Santos, the English Language Officer in Russia. The training was fun and interesting, but what was really important was having those two days to reconnect with the other ETAs. Talking to them here, in Russia, after we’ve all had some time to start our work, start to settle in, start to feel at home here (some of us for longer than others), was just the perfect thing to refocus me and give me a new lens through which to approach my time here. We talked about our experiences in the classroom, our attitudes towards the Fulbright, our concerns and fears, our different experiences of culture shock, and about what made us fall in love with Russia and Russian in the first place.
Just like in But I’m a Cheerleader, we all have a root, some trigger that turned us from normal people into Russophiles. For me, it was the first time I went to Red Square, in 2009. I remember a sense of the surreal on that first trip. I had learned about Red Square in middle school, and always thought that I would like to go there, but never really believed that I would. And then there I was. Reconciling the improbability with the reality gave me a sense of extraordinary excitement and accomplishment and possibility for a future very different from what I had always imagined as possible.
Now, the surreality comes from the fact that, again, a life that seems highly improbable has inexplicably become the one I’m living. I feel like there’s some little kid inside me who looks up from her Legos every once in a while and goes, “Huh?? Russia??” And yet, there is nothing in the world I would rather be doing than this. I have the chance to be in Russia, to learn Russian, to prove to myself again and again that I can thrive in this wacky world, and to be able to meet and be friends with the amazing people I hung out with in Moscow this weekend. At the embassy, I was overwhelmed by all the expectations and the weight of being the sole representative of America in my city; now, I’m overwhelmed by my luck and privilege to be able to do this.
Apart from the philosophical reflection this trip inspired, I just had an amazingly fun time. I made friendships that will be such an important support during the hard times that are sure to come. I talked at breakneck speed in a language I’m fluent in. I wandered around the jigsaw streets of Moscow, stumbling upon Bulgakov’s house-museum at 11:30pm with Randi and Juliana and Xirsti. I tried new food at the lunch buffet at the hotel. I revisited my old favorite spots—went back to Park Pobedy and gazed upon the magnificent Moscow State University building from afar. I was worried that things would be different between Moscow and me, two years after our crazy summer romance. I should never have doubted!
If you want more pictures from Moscow, you can check out my album on facebook.