A month has already passed since our arrival back in the States. We’re caught up in papers, making plans for the summer, and 35 degrees fahrenheit is starting to feel cold again. But every once in a while, we find ourselves at peace, daydreaming ourselves back to Russia.
In the golden ring, just north of Rostov, there’s a town called Yaroslavl. It was one of our first trips. It’s an old, old, town- a little over a thousand years old. Even Moscow is younger. Even so, every part of Yaroslavl is still alive. There are bits and pieces of each century scattered throughout town: aristocratic theaters next to Soviet monuments, a folklore themed hotel (complete with sarafan-ed waitresses and valenki-fied wall displays) across from a 12th century Kremlin. The world was alive there. Friends greeted each other in the street. Parents chased snow-suited children through lamppost forests in a park. Of all the time we spent in Russia, nothing felt so much like home.
Sometimes the sun will hit the snow between the academic buildings in just the right way that I can almost feel the cold warmth again, the same buzz of contentment crowding the air. I’ll close my eyes and see the Yaroslavl street where I stood for only a few minutes once or twice, amidst lovers arm in arm and friends deep in discussion, and I’ll wonder if I’ll ever open my eyes again.
Last week, on January 11, the Wellesley Muscovites had our first day of classes. By now, the shock of 4 hours of class in Russian (and usually fast Russian) has passed, but the language barrier still exists. As we become more and more comfortable with our skills and environment, it seems that the words we can’t quite recall in times of need hamper us more than ever.
We’re starting to feel a little bit at home here – riding the metro without a map, striking up conversations with the cashier at the grocery store, greeting the dorm security guard we know so well. So it hits us hard when in the middle of a sentence the words stop coming and the conversation speeds to a halt. We forget that we’re students. We struggle, we stumble, we accidentally order strange food items or mispronounce a word so severely that the cashier feels the need to correct you (and then repeat the word until you get it right). But if anything, these small disappointments are a mark of our progress: we’re getting there. We are finally good enough to sometimes forget ourselves, comfortable enough to take a chance on something we don’t really understand. As the 303 students learned in class, we’ve become путишественники, adventurous travelers, willing to seek out unexplored territory for the sake of understanding.
One week ago we saw the Moscow Kremlin: huge buildings, giant bells, and an armory with every type of jewel, crown, gown, and carriage you. We gawked at the Royal and historic, but one week later, we’ve got a taste for daily life.