Thursday, June 9, 2011

What Exactly Am I Doing In Russia?

That's an excellent question. This is my fourth trip to Russia in eight years. I've been here twice as a study abroad student, once as someone who sort of fell into a really awesome grant that allowed her to travel here*, and now I'm here as the assistant for UVA's new study abroad program in Russia.

The program UVA in Russia: Literary Places is amazing. The students are here studying Russian literature--two weeks in Moscow and two weeks in Saint Petersburg. In the morning they attend classes on various works of Russian literature based in the city they are in (today they worked on Chekhov), and then in the afternoon they visit a site in the city relevant to that work/author (so today they went to the Chekhov House Museum). Some evenings they attend cultural events that you can't come to Russia and do without, such as tonight's ballet performance of Romeo and Juliet. As you might imagine, as a Russian literature geek, just hearing about our new program made my heart go all a'flutter. That I actually get to assist the director on it is still one of those pinch me moments.

So I have some responsibility here, and if you know me and anything about responsibility then you know that if you give me even a little bit of power I morph into some redheaded clown-like version of Napoleon. It's ugly really. In addition to this I'm addicted to planning trips. My family and best friend have learned to just let me take the reigns when they agree to go on vacation with me. It's less stress just to let me usher their sleep-deprived forms into the car at 5am for an all day trip to Key West rather than watch me throw a hissy fit about for three days.

Luckily, I've kept my trip planning/excursion planning monster at bay for the time being. My responsibilities are mainly to make sure the students are safe, their questions are answered, and to pipe in with suggestions for things to do, places to eat, what not to do, etc. It's been a blast so far. The students are really smart, and so far none of them have attempted to give themselves alcohol poisoning, so I'm breezing easy at the moment. I'm amazed at how much I do know about this city--from giving the students directions from one part of the city to another to suggesting favorite restaurants and little known museums or galleries not found in guide books. Not bad for someone that lives across an ocean. So maaaaaybe I accidentally left two students on the metro platform tonight. That's a learning experience for them, right?

It's been really exciting being here and seeing everything through the students' eyes. Their first time seeing Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral (although not as monumental & awe inspiring as usual thanks to the stage set up by Sting who played Red Square just a few nights ago. Way to ruin the moment, Sting), the first time they walked into a Russian Orthodox Church--all these things that I've done dozens of times now is brand new to them. It was awesome watching their jaws drop as they experienced sensory overload. Watching people you know enjoy and be awed by a place that you love is a totally different way of travel for me. It's convinced me even more that I need to bug my mom to come here with me soon.

So this picture is totally unrelated to this post, but I was trying to take a picture of how disgustingly crowded the metro was yesterday to use for an update on my blog, and I was trying to be sneaky about it with my iphone. However, you can totally tell by the side-eye that chick is giving me that she was totally aware of my tourist-y antics

*Although no one ever checked up on how I spent that money so I really could have spent last summer sitting on the couch eating ice cream and watching Toddlers & Tiaras and no one would have known.

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