Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bristol Falls

Patrick, Bridget and I went swimming at Bristol Falls today, despite the crappy rainy weather (hey, we were going to get wet anyway, right?). Chilly water, but lots of fun!

The current was really strong in the middle. Patrick and I had to really fight to stay in place for our photo op.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Zhila-byla devushka....

Privyet everyone! Somehow another week has managed to pass by. On Monday, I felt like I wouldn't live to see another weekend, but here it is already!

It's been a really good week, overall. I've figured out my routine here, which is just what I need to feel comfortable. I have class from 8 till lunch, and after lunch I head to the library for three hours, where I get most or all of my homework done. Then I work out, take a shower, and chill for an hour or so before dinner. After dinner I finish up homework, read, watch movies, hang out with friends. I like it.

Sunday yoga starts, and Monday the cooking club meets for the first time. I'm also interested in the clubs of "Televidenie," or Russian news programs and the Russian songs club (although I'm not sure if we'll be singing or listening).

Wednesday we watched a Russian cult classic called The White Sun of the Desert. It was shot in 1969, when all films made in the Soviet Union had to be about Revolution (I know, boring, huh?). So of course, filmmakers did their best to make the genre more interesting. White Sun is shot like a western, but it takes place in central Asia. It was... interesting, to say the least. It's hard to decide if I actually liked it or not.

I've continued to make friends with students in various levels of study here. I really enjoy conversing with the first-years, because it's simply fascinating to watch how quickly they're picking up language. However, sometimes I miss talking about topics unrelated to Middlebury-- even among the seventh-years, it's hard for us to fully express ourselves on more abstract topics, so they rarely come up. I'm hoping that the more practice we get, the more varied our conversations will be.

If anyone's following soccer, Russia lost to Spain yesterday. Rats. I'm still going to watch the Spain-Germany game on Sunday, even though it would have been better if it were Russia-Germany.

In class we're watching this fantastic movie called The Stroll, which I love because 1) it shows all my favorite places in St. Petersburg, and 2) it stars two of my favorite Russian actors, Pavel Barshak and Evgeny Tsyganov. I'm looking forward to watching another 25 minutes on Monday.

I'm headed out the door to the gym in a few minutes. Tonight we're having an evening of charades. Tomorrow I have no idea what I'm going to do during the day, but I think I'm headed to the disco again in the evening. Any questions so far? Let me know what you'd like to hear about, I'll be happy to oblige!

Sunday, June 22, 2008



I was going to do some homework during the day, but I didn't. I worked out at the gym and watched our soccer team practice through the window as I ellipticaled. Then I watched the actual Russian soccer team beat Holland 3-1. Whoo!

The weather here alternates between these quick but heavy showers and crystal clear, beautiful sunny weather. Luckily after dinner, it was nice out, so I went for a walk (I was going to go to the film screening last night, but I was tired of sitting already from watching the football match). I walked by myself for a while, then happened to meet Gary, a first-year, and we walked together for a while.

Then we had a Disco!!!!! Unfortunately they only had about 10 songs they played over and over -- I think all the students need to band together to provide more Russian dance music. All the same, I danced for about three hours straight. My back and shoulders are so sore today, but it was so much fun! I haven't been dancing in ages; I'm going to have to make a more frequent habit of it.

After the disco we continued the party at one of the dorms here, which is located sort of in the woods. I'd never been there before. It's much newer than the dorm I'm in, which is very cool. I was there until about 1:30 or 2, when most of the party split up and went home. We all have homework to do today, after all. =)

Saturday, June 21, 2008


I would just like to add that my brain must be doing a lot of work here, because I keep having the most awful nightmares, and I think that usually only happens when there's a lot of thinking going on throughout my day. I just woke up from an unintentional four hour nap (thank you, fire alarm!?!), and thank goodness, because I dreamed my friend Paul had died and no one bothered to tell me. I had to do an obituary search when I woke up... luckily, it appears that Paul is still alive. Whew.

I'm hoping this nightmare-every-other-day trend will stop as I get more used to the workload here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

First Week

Whew, my first week of class is over. Where to even begin telling you what I've been up to?

Sunday night, as promised, we took our language pledge. Writing this blog entry is probably the most Englishing I've done since then, besides sneaking a peek at my email and other people's blogs. In general, all the Russian speaking hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be. For the first three days, I was extraordinarily tired, like I was at the beginning in Russia, but I'm already getting used to it. Also, I wasn't sleeping very well at first, but I seem to be growing more comfortable on this bed and in this room.

Sunday night they posted our class placements, based on the tests we took earlier. Both me and my roommate placed in the seventh level (the highest!). Our teachers, Elena Nikolaevna and Evgeniya Olegovna, are both from St. Petersburg, and they're fantastic. I finally, really feel like I'm working on improving my Russian again, like I'm looking at specific parts of grammar that need work, etc. We meet from 8 to 11:40 each day. Our class is split into two groups, each of which meets with one of our teachers for the first half of the morning, then we switch for the second half, and then we all meet as a group for the last class. So I study Word Formation and Conversation Practice with Elena Nikolaevna from 8 to 9:25, then Grammar and Reading with Evgeniya Olegovna from 9:30 to 10:55, then the whole class watches and discusses a film till 11:40 (except on Fridays, when that time is used for our weekly test).

The rest of the day is ours, but mostly what I've been doing is studying. I've never had so much homework in my life! However, this weekend the only homework I have is to write an essay, so that's not so bad.

Tomorrow all the clubs start. I'm definitely signing up for the cooking club, but I'm not sure what else I'll have time for. Maybe the daily newspaper? There's a choir and a theatre group, but I've heard that they take a lot of time, so I might just go watch the shows, rather than participate. Tomorrow night there's also a disco. I'm totally there.

On Wednesdays and Sundays they play movies for us, which I've really enjoyed so far, and we have Tea Salons afterwards, which are also a fun way to relax and talk with other people. I've been trying to go to the gym as much as possible, but I've been very tired this week, so I've only gone three times.

The people here are fantastic. It's so fun to be surrounded by so many people who are as passionate about Russian as I am, and many of whom have shared similar experiences in Russia as I have. Three of the other students in my class are in the Flagship program as well, so I look forward to spending more time with them in the upcoming year. I also really love the first year students, those that came here without knowing any Russian at all. I admire them very much for taking the plunge and promising to speak only a language which they don't know at all! I've befriended one student, Ivan (John), and I'm actually quite amazed at how much language he's mastered in the course of a single week. Our conversations are somewhat one-sided, but I enjoy them just the same, because it's like getting to watch the process of acquiring a language first-hand.

Only one thing here has really annoyed me so far, and that's this test we had to take by computer on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday wasn't so bad, since it was reading and listening, and the questions were multiple choice. But Wednesday was the written section, and we were required to use the standard Russian keyboard, because the director of our school believes that phonetic keyboards (where the Russian letters are roughly aligned with their English equivalents) are just a crutch. Well, that may be so, but since I hadn't had much practice on the standard Russian keyboard before the test, the test doesn't at all show the level of my Russian writing skills, but of my Russian typing skills. The test isn't valid! Whatever... by the time I take it again at the end of the program in August, I'll have had lots of practice with the Russian keyboard, so it'll look like I've made huge gains in my language (although in truth much of the gain will be in my typing skills).

It's been rainy and cold the past week, but they say it's going to get really hot. I'm actually kind of looking forward to that, because I didn't bring very much warm clothing!

Well, I don't know what else to say. It seems like every day goes on for ever and ever, and I feel like I've been here a long time. It already feels weird to be using English, as if everybody in Vermont is supposed to just be speaking Russian. I hope everyone at home is safe and is staying dry. Let me know what you're up to, I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

One of the last relaxing days of the summer

Today was pretty chill. At 10 I had my oral proficiency interview, which went pretty well. I found out at 11:40 PM that I've been placed in level 7, which is the highest level offered. I'm pleased with my placement; I really think it's where I belong.

The rest of the day was spent exploring campus and the town of Middlebury. It's about the cutest, most picturesque little town you could imagine. There are no chain stores of any kind, so every store is locally owned, but you can still find everything you need. I bought some hangers and a shower bucket today (I know, exciting, huh?). Then some of the girls I've met here and I went to this little cafe for ice cream and, for me, coffee. Yum!

I've been meeting more and more of my classmates, although with many of them I've just had time to introduce myself, but not much time to actually talk. I'm sure we'll be getting to know the classmates in our levels very well. One girl I've met so far who's been really cool is Greta, who is in my class. She's in grad school at Columbia for Russian literature, and we had quite a good conversation over ice cream this afternoon. I'm really looking forward to talking with her more in Russian.

After dinner we watched a film from 1934 which roughly translates as "The Happy Gang." It's a slapstick, farcical musical comedy, which was truly funny in a way slapstick sometimes can't achieve. Our professor did a good job picking it, because the actors spoke pretty slowly and clearly (maybe that was the style in the 30s?), which I'm sure was helpful for many of the students. We all found the movie to be really funny, but it became much more somber for me afterwards, when one of our professors explained how most of the people who worked on the movie ended up in labor camps or executed during the Purges (though not because of their work on this film). Yikes.

Along with our placements the faculty here have posted the calendar of events for the whole summer. It looks like there will be several interesting lectures from guest speakers to attend, as well as movie nights, parties, volleyball and soccer games (I'll be a spectator only), and other events. Additionally, this week we'll be learning more about the co-curricular activities that will start next Sunday. I'm particularly interested in yoga, culinary club, and possibly the choir (though it's been years since I've sung).

Tomorrow Stephanie, my roommate, and I are planning on sleeping in (although for me that probably means getting up at 8, if I can even sleep that late), then we're going to go find the gym and work out. We also need to buy our textbooks tomorrow, and we're meeting our professors for the first time in the afternoon before dinner, where we'll receive our syllabi and other instructions for the start of class on Monday. After dinner, we sign our Language Pledges, and I will officially be on a Russian-only diet for nine weeks. Wish me luck!

Safely Arrived

I am in Middlebury! Vermont is gorgeous-- gently rolling mountains, plenty of open space, cute little towns. I got a little twinge of happiness when I saw peonies blooming in someone's yard-- it makes it feel like home. Middlebury itself is a lovely place, and the campus is really beautiful. I'm looking forward to exploring more tomorrow.

I arrived and got checked in around 6 PM (after 10 hours on a bus and shuttle!). I've spent most of this evening just getting settled in.

Here is a picture of my half of my room:

As you may or may not be able to see, the room is very long and narrow, but it's kind of nice because it gives me and my roommate our own halves. Even better, our room is part of a suite, which we share with two single rooms. The four of us share a bathroom and, best of all, a kitchenette! With a stove! I can cook while I'm here!! =D

My roommate is named Stephanie. She's from Los Angeles, has taught English in Moscow, and spent 2 months in Ukraine. We're both hoping we end up in the same class so we can help each other with homework. She used to dance ballet-- I seem to befriend dancers wherever I go! We're still getting to know each other, but Stephanie seems very sweet and quiet, AND she loves to work out and do yoga, and Russian pop music. I think we'll get along fine.

I've met one of my other suitemates so far: Susan, who is an orchestra conductor. She has self-taught Russian for a while, and now she's jumping in to really get her head around it, so she can understand Russian opera. We've already bonded over our love of Eugene Onegin, so I hope we continue to find things to converse about. Our other suitemate, Elizabeth, I haven't met so far.

Tomorrow is designated for testing. I took the grammar test online earlier this month, so that just leaves the oral interview at 10 AM tomorrow. The rest of the day, I plan to explore campus and the town a bit, and to buy a few things that I couldn't fit into my bag (hangars, a shower bucket, etc).

Sunday night I take my language pledge, so the blog updates will likely slow, especially at the beginning as I really try to throw myself into the immersion. Hope to hear from you!

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Kerry dashes into the chilly and, as we quickly discovered, jellyfish-filled, Atlantic.

I am almost as pale as the lighthouse behind me. Don't worry, I wore a lot of sunscreen. Also, that cute new bikini top I'm wearing? The clasp broke less than an hour later! Grrr.... good thing I had a sundress with me to cover up with!

Seagulls approached in ever-increasing numbers, eying our hummus and tortilla chips.

One fantastic day down, one fantastic day to go!

I had so much fun with Kerry yesterday! We got up around 8 but didn't get moving until 10:30ish, as we were breakfasting and planning Kerry's trip to visit me at Middlebury (she's going to come up for my birthday. Hurrah!). We then caught a bus to downtown New Haven and the Yale campus to spend a couple hours at the Peabody Natural History Museum. I really enjoyed the Great Hall filled with dinosaurs, and a GIGANTIC ancient sea turtle-- 10 feet from head to tail!! You can see it behind me in the picture. I'm also standing next to a baby apatosaurus. Have you heard about the apatosaurus v. brontosaurus controversy? I must have missed it since I stopped being obsessed with dinosaurs in elementary school. Apparently Mr. O. Marsh, who did a ton of excavating and dinosaur discovery in the 19th century, found two similar dinosaur skeletons a few years apart and named them two different things, apatosaurus, meaning "deceptive lizard" (because of its similarity to another, previously named dinosaur), and brontosaurus, meaning "thunder lizard." As it turns out, the two skeletons Marsh discovered were actually of the same species, but at different stages of maturity, which is why he thought they were different. Thus, since he had named the apatosaurus first, that became the official scientific name of the species.

After the museum, we met Tom (Kerry's boyfriend) for lunch at an Indian restaurant. It was so yummy! And totally filling-- we ended up not eating supper till 11 PM, and I wasn't even really hungry before then.

We took an afternoon trip to the mall so I could buy some extra-long sheets (silly dorm beds!), and I also got a cute new swimsuit, even though I just bought a cute new swimsuit a few weeks ago (this one was on sale and totally hot!). Kerry also got a swimsuit, as well as some other clothes and accessories.

Our bus ride back to town took over an hour, because we thought we were getting on an express bus, but instead it was a local, but it was nice to see some of the neighboring areas. Then we worked out at the massive Yale gym, and it was my lucky day, because they didn't have any guest forms, so I didn't have to pay! I jogged on a treadmill for 30 minutes and felt really out of shape, but it was so good to be moving after many days of relative immobility. Then I did some yoga and stretching, before the best part: the sauna! Kerry and I sauna-ed Russian banya style: we sat in the heat for a few minutes, then ran to take a super-cold shower, then back to the heat, and so on. We did three rounds like that. The first round I could barely stand to get under the cold water, but the second and third times it felt fantastic. Of course, to make it a truly Russian experience we would have been jumping into a cold pool rather than cold showers, and we would have had venniki, or birch branches, to beat ourselves with in the heat (it's great for the circulation, I swear!). But it still felt simply wonderful, and my pores feel all clean and magnificent.

We arrived early to the bus stop to catch the last bus home, but we waited for 30 minutes and it never came, so we had to get a cab. By this time we were all pooped, but we managed to whip up some tacos and a salad, which completely hit the spot. I called and talked to Jon for a few minutes, then collapsed into bed. It was a simply awesome day!

Today Kerry and I are headed beachward, where we plan to spend most of the late morning and afternoon. Then we're going to go work out again and get dinner downtown. I'll tell you all about it after it's happened. Thanks for checking in with me!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Yale didn't accept women till 1969?!?!?!

After an arduous 24 hours, I've made it to New Haven, CT safely. My journey began at the Greyhound station at 2:00 Monday afternoon, where the freshman behind the counter failed to weigh my suitcase before the bus arrived (he said it didn't look that heavy). As a result, I had a whirlwind panic of throwing $20 at him to pay for my overweight luggage, while at the same time digging out things to send home with Jon so as not to have to pay extra at the airport. I left behind a lamp, some soap, and some workout clothes, which I now regret, because I don't have any long pants except my khakis now.

The bus ride was fairly uneventful. I got to Chicago at 7:45, then rode the El for an hour to Ohare. Then the fun began: I arrived at 9:30, after the TSA had already shut down for the night, so I spent the night on a bench in front of the check-in counter, afraid to sleep for too long lest someone steal my stuff. A phone conversation with Jon helped pass some time, although it drained my phone battery for the rest of my trip, and then I wrote in my journal. After some fitful sleeping interrupted by a man speaking loudly on his phone in Swahili (or something!) for an hour, I played Solitaire on my iPod for about half an hour. I got some "real" snatches of sleep in 20 minute chunks between 1:30 and 3, when I finally gave up and ate breakfast (warm yogurt and an apple).

About 3:15 I made the acquaintance of a very nice, very typical Midwestern woman named Margaret, who offered to put some of my stuff in her carry-on so I wouldn't have to pay the $50 fee for my luggage being overweight (side note: how does this make sense? If I had a whole extra checked bag, the fee would be $20. But if my one bag is even 1 pound overweight, the fee is $50. Huh???). I managed to get my bag down to 49.5 pounds by wearing pants over my shorts and putting a few things in Maragret's bag.

I slept the whole plane ride from Chicago to New York (thank goodness for my new inflatable neck pillow!! That thing saved my life!), then took a bus to Grand Central, and finally caught a train to New Haven. I arrived safely at 1:00 PM, making my trip just shy of a full day.

Kerry and I spent the afternoon at her house. I took a much needed nap, and then we spent the afternoon and evening just talking and catching up. Tomorrow we'll have an "inside" day, since it's supposed to be hot, and will visit the Peabody museum, the Yale campus, and go work out at the swank, 10-floor Yale gym. Thursday we're planning on a trip to the beach!

Leaving home was really hard, and I had several moments in my long layover in the airport where I thought I was being a total idiot for leaving my comfortable and happy life in Iowa City, but I know this is going to be a great experience, and it's fantastic to see Kerry again after nearly a year of separation. I hope I'm able to update again before I leave on Friday morning for Middlebury!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Just like Frosty the Snowman, I'll be back next year

Wow, what a week. Each day the past week was spent with a friend I won't be seeing again for at least a year. I spent yesterday alternately bursting into tears and dashing around the house, trying to pack up everything I own for Mom to take home and store for me at her house. Today I worked some magic (and did some pruning) to finally get all my stuff to fit into one suitcase (and a laptop tote and my biggest purse). And now I'm sitting in the ITC in Seashore Hall, just me and the room monitor. It's quarter to 1, in one hour and 25 minutes I'll be leaving this town I love for a long time. I've printed myself directions for every step of travel between here and Middlebury (bus, subway, plane, bus, train, bus, bus, bus.....), I have enough snacks to avoid buying overpriced airport and train station food, and the only thing I didn't have time for was a haircut.

The leaving is the hard part. I think the arriving will be okay. It will help a lot to get to see Kerry for a few days in New Haven before heading up to Vermont.

I'm going to miss you all like crazy. Don't forget about me-- keep me posted with what's going on at home, too.


Friday, June 6, 2008

Middlebury Address

Send me letters!! =)

Allison Rockwell
3025 Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Can't I just pack you all up and take you with me?

1. I know I am going to have a great time.
2. I am going to miss you all so much.

Why does having fantastic experiences often mean leaving people you really care about? I don't have a lot of people I truly consider friends, so leaving the ones I do consider mine is hard. I don't like to think about the fact that I may never see some of my friends again, as the call of jobs and other opportunities pulls us all to different parts of our vast country and world. The homebody side of me wants everyone to just stay where they are (i.e., near me), so we can all be together forever. It's not really a fair dream, since I myself am scooting off halfway around the world... but I'd like everyone to be here when I get back!

Okay, I'm done now. I would never want to deny any of my friends the opportunities to pursue their own dreams, wherever that may take them. Let's just not forget each other, okay?