First Day At Russian Language School

1 October, 2018 - My First Day at Russian Language School

I was still dead to the world when Anna, my host and landlady, came down to bounce me out of bed in time for breakfast. She fed us some "каша" --oatmeal, pronounced "kasha" with honey in it and some toast on the side. 

The night before, Anna had taken me and the other student from Switzerland (I still can't remember his name) to buy a "transport card" that gives us access to the metro. She showed us how to use the card to get into the metro, and she took us to the grocery store around the corner to pick up a few things. All three of us were surprised when the cashier spoke English as she helped us pay for our things.

Anyway, with transport cards in hand, we left the apartment building and headed for the bus station on "Площад ленина"--Lenin Square. She led us up onto the bus. We got off at the metro station and headed deep underground on the escalator. Before we knew it, we'd gotten off the metro at "Невский просрест"--Nievskiy Prospect, which is a street on the south side of the school.

Cheery mugshot - 26 hours of straight travel plus no sleep and seven hour time change will do this to anybody!

We weaved our way under an overhead walkway, through the business center and up the stairs to the school. There, they asked for our passports and we finalized the process of getting signed up and ready to go. In Russia, you have to "register" your visa, which is a sticker they put on a page of your passport, before you've been here seven days.

With that done, they took me back to a testing room, handed me a written test and told me to do what I could in twenty minutes. The idea here is not to flunk me out on site, but rather to figure out where I'm at and what class they need to put me in to help me learn most effectively. Then they hauled me over to the oral testing room and put me on the spot. Deer in the headlights and still exhausted, I stammered through through the test and they sent me back out into the waiting area where I took a rather cheery mugshot of myself before my class started. I don't normally go out in public like this, but I had to let you see what I was feeling yesterday morning--a sensation that is ever present during what to me are the "evening hours" of the day.

After the testing and paperwork, classes finally started. They put me in a classroom with five other people who seemed as lost as I was in Russian. They were, however, much more at home at the school since they've been there a while. The teacher speaks only Russian, using English only for very brief clarification. She'll only resort to English when all efforts to clarify in Russian have failed--an event that occurs several times during our four hours of classes.

In other words, my experience is turning out to be, at least in part, what I hoped it would be: drown till I learn to swim! It's sometimes stressful not to be able to communicate, but that stress has a way of arousing mental faculties to guarantee that once a word is learned, you don't experience the stress of not knowing it again.

At one point during the class, the teacher tossed a little ball to one of the students. Whoever she gives it to has to answer a question in Russian, then throw the ball to another student, ask him or her a question, and the other student responds and continues the game. Well, somebody tossed me the ball, and, being the pro ball player that I am, I dropped it. Then I said, "Я не занимаюсь спортом!" (pronunciation: "ya nye zahnimayoos sportam") The teacher had to correct me on getting the ending wrong, but the whole class laughed because, all around the world, in every language, when a ball gets fumbled, we've all heard the same tired excuse: "I don't play sports!"

That's one of the things I love about learning a foreign language: behind every language barrier is a human being who knows and thinks and feels many of the same things you and I do.

My walk home is forty-five minutes--about four and a half kilometers--from the middle of St. Petersburg to the north. During my "commute" I cross two branches of the Neva River. I took some more pictures on the way home. I'll have to get more pictures of the crossing that's closer to the school. These were taken most of the way home.