Добро пожаловать to Life Abroad written by Natasha Bluth, a Brown University Junior studying this fall in St. Petersburg. Concentrating in International relations and Slavic studies, she has joined the blogosphere to her share cultural, political, and psychological musings, brought to you all the way from Russia with a splash of Soviet humor.
American university students are essentially trained to function on 15-week increments. Every semester is a rapid three-month period that plunges you headfirst into the unknown and you can barely come up for air and then you habituate and are bored for a second and then you realize it’s almost over. Academic recess (recuperation period), and then a fresh cycle begins. On the one hand, it’s a wildly effective strategy to embrace the new and mysterious, to recreate and to surprise yourself. The flip side: anything that lasts for more than 105 days becomes a serious commitment. I fear that this highly interrupted lifestyle has synchronized to the hands of my biological clock. And hitting “snooze” won’t stop it from ringing.
In terms of my SPb experience, the 15-week mark passed long ago. I’ve had time to begin craving spicy food, to miss my family and friends, and to cultivate a growing academic hunger for classes that are more provoking than what lines the pages of my grammar book. Completely unprepared, this unexpected relinquishment of my intellectual self is at times a challenge. In layman’s terms, feeling like an idiot sucks. During classes, buying coffee, and while eating dinner with your host family – these are times that one must sacrifice your academic being in order to absorb cultural novelties. So what if the cashier asks you to repeat your order three times? So what if your professor was patronizing today? You want to brush it off, but in formulaic terms class + café + host family = Life.
And how can turn a blind eye to Life?
So you incorporate new expressions into your quotidian dialogue – hand gestures, forty different nuances of smiles, a deeper understanding of your inner self that you can’t yet verbalize in a foreign language. You discover how important music really is to you. You don’t change yourself, but rather how you relate to others. The space between you coalesces around a new form. “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” Taking my liberties with Charlemagne, I make the claim that language here has a broad definition. Even nonverbal expression can liberate your personality to inhabit a new plane of existence, rendering time irrelevant – for 15 weeks, or even longer.
Questions, comments, concerns? Email Natasha Bluth at Natasha_Bluth@brown.edu to learn more about studying abroad in Russia.