Wait, You’re Asking Me to Do What?

October 6, 2011

For panic-inducing experiences in a foreign classroom, I think my Russian foreign policy class today comes in pretty high on the “wait, what?” scale. This was the first class with other Russian students, and contrary to what we had been led to believe, there were about 30 students besides the four of us from Middlebury. About half of the students in the classroom were grad students, and the other half included some undergrads from RGGU, Tabbey, and myself. The professor had barely begun the lecture when a phrase jumped out at me. “..have them explain what we talked about last week.” No sooner had this registered in my brain, then I realized the professor was turning to me. “Hillary, please, start us off.” OK, I can sit here and rattle off a couple general sentences about our discussion during the last class. But next thing I know, the professor is motioning for me to come to the front of the class, handing me a marker, and saying “please, go ahead.” By please, go ahead, she was prompting me to begin a mini-lecture on the first period of Russian foreign policy. In front of 30 students, half of whom are writing master’s dissertations. In Russian, using vocabulary my eyes skimmed over very quickly while trying to get through 120 pages of a Russian political science reading.


Well, thankfully, I’m generally not afraid of public speaking. In fact, in English, I rather enjoy it. (Fine, I love it). Also thankfully, I had consumed a bowl-sized cappuccino before class and an almond croissant – caffeine and sugar: keys to overcoming panic and generally the keys to success. In Russian, however, the idea of explaining Russian foreign policy priorities directly after the fall of the Soviet Union, without any prior planning or warning, represents a slightly more difficult situation. Thankfully, a big smile and a quick plea for excusing my mistakes, (I was sure to include I’d only been studying Russian for two years), brought some laughs and generally covered the fact that my mind was blank. This was definitely one of those moments I came to Russia for. If I can do this, I can do anything. Seriously, anything. The professor hands me my notebook, and prompts me to use a chart we wrote during the last lecture. Something in writing. Thank God. I explain the first half of the chart, and just when I’m hitting my stride, the professor decides to put the only other non-native Russian speaker and undergrad in the hot spot.

As the lecture continued, I remembered a conversation I had with my friend Claire last spring, explaining why I was going to Moscow. My general idea was that if I could survive and study and make friends in an enormous new city and in a very difficult new language, I would feel confident to take on literally anything else in life. (Discounting parenthood). Claire – this is what I meant.

For how incredibly expensive (although of course highly-valued) Apple products are in Russia, I was surprised that both the 9:00 morning news and 7:00 evenings news on television were completely dominated by news of the death of Steve Jobs. This is honestly among the only bits of American news that I’ve seen on Russian television. Considering how little coverage Putin’s announcement that he will be United Russia’s candidate for president received on the news, I was a bit surprised how much attention the Russian press was paying to this story.

Until I experience a real Russian banya,



4 Responses to “Wait, You’re Asking Me to Do What?”

  1. Carol Ames said

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Totally remember that conversation. Bit by bit, we’re becoming even stronger and more capable than we already are! You’d be proud of how responsible I am now. 😉 Keep taking those challenges head-on, and pretty soon even parenting will be a breeze, right? Well, maybe not. But no matter what, I’m here for you! Looking forward to every new post ❤

  3. sarahinthegoldencircle said

    Hillary, you are my hero! Haha you would rock that))))

  4. Matt Walker said

    Молодец Лара!

    I have to say this blog the three of you have going is really cool. Keep it up!

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