Non-Russian Travels and the Start of a Second Russian Semester!

January 22, 2012

Happy New Year!

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a blog post – I have been off having non-Russian adventures. Between seeing my family in Berlin over New Year’s, coming down with strep, and exploring Istanbul, 2012 is already off to a busy start.

Although I finished up all my classes before Christmas, most of my teammates at MGU had classes right up until December 28, and then a break for New Year’s and Russian Christmas before returning to sit exams in the first several weeks of January. This period, сессия, is quite the notorious time of the Russian academic year, when students cram, cram, cram. After students have finished writing an exam, they take it immediately to their professor, who grades it right there in front of them and bestows a grade for the course. Outright asking about grades is somewhat taboo in the U.S., except for among good friends, and even then it can be a touchy subject. In Russia, this is not the case – since a professor will announce to the whole class the grades of each individual student on a particular test, grades are fair game for anyone to ask about.

When I first decided to study abroad for a year, (and learned how much it was going to cost to fly me out to Moscow), I planned to be in Russia for the full nine months, and to not return home in between semesters. The Midd program comments how a two-week (or month, for some) break of English speaking means a severe setback in Russian language acquisition. Plus, with the uncertainties that surround every aspect of the Russian academic schedule, it wasn’t guaranteed that I wouldn’t have exams in the beginning of January. Before I left home at the end of August, my parents and I agreed that when I knew more about when my classes might end, we could see if we would be able to meet up around New Year’s. I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful it was for me to see my family for a week, and to relax and talk in English. After a semester I needed time to recharge and get excited again about studying Russian and taking advantage of new opportunities in Moscow. Sarah and Nate can weigh in about their experiences going home in between semesters, but for future study-abroaders considering a full year, I think the optimal situation is seeing your family, but not necessarily going home. The transition home and then back again could be difficult from a language and cultural standpoint, but maybe it’s just as helpful a time to recharge as a shorter trip!

On being sick in a foreign country: if there is ever a time to stand firm against your host mom and ignore cultural differences, it’s when you get sick. If you run a 103 fever for several days, ignore the natural home remedies and superstitions. Go see a doctor, get some good drugs (in my case, antibiotics, which are sold without a prescription in Russia) and get well. I got sick at the most convenient possible time – I was just returning from seeing my family, and I had another week before my next trip. This experience was a difficult reminder, however, of how lucky I am to carry insurance. I was in and out of the clinic in half an hour, and paid only the $20 or so at the pharmacy for my penicillin. Healthcare access and insurance is an even bigger problem in Russia than in the U.S. – only the upper middle class carries decent health insurance, and access to quality medical care is prohibitively expensive and difficult for most of the population.

I’m sure I’ll be learning much more about the healthcare situation and healthcare reform in one of my spring courses on the politics of social reforms in Russia. More on the start of my spring internship at the MacArthur Foundation Moscow office and my class on strategies for combating corruption to come!

Until it drops below -20 – I’m off to watch more biathlon (which is on TV all the time here – I love it! And it’s fun rooting for the Russians, since they’ve got some of the best athletes on both the men’s and the women’s sides),

Hillary

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