Sunday, May 16, 2010

We Were Always Meant To Say Goodbye

The time has come to leave the third Rome. I never expected that a year could have such an impact on my life. . It's been such a crazy ride.

Our last dinner with our wonderful program director Irina was out of this world. We ate at a restaurant called "In the Darkness". It's a pretty crazy concept. Customers have four plate choices: blue(seafood), red(meat), white(mix), and green(vegetarian). Then they are to the darkness, where they dine in a completely pitch black environment with blind waiters. It was definitely a unique experience. It was so weird not seeing what you were eating and having to feel around for the fork or like the bread. I don't think I will EVER forget something like that.

Moscow has been a really interesting city to live in. Moscow is scary, amazing, huge, fierce, dirty and surprising. It will chew you up and spit you right out if you aren't ready for it. For that reason I love Moscow. It is a city like no other. But at the same time I have to be real to myself and say that I could never call this city home. As much as I like the take-no-prisoners demeanor of the city, I could never feel at home here. It isn't that I don't like big cities. I actually cannot imagine myself living anywhere else. But unfortunately, Moscow just doesn't have have that something I'm looking for in a home. I'm alright with it though. I in no way regret spending my year here. Sure there were moments where I browsed around for a ticket back home the next day, and thought about telling some of my fellow group mates off... but it was all totally worth it in the end. I got to experience/see so much and I made a ton of progress with the language. There is no way it would have been the same if I didn't stay.

The last few weeks have been unbelievable. One of my favorite memories is the birthday party that was thrown for me. Kelly, Kara, Phil, Kim and even my roommate Darcy made a little surprise birthday party for me at Kelly and Phil's. They cooked hispanic inspired dishes which were wonderful. I also really loved it when we gave our presentations because we all together celebrated our freedom.

I will miss a lot from Moscow. I will miss my Russian friends and homegurl Eleonora. I will miss having so much to do and just having the option of hoping on the metro 2 min from my house and just going somewhere. Moscow left an imprint on me that cannot be erased.

As I promised, a link to Kiev photos:

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Kiev and the lasts

The moment has finally arrived. I had my last excursion yesterday and I finished all schoolwork for the year. I am free.

I'll start by talking about our trip to Kiev. So our last trip of the year was to the Ukrainian capital. On the way there we were all separated into groups of two which meant each pair shared a room with two other Russians. Kelly and I were together and we shared our train compartment with Irina's friend Masha and her son. Her son is a young super energetic thing. When we got to Kiev it was weird seeing everything in a different but so similar language. I was really surprised at how pretty the city is. I like couldn't believe how beautiful it was. It was sunny and like everything was green. I also want to point out that the guys were better looking than in Moscow. I'm not saying that they were 10s... or even 7s... I'm just saying they were cuter. We had the usual excursion and like walked around and enjoyed the nice weather and sun. I missed the sun like crazy so I tried to soak up as much as I could. Ironically, one of the things I enjoyed the most was our trip to the monastery. I obviously refused to enter any of the churches but I did walk around and tried to get browner, which I think was a success. It was quite amusing to see everyone in the group just turn red throughout the day. During the night time I was pretty much a grandma. I had a lot of work to do so I actually brought it with me. So unfortunately I have no report on what the nightlife is like in Kiev. This was definitely my favorite trip out of all of them. It was simply amazing.

I plan to include a link to the photos in my last post.

It feels really weird being done with everything. I can't believe it was just last week when I was freaking out because I didn't know how I was going to get everything done. Now I am in my room, looking at the last souvenirs I needed to buy before I leave on Monday. The plan is to go to Germany and visit one of my BFFs Braeden for a few days then head back to the states and see my senior friends graduate. Meanwhile, I have been counting my lasts in Moscow. My last day of last excursion... my last weekend... and in a couple of hours my last dinner with the group.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Have Been Seeing the Wrong Shows

I have less than three weeks left in Russia. It's very difficult to describe the way I feel about it. Basically here is some of what I feel: scared, sad, excited, happy, shocked, and unprepared.

So the past few weeks in the academic sector have been about as boring as watching paint dry. It's all just looking at my calendar and freaking out for like 15 seconds because there's such little time left. The main thing I am focusing on at the moment is getting a project done for the semester. My project is basically about the cultural influences on Cuba from the Soviet Union. It's been pretty interesting to see the changes that occurred in Cuba's culture because of their political/economic liaisons with the USSR.

Something simply amazing happened a few days ago. I discovered queer Russian theater. This is probably one of the coolest things that has happened since I first found a gay bar in Moscow. I saw Oscar Wilde's Salomé, which was directed by the most famous gay theater director in Russia Roman Viktyuk. The way I got tickets to the show is also pretty cool. Homegurl Eleonora went to the ticket office trying to buy tickets for me and her but unfortunately they were out. To her surprise, Roman Viktyuk walked into the room and she immediately put on her charm and started to chat with him. She explained the situation to him and apparently even talked about me. Viktyuk offered to help her out by giving her two tickets for his show. These also weren't just any ordinary tickets, they were tickets for the section where the director's closest people sat. I was astounded by homegurl Eleonora's adventure.

The show was beyond spectacular. All but two of the actors were men so this meant that a majority of the roles were played by men. Even the role of Salomé was played was played by a man. The makeup used by the actors was really intense. It was definitely not your regular theater makeup. The male actors who played the role of a female tried to do justice to the performance of femininity. It was not used for comedic relief as some of the plays we saw earlier. I couldn't believe what was happening on stage when I was seeing the play unfold. The show also had a good deal of dancing elements. The characters at times wore a minimal amount of clothing and were in intimate dance numbers together which created a big display of homoeroticism on stage. This was such an amazing change from the regular performances that we've been usually watching. Usually we get to see a lot of the classics and things of that sort... obviously without half naked men running around dancing with each other haha

It's always a breath of relief to find spaces where queer culture is fostered and nurtured in rampantly homophobic environments.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day Travels and Busy Times

It hit me a few days ago that it is April. Time flies by so fast. I'll try to get you all caught up on what's been happening with my oh so busy life in Russia.

I have taken a couple of day trips since the last post. The first one was to Rostov which is one of the towns on the Golden Circle. We went on a bus tour accompanied by our lovely Russian friend Alina. It was basically a tour for Russians and with Russians. I'm not going to lie, I'm going to be very honest. I am pretty tired of churches. I am tired of hearing about church this and church that and then going to visit churches. And of course, this trip that was filled with churches. We stopped at a monastery and we walked around the grounds for a bit. The weather was actually pretty nice, the sun was shining! I went on top of a tower and saw this huge frozen lake which was pretty nice. It was quite entertaining to see Russians not only ride their bikes across the lake, but also drive their cars. Our last stop was of course at the Kremlin, We had a tour of the place with the other Russian people and afterwards were allowed to roam free. During our free time, we decided to have lunch at the restaurant inside the Kremlin. It was pretty awesome inside the restaurant, it was like some kind of middle age banquet style seating. The trip was pretty nice. I'll have a link to an album on facebook at the bottom of my post.

The other day trip we took was to the lovely state of Abramtsevo. It's basically a museum that used to be an colony of some of the most famous Russian artists. It's about an hour and a half outside of Moscow. I visited Abramtsevo last semester but that was only with Pat and Amy so it was everyone else's chance to see it. Our conversation teacher and her friend joined us on the trip which turned out to be great. The weather was really nice and the lake/river by Abramtsevo wasn't frozen so it was a really pretty view walking up to it. One of the cool things about this trip was that it was totally all organized by us(the group) and there was no guided excursion. Also there were no churches! Haha ok well that's a lie. There was a tiny church built by the artists for themselves way back when but I was inside for a max of 10 seconds so it doesn't count. I really enjoyed our little outing and I could definitely feel that spring has sprung.

Moscow is FINALLY getting warmer! The sad thing is that I don't think I am going to have a lot of time to enjoy it. One of the main reasons... well actually probably the only reason that I haven't written in a while is that I have been so busy. School and my internship have kept me pretty busy. Although I of course try to make time to stroll down Old Arbat while the sun is still out at 8 PM(What?!?!?!). One of the things that happened recently that was just amazing to me is this long dinner conversation with homegurl Eleonora about gender essentialism, feminism, and gay stuff. She was quite receptive to my ideas, which I was kind of surprised at. It was also weird for me to try explaining some of concepts especially when like this stuff NEVER comes up in Russian class. After our conversation she said to me "You know, I am really glad I met you because you really have changed my perception of what a gay person is. Before I was afraid and didn't like them, but now I know that they're people who deserve respect and love just like everyone else". It was so amazing to hear that. And I am really glad that I made even a small change in this world. Also, another big thing that happened in the home front was the arrival of my new apartment-mate Darcy. She is pretty awesome, and she's from Ohio University. I have lovely dinner conversations with her and we exchange impressions about the Russians, it's so great. So hopefully I will have more time to write in the future.

Link to Rostov Photos:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pulling Out The American Card

Telling people you're American in Russia usually leads to a couple of different scenarios. Russians will definitely want to know why you decided to take up the task of learning their language. Russians will probably ask your opinions on political matters and obviously Obama. They might ask you what your thoughts are on Russia and it's people.

Being abroad in Russia as an American has been a very interesting experience. Seeing people's reaction to me being American never tires me actually. For the most part, they're pretty positive and just inquisitive. What I think is more interesting is when I haven't introduced myself and I am with the group and we're speaking English. People around us obviously tend to stare, especially when we are in other smaller cities since I'm sure they aren't used to a lot foreigners. They also quickly assume that we don't speak Russian a lot of the times. I've encountered it a few times when I hear some people walking behind me and talking about how we are foreigners and they can't figure out how to say something to us. To their surprise I turn around and just tell them "Umm.. I speak Russian..." and they're so surprised by it as if it's something completely inconceivable. I can't say that I don't get a quick out of those moments haha

Another thing being abroad for the year as an American has taught me, or rather made me more aware of is my privilege. I am much more aware now that as an American I have a certain amount of privilege in the world that isn't awarded to others(Russians for example). I can go travel to so many places and I don't need a visa or any special documents other than my passport. Also, American pop culture has a pretty big presence in other cultures. How does that work? For example I can name someone like Britney Spears or Lady Gaga and young Russians will immediately know who that is. But can I go to Dickinson and will they know who Dima Bilan or Jana Friske is? Not a chance.

Living abroad as American citizen who happens to not be white can also put me in some funny situations. I am always amused when I tell people that I am Mexican and the image they have in their head is of a cowboy in old American Westerns. It's pretty funny how far I am from that stereotypical macho image. I have definitely had some peculiar cultural exchanges with Russian people and I hope there is more to come.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Now I am back from the city of Kazan. It was a pretty nice city and I had some interesting experiences there so I can't wait to tell all of you!

So we had a nice little 14 hour train ride there which wasn't bad since I actually got to sleep this time as opposed to the other overnight train trips I have had in Russia. Our hotel was pretty decent and was in a nice location within the city. The first day we met with one of our guides, Guzel. She led us around for the day and our first stop was of course the Kremlin. I was surprised and extremely happy to see a mosque since all I have seen are russian orthodox churches. After our Kremlin adventure we headed to the pedestrian street, Baumana, which reminded me a lot of Arbat in Moscow actually. Then we headed to lunch where I had a nice little conversation with Guzel. We were just talking and she asked me "Do you have a girlfriend?" and I just told her "No, I'm gay". Oh my god! Her expression was PRICELESS, I wish I could of taken a picture of it. I imagine that I was the first openly gay person this poor girl has ever met. She was definitely shocked and for some reason thought I was joking. But the situation subsided and we headed to the national museum where we learned a bit about Tartarstan. Our dinner was fun, we ate at the hotel and watched some movie that was basically a combo of Hocus Pocus and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Our second day we had a tour at an island that is near Kazan. On the way there our guide(not Guzel, thank baby Jesus) gave us some bits about the city as we saw it. We got to the island and okay... it's like the beginning of March and there are supposed to be two rivers but everything is FROZEN. Once you get on the island, the view of the frozen everything is quite amazing and eerie at the same time. Our tour on the island consisted basically of churches and more churches. One really interesting thing was the icon that was made with a non-human head. It seemed kind of weird and out of place to me but I liked it. After our island trip we had lunch at some little cafe where we got to taste some Tartar foods. That night we had a theater event to attend, Delafruz. It is a remake of a Soviet play in which a girl picks her true love out of 4 candidates. It was a fun little endeavor and the whole thing was actually in the Tartar language, but we had headsets that translated so it was alright. We decided to go to an Irish pub afterwards and we met the owner who took us through a very creepy tour of his second bar which is currently being renovated. In the end we all made it out alive and now we have a new friend in Kazan.

Our final day in Kazan was Monday which was International Women's Day! We made some plans to visit the souvenir market, hit up another church, and possibly see some of the metro. Okay... so I'm not gonna lie... this was pretty much the worst day during our trip, in regards to weather. It was snowing and pretty cold, so we weren't really excited to hit the road and get our day started. We got to Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral and it was like one I have never seen before. The outside was ornately decorated and the inside was as well. Afterwards, we walked a while towards the souvenir market. It was a nice little setup inside of the city's exhibit center with interesting little souvenirs. We decided to see some of the metro and compare it to Moscow's. So Kazan's metro is only one line with basically six stations. It is pretty much a tiny little thing when compared to Moscow's insanely huge metro system. At the end of our day we were all pretty beat, we were so ready for that overnight train. We got on the train and headed back to Moscow.

Kazan was a pretty nice city but I definitely expected much more Eastern influence than what I got. I also think it would be a city that is much more beautiful during the warmer months when every body of water isn't totally frozen.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Express yourself don't repress yourself

So now my schedule seems to be getting more regular and I am sort of settled in. I just want to say how crazy I think that it is already March. It seems like just a week ago I arrived back in Moscow for my second semester. Oh how time flies..

At the moment I am taking the regular courses for the Dickinson Program. Something we had to do this semester was find a class with Russian students that we liked. After searching while I have settled for some Spanish classes which I am enjoying so far(Translation, Literature, and Grammar). Going to classes with Russian students, at least in my experience, is different than going to a class at Dickinson. I would say that Russian students have a tendency not to show up to class, especially language classes. I have also not mentioned this before but cellphone etiquette is much different here in Russia than it is in the US. Professors and students answer their cellphones during class without even hesitating, people LOVE to talk on their cellphone during a movie in the theater, and people have no qualms about texting right in front of the professor during a lecture. It seems weird because in the US that would definitely all be pretty rude, but here in Russia it seems to be quite the norm. I still wonder why but I don't really question it since I have gotten used to it, although I have not adopted the Russians' celletiquette (that's right, made it one word) yet haha. As for internships, I do believe I have two at the moment. I have one at an HIV/AIDS center that specifically caters to gay men and men who have sex with men(MSM). For that one, it isn't really clear what I am doing, translating probably. Also I have picked up another one at the Cervantes Institute which is a place that promotes the spread of the Spanish language and knowledge of Spanish-speaking cultures. I am doing quite a bit with Spanish this semester, which I am really glad about actually since I have always thought since I got here "Who am I going to speak Spanish with?!?!"

So lately I have been thinking a lot about the way I express myself in relation to sexuality and gender. In Russia, things a bit different than in the US when it comes to gender relations and expression on non-heterosexual sexuality. I am not going to sit here and try to quantify oppression and compare it between two countries because that is just not how I work. In class, especially when it comes to more personal topics(i.e. marriage) I obviously try to give my two cents. I was actually glad that the other day when we talked about marriage and we just stuck to kinds of weddings/matrimonial traditions rather than go into a conversation about our own personal visions of what we want our weddings to be like. If we did take the more private route I would obviously try to express my opinions as best as I can in the Russian language and probably come out to the whole class right there and then. The problem in this scenario is that I don't have an amazing command of the Russian language which would allow me to express myself fully and defend myself in case things go awry. As for gender, well currently we have this class in English on the arts in Russia in which I have noticed that the professor is quite rigid on her ideas of gender. There have been several occasions where she's made it quite clear that something is for boys and something else is for girls(i.e. a makeup video to learn about color theory is for girls only). I have made sure to tell her that actually, I am not so interested in buildings and telephone technology, I actually LOVE fashion. In this case I am not so hesitant to give my opinion because of the language, the class is in English. But these interactions are all within a classroom environment. Outside of the class is a whole different story. Just like in the US, I am at times aware that I am not really acting gender-appropriate and I may get a stare or two. What actually worries me more is my race rather than the way I am acting at a certain time. The whole gay thing actually goes way over the heads of a lot of Russian people. I haven't encountered a situation yet where I have had to hide who I really am in order to feel like I belong or even to feel safe, and for this I am grateful.

So in a couple of days I will go off to a city to the East of Moscow called Kazan. It's one of those long weekend trips and I am looking forward to it. My next post will def be when I come back.