Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kazan, adventure to the Republic of Tatarstan!

Our trip to Kazan began at the main bus/train station in Yaroslavl in order to take a 4 hour express train to Moscow and then from there take our 12 hour train to Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. The trains I feared would be really old, creaky and very uncomfortable and just plain weird; but they weren’t bad at all and it was a cool experience being on a train where you can sleep on (your tables if you’re located on the side turns into a bunk).

Musa Dzhalil monument

After getting to Kazan, we right away had a city tour of the Kremlin where Ivan the Terrible once reigned to other sites that provide culturally insight to this interesting city. Tatarstan is located inside the Russian Federation, but has its own governor and that kind of stuff. I guess I could compare it to Puerto Rico, being a commonwealth of the United States; except Puerto Rico isn’t located inside America. As you can see the republic is named after the Tatars, the town’s name literally meaning ‘cooking pot’ in Tatar. It’s interesting to note that street signs and train stops are displayed and announced both in Tatar and Russian, both living in harmony and there being no tension. The main religion seems to be Islam even though you can find Orthodox Christian and even Catholic churches in Kazan. The town is also located on the Volga River and is known to be the ‘Istanbul of Russia’.

Some of the sites we saw were: a mosque (Kul Sharif) inside the Kremlin, the university where Lenin and Tolstoy themselves studied, Annunciation Church inside the Kremlin, Syuyumbike Tower (where a legend goes that a princess who was supposed to marry Ivan the Terrible asked him to build this tower and then killed herself by throwing herself off), the Musa Dzhalil monument outside the Kremlin and other places around Kazan.

Our second day we headed to Elabuga, a town about 3 ½ hours outside of Kazan (for some reason I thought it was only an hour outside Kazan!) Here there was a really nice view of the nature around Elabuga. We also saw the “Elabuga Ancient Settlement Site” which is “Дәүләт Тарафыннан Саклана” which from Tatar to English means “Protected by the state”. The town is known as an ancient merchant town on the banks of the Kama River. While in Elabuga we went to two museums, the Shiskin Museum (a Russian artist) and the Tsvetaeva Museum (a Russian poetess). Both of these museums were set up as the creepy museums I dislike, where it’s actually the home of the person.

One of our last excursions was to the Raifskii monastery back in Kazan. Here there is natural reserve where there is a lake, a forest and a sainted spring in which people take water to bring back home for the digestive systems. Also, if you wash your face in the water you’re said to become younger/take some years off your life (not in the sense of dieing earlier but get younger). We also visited a Tatar kind of model village which functions as a place for kids to play in with a park and indoor restaurant with a bar for kids (instead of alcoholic drinks there is juice and candy as well).

Then we headed back to Moscow and then to Yaroslavl where we were actually greeted with warm and sunny weather- unlike now where it’s already hitting the 30s and we’ve had some flurries. But, none the less, Kazan was a good get away from Yaroslavl for the week and we had no class so what could be better than that!?

Tomorrow Fall Break starts which is even MORE exciting! Especially since I’ll be doing some traveling around Europe! I’ll take advantage in those countries to use the internet and finish uploading the pics to these posts. And of course, write about those trips as well!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gettin' me a Russian Education!

Ok, so second post! This one's going to be as the title suggest, about the Russian education system. Might be kind of boring but interesting compared to how things go back in America. This one's going to have no pics but just what I've experienced so far with the education here so don't complain!

So with the Middlebury C.V. Starr school abroad, we have a couple of courses we can choose from which are taken with the other students studying abroad with Middlebury. Courses range from Literature, Culture, Politics, History, Stylistics (Writing Class), Oral Speech, Russian Film and Grammar. Out of those we have to take 5 courses, but with Middlebury you have to take four courses from that list and then take 1 mainstream course (with real Russian students) at the university if you are at the 300-level or above in Russian. So being that I did language school this summer I have to take a wonderful mainstream in the Fall and then two in the Spring plus I'm also a Russian major so it just makes sense to. So currently I am taking: Grammar, Culture, Russian Film and Stylistics.

This wouldn't have been such a problem if Russians knew about two things: a course catalog and set class times. I don't understand how things work in Russia but they seem to know what they're doing. The first of course we know is a book/online catalog you can look for your classes, the dean of the department here has a sort of catalog but it isn't as thorough and informative as the ones in America, because from that list some might/might not be offered even if they're listed as being offered for example this Fall. And then sometimes classes might meet an hour later or early or not meet at all on any given day, which isn't a problem for them because the students all travel around as a group and have the same set classes so you don't have to worry about missing the announcement that the last class (para) is going to meet at 15:00 rather than 14:30. Luckily that hasn't happened to me mainly because I was still in the searching period of a course.

So all in all, I went to three classes before settling on this last one which I'm hoping will be fine. Originally I was searching for classes based around pedagogy, translating, and that stuff being that we are the Pedagogical University in Yaroslavl and also to help get rid of one class for the Linguistic minor I'm trying to fulfill at Middlebury. The first class was recommended by my Grammar professor and it was Russian Syntax which dealt with Russian sentence structure and was pretty much a grammar class as well. I went with another Middkid who seemed interested as well and I was told it was an all girls' class since most of the males are in the music department, being that most of the girls will end up as teachers for elementary schools. The class was really welcoming, one of the girls saying that they never get to see boys in their classes and they were really helpful. The teacher was also really nice but the class didn't seem like one I wouldn't take a lot from- the teacher lectured and didn't write anything down which is fine but I needed more of a discussion based class I guess. Plus due to a schedule change, how I hate schedule changes, I would have to run back and forth between the buildings which are separated by a ~15 min bus ride on the marshrutka in order to get from Stylistics to Syntax to Culture.

The second class was more interesting in a good and bad way and it was closer to the university, located in the Philology department. The class was called something along the lines of "Issues with Translation in Modern Texts in Russian" and it was for third year students. Unfortunately I had to know Grammar at a native pace and the students weren't too focused I would say. I know back at Midd I've definitely had classes where I would toggle between taking notes and facebook just to stay awake but the underlining message is that I was still focused 95% of the time and ready to participate. One girl in this class must have never heard the word, 'discreet'. Once class started she pulled out what seemed to be her phone and began to read, what, I don't know. The class is structured for an hour and 35 minutes with a break in between, and she literally only raised her head twice from the phone to answer the question which she did poorly; the other students having to help because she wasn't paying attention. What killed me the most was that she was in the direct line of view from the professor and she had her phone held up to her face clearly visible to the professor. No one, except maybe 2 girls out of the ~15 students had prepared the homework and the rest as one girl put it- "I guess it's time to improvise". I also couldn't attend this class due to a conflicting class but it was nice, I guess, to see the setting of a 'typical' Russian class.

In between this last class and the one I'm in now, I went to the Philology department to check if there were any more classes I could take but when I went the schedules were taken down and they were REDOING them which I can't seem to understand once the semester has started. So I guess my dream is dead of taking a course on translation until the Spring I guess.

The third class which I'm in now is based in the Journalistic/Advertising department and the professor is my Russian Film professor. This class is Rhetoric and was really interesting because it is more discussion based. The only problem is I've never learned about Socrates, Plato, or any of those Greek/Roman philosophers so I have to do some background research in English to get a good handle on what the heck they're trying to say. The class meets on Friday at 2pm so I guess its not that bad, even though we didn't have class on Friday but its already October and classes end December so I can suck it up. Some of the students speak at lightning speed and the professor has to ask them to slow down- mainly for me I'm guessing but also like she stated 'Its wrong of them to do' being that I guess they're preparing to be Journalists or some other profession which requires them to speak in public.

Its been interesting jumping from these three different classes and hopefully I'll have no problem keeping up with this Rhetoric class. But I say we should consider ourselves lucky for having all our classes set out a semester in advance with very minimal changes. I guess being here has thought me to appreciate a lot things- like THE INTERNET as well back home.

Plyos (Плёс) and who gave that lady the microphone!?

I think it’s about time I stop playing games and catch up with these posts because there are three I want to write- this being the first of that series! We headed to Plyos (Плёс) for the day about 2-3 weeks ago and I’ve been ever so lazy to write about it since the internet=death with this modem. [I'll post pics later, please bare with me; I hate my internet and it hates me]

So we took a trip to Plyos and it was about 3 ½ hrs to get there, having stopped in a smaller village nearby because apparently there they sold cheap jewelry and we couldn’t miss out on that!

If you know anything about Plyos you know that the town is really small and not really a tourist attraction I would say. We only hit up two places while we were there- a museum of an artist from the town (Levitan) and a traditional Russian home (Русская изба) as well the back of the house functioning as a small museum of older Russian living. The population is ~3000 people and Plyos is also located along the Volga River. The town is said to have been built in the 15th century and was mainly an “artist’s retreat’ as late into the 19th century.

Rewinding a little, we met at the statue of Volkov in Yaroslavl before heading out. The morning was rather cold but then it warmed up which was really nice because around this time it is known as “Golden Fall” which is pretty much the time when the leaves turn golden and prepare to shed themselves off the trees as the almighty Russian winter makes its way.

When we got on the bus our group sporadically sat on the bus finding any empty seats still available, and then the joy ride began. Apparently, when Russians typically take a trip, the person in charge seems to find that talking on the microphone of the bus is a MUST. I swear…the lady kept talking nearly an hour well into the ride talking about Plyos, its history, any famous people, their history and any other related information she had stored in her head.

I wanted to blow my brains out because I had broken my headphones not too long ago and thus couldn’t pretend like she wasn’t talking, but I found a better outlet: sleep! So I slept most of the ride as my bus buddy, a woman I didn’t know so she really wasn’t a ‘buddy’, had her phone to serve her as an iPod.

I would have to say that the Levitan museum kind of creeped me out, mainly because the second floor was where he lived and you can peak into the rooms to see his canvas, sofa, and other things he used before he died. I don’t know why but these types of museums give me the creeps mainly because they’re set up to show visitors as if the person is still living there. I don’t really know too many museums I’ve been in like that besides one in France.

After we climbed up this small hill and saw the Assumption Church and then went up a little further to see a wooden church and a nice view of the town and the Volga. Plyos this year celebrated its 600 year anniversary which means they have 400 more years to get to where Yaroslavl is, I wonder what the world will be like then. None the less, it was a really nice town and I enjoyed the wonderful warm weather and walking around feeling like I was back at Middlebury because of the foliage.