Our everyday life during the week consists of a 7:30 breakfast, 9-12 class, 12:30 lunch, some planned activity, and a break before a 6 o'clock dinner. That schedule has its exceptions, but for the most part it stays the same. So within that schedule we each have a little wiggle room to personalize it. Some of the participants wake up early to go on a run or walk around the city, others use their break to go souvenir shopping every time, I personally wake up 5 minutes before breakfast and then use that hour in between breakfast and class to, most of the time, start/finish my homework due in class at 9. I am able to do this not only because I have honed this ability to procrastinate and finish my homework in a timely fashion over the years, but also because we have class every day so our homework doesn't take hours on end anyway. We mostly have little tasks to do most days just to keep us in practice along with the ever-present homework to memorize as many words from the ever-growing list as possible.
Before I started this trip I barely knew the cyrillic alphabet but now I am quite proficient at it. I am very proud to say that I can even sound out most words I see and much faster than when I started this trip. In the short four weeks we had with our teachers they taught us everything from the alphabet, to five of the six cases for adjective endings, to how to writes a paragraph on our daily lives. Some of the things we learned in four weeks here in Russia took me an entire semester to learn in German back at college, It amazes me how much we have learned not just with the language but also the culture of Russia, Siberia, and the Altai, but also in ourselves.
I have learned so much about new foods, new ways of living, and the there is always more. Everything we do I think we have finished, we have learned everything, we have made it to the top of the mountain, that was the last course of food, or even that I had packed everything. But there was always more! That is the main thing I am taking away from this experience. I know I have learned a lot, but I know I will never have learned everything. I can pack my bags and feel content in all that has happened, enough to leave the country…but I will always know that I am leaving behind amazing people and places that I will hopefully be able to stay in touch with, and maybe even someday return to and learn more.
After living in the city of Barnaul for a month, going about every day seems to have grown very normal. Just like at home, I wake up and go to school every morning, however when I walk into class nearly every single word that is spoken to me is in Russian. Though I have taken Russian classes before, the language is still very difficult to grasp for me. With two teachers who speak a very limited amount of English, learning certain concepts and sometimes even directions can be the most complicated parts of the day. Although understanding the grammar can be very confusing at times, my ability to understand the language has improved drastically. The improvement of my language skills has allowed me to understand my surrounding more, while allowing me to explore a completely new culture first hand. An example of this is traveling throughout the city and interacting with different people. Some of the easiest people to talk to in order to practice language skills are shop keepers, waiters/waitresses, the bus drivers, and people we meet on our excursions. When speaking to these people one of the first things said in just about every conversation is, “I don’t speak Russian.” When this is said, the expression of those we are talking to usually changes. Once known that our group does not speak Russian, the people become very patient and helpful, as well as very interesting in who we are, and why we have traveled to Russia. Since the beginning of the trip, those who work in popular stores such as Maria Ra and Noveks have started recognizing us. On our first day in Barnaul, every single person on the trip would nervously walk up to the cash register knowing they were going to have no idea what the cashier was going to say. Today, on our last day, every single one of us knows what to do and what to say. Another place where we have been able to practice our Russian skills on a regular basis is in restaurants. Many of us have grown very comfortable with ordering our choices of food and drink. One major challenge to this which is very hard to avoid in the pronunciations of the food. Every after sounding out the words, ordering the food can still be very difficult. However, most of the restaurants we have gone to have composed menus with pictures of nearly every dish they offer, allowing us to also point to what we want on the menu. I feel much more confident traveling around Barnaul in both groups and on my own now that my language and conversational skills are improving. I will miss having the opportunity to interact with those around me while using a different language like I do here.