Posts Tagged ‘papers’

Finals, papers, exit testing. . . it follows us student folk anywhere and everywhere.

I had this unfortunate revelation at the beginning of the week as I drew up a calendar for myself with the rest of the semester planned out in black and white (with some red exclamation points). Mild depression sets in.

This week, I’m tackling issues of development in hydropower-rich areas and the related political, economic, and environmental pros and cons. Namely, on Friday I am (supposedly) participating in the “Economic conference” of the MezhFak, giving a 10 minute presentation based on my microecon paper on the Irkutsk provice electro-energy market. But I might back out, if I can think of a good excuse. Then next Tuesday, I am presenting and handing in my Baikal studies paper, which is tentatively going to compare the Angara and Colorado River cascades. Fun, but work.

Starting next weekend, I’ll gather my last energies of what have been about 6 months of non-stop language learning to prepare for Middlebury semester exit-testing on Friday the 18th: grammar/syntax, listening, speaking, reading, writing. Boom.

But that’s not it. Then it’s on to studying for finals in my actual classes (grammar, speech, Baikal studies), writing final essays (literature), and making last good impressions on profs (econ) to get that lucky number 5 (the Russian “A”).

But amidst the stress, I’ve found that it seems to magically disappear if I simply procrastinate, so I’ve made sure to get my daily dose this week:



Since registration has officially taken place, my schedule for the rest of the semester has turned out as such:



For my mainstream course, I’ve chosen to do the first semester of a year long course in “Economic Theory” which covers the microeconomics side of things. However, when I use “chosen,” it was one of my very few options of classes that would fit in my schedule. But, although there are probably more straightforward subjects I could take, it worked out, because the workload (that is, once I make up the first 5 weeks I missed, due to my not knowing what class I’d be doing) will end up being quite light: just preparing for class, doing a problem or two, and then writing a 10 page term paper on an industry of the Irkutsk Oblast, which will be pretty straightforward reporting with little analysis required.

The professor, Svetlana Konstantinovich, is good, and she’s very happy to work with me one-on-one. I take this class with the first-year (17-18 year olds. . .) Commerce and Chinese Language specialization group at the MezhFak (International faculty).

Note: When I’m giving the long, complicated first names and patronymics, I’m not just showing off. For one, it has taken even us to get the 5 people’s 10 names down pat. Secondly, the equivalent respect of using “Mr. Smith” or “Professor McGonagall” or “ma’am” or “sir” in Russia is expressed with the first name and patronymic.

Baikal Studies

Romany and I basically sit and listen to Pavel Aleksandrovich share his knowledge, about as deep as the lake itself, on Lake Baikal’s geography, geology, biology, archaeology, ethnography, industry, anything–but unfortunately, for 3 hours with only a 10-minute break in the middle.

Not very much discussion, not very much reading, but lots of the “absorption” listening and following along on the handouts, which makes for good cocktail tidbits, I suppose. Workload: occasional articles to read and a 12-page term paper on a topic related to Baikal of our choice.

Writing and Speech Practice

I don’t know how Aleksandra Vladimirovna isn’t Irish, but she’s not, despite the looks and strict face atop the loving words. We basically sit and talk, sometimes about trivial things, sometimes about things we all disagree on, (our theme this week was mostly about culture stereotypes and travel advice), for the class period, sometimes after a 20-minute essay free-write or listening to her read an article or something.

Her signal when we make grammar/usage errors is her tapping on the table three times, which is actually very helpful and not as annoying as it sounds as I write this. And when she plays devil’s advocate, she gives us her deeply apologetic look and says “I am the provoker,” which, again, sounds as ridiculous as Arnold Schwartzenagger saying “I am the governator” when I type it, but is actually very cute in real life.

Homework includes small readings, most of which I feel are slightly below our level, or short writing assignments.


Irina Militievna is kind of a badass and has a fun swagger that’s slightly more gangster than your average middle-aged Russian woman, which is both entertaining and helpful when she is giving us examples of how to communicate the question, with completely not offensive Russian words, “Are you a f***ing dumba**” in idiomatic verbiage–with verbs of motion and prefixes, of course. Very practical grammar, indeed.

We do exercises (like grammar ones) in class, which is helpful especially since there’s only 3 of us, so we get lots of practice and get the instant feedback when we mess up, the attitude included. If Aleksandra Vladimirovna is the “The Provoker,” then Irina Militievna would probably choose “The Automater” as her superhero name. Homework is usually just a few exercises.

Russian Literature

Olga Vladimirovna is the sweetest and cutest little woman ever: she stands so prim and proper at the front of the class, usually kind of folding her hands in front of her, or lightly dabbing her nose with her handkerchief, and when she is inspired with yet another word of (very helpful) explanation of the poetry and short stories we read, she writes it on the board and explains it. And with such passion and eagerness for us to understand. Love it.

I definitely enjoy this class the most, and I like that it comes at the end of the week–it’s like dessert. For each class, we usually have a short-ish reading assignment or just have to look up words we don’t know in the poem for the following class, plus a little essay about what we did in the previous class. Both parts of which I do carefully, because I feel like this (wel, and soon the econ class) are the only times I’m actually doing intellectual work. Which, after a summer and now another year of pure language learning, I’m missing.

. . .
So with the classes officially under control as of this week, the homework load continuing to be light, I’m feeling like I can start to commit myself to other things now. This coming week, I’ll finally make it to church, the pool, and the middle and high schools, at which I’ll be observing, volunteering, and possibly doing some teaching practice (AHH!!). And maybe even the art museum to blow some of the 1500 rubles Midd gives us for “culture experiences.” Ridin’ the Panther all the way.

And the ice cream stands and the specter of looking like John Travolta in Hairspray continue to follow me.

 I’d had two weeks of classes to figure out the work ethic, attention, layout of the building, teachers’ names and patronymics, and so on, here at the university; two weeks to make some friends; two weeks to start missing home and to get a steady Internet connection to stay on top of the news, social life, and goings on of home, Midd, and my friends now scattered around the world. Along with all of that comes a lot of work (and stress), so I was more than happy to hang around home for my three day weekend and catch up on sleep.

The variations among the “service” sector/bureaucracy of the place is shocking.

Example 1. BaikalWestCom is wonderful. Pristine, heated, spacious, and helpful—aspects of buildings and establishments which I appreciate more and more each day—I’ve had to go to their store in the city center twice now to figure out my Internet modem settings on my computer. But, regardless of the fact my modem isn’t perfect, or the fact it makes for about a 45-60 minute round-trip commute and 20-24 rubles to do so (i.e. about 3 quarters), I really don’t mind it. They even made an exception to their rules and violated the privacy (but not really—I’m just allowed to see my account balance online now) of David Parker, who graciously left behind his modem in dear Irkutsk for generations of starving travelers to come (also quoted as rating BWC employees “the most helpful service people in the city”). They’re helpful, there’s not a wait or paperwork, and it’s free tech support. Beautiful.

Example 2. On my recent trip to the post office, I needed to approach the counter to ask for postage for postcards to the U.S. Upon saying so (I think it was the “S.Sh.A,” meaning U.S.A. that set it off. . . the accent too, obviously), the woman behind the desk thought it would be necessary to speak about 50 decibels higher than normal. I mean, there wasn’t anyone else around really, so I didn’t mind, and it was better than the usual mumble behind the glass screen that stands between any inquirer and the Russian bureaucracy. And I got the things sent. So, normal’no (the always usable Russian equivalent of “all right,” “normal,” “fine”).

Example 3. To swim in pools in Russia, 95% of the time, you’ll need a doctor’s note saying you’re healthy enough to be in collective water. But “doctor’s note” is a bit of an understatement. First, Elizabeth and I had an unsuccessful try at the Central Diagnostic Center of Irkutsk early yesterday morning, where they charge double for foreigners—literally, it’s a multiplied by two charge, not because of any visible tacked on charges for analyzing foreign blood, just doubled. I don’t have the budget for that. So today, we tried at the less high-tech looking clinic across the street from the MezhFak. After we were spun around the office to four different desks with four different lines and four different women with typically stern faces, I ended up in the doctor’s office with the proper paper with the proper stamp saying I had paid my 200 rubles (not even $10). She asked to see my hands. Then told me to turn them over. She asked if they itched. I said no. She asked if I was healthy. I said yes. Then she handed me the final piece of paper needed, which we took to receive 3 more stamps, and I received my spravka (the doctor’s note), no needles, x-rays, or exorbitant medical costs. Three cheers for good ol’ bureaucratic dishonesty.

So Mom and Dad, you can take back the money you put in my account if you’d like. Or not. They say bribing happens here, too, sometimes. But for now, I’m putting on my happy face about Russian papers, stamps, and angry women behind the glass window.

In other news, the dollar is falling. C’mon US economy—do it for your kids abroad!