Thursday, June 18, 2009

Family Life?

Today one of my student's told me that at the age of 22-23, women are considered "old mothers". Basically, as a 24 year old, I'm already past "prime child bearing years" according to Russian doctors. This student is 29 and has a 4 year old child, so she is considered an "old mother". She was as shocked as I was. In addition to the judgment that it's a bad idea to have children in your mid-twenties, I have heard that most doctors don't believe you if you tell them you've never been pregnant before at the age of 24. Of course, I haven't ventured to double-check this girl talk, but the mere fact that this message is floating around social spheres makes me wonder ... Why is this gossip spreading?

In Europe the age women decide to get married and have children is getting older and older. I think the gossiped average is in their mid-thirties. I read a BBC article recently that asked the question, "Are women waiting too long to have children?" ... of course in Britain waiting too long means something different than in Russia, but for some reason this topic seems to be on the radar lately. When is the right age to get married and have children? My single male students, who are in their late twenties, early thirties say they feel no pressure to get married and start a family ... but the women feel different. Families are part of what make women women according to my students. The women are worried that if they wait too long they will not be beautiful enough to attract a man.

I discovered these opinions through several classes where we discussed the different expectations for men and women in Russia. After a general discussion, I split the class into two groups (they don't get to choose sides, I pick semi-randomly) to debate whether it's better to be a man or a woman in Russia. The result? In most cases, the debate swings to the side of "a man" -- especially with adults. Teenagers are able to be more creative in their arguments, but adults seem to be stuck -- maybe because they are told women at the age of 22 are "old".

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Where are you from?

After introductions, when students find a lull at the end of the first or second class, they ask, "Kim, where are you from?"

My standard response, "I'm from the western part of the United States." (accompanying hand guesture to the left of me)

Follow up question, "What state are you from?"


A pause and an exacerbated look, "You don't know?!"

"No," slower this time, "I-da-ho."

I get a perplexed look, and they ask again, "Where?"

At normal speed, again, I respond, "Idaho. It's in the west, near Washington, Oregon, and California."


Finally, it registers with someone, "OH! eeDAho."

Depending on my mood, I will laugh or smile and say, "Yeah, but in English it's Idaho."

Like our Englishization of Russian names, Ivan versus eeVAN, we change the stress and make the names sound completely different, the Russianization of names can cause a lot of confusion. Especially when you are from a state that sounds like, "I don't know."

Monday, June 1, 2009

And then there were 3

The rumor has been spread, whether it's true or not, that if someone is able to live in Moscow, they can live anywhere. If this is true, I would like to think I have survived this trial and am now suited to survive any city in the world. Next stop ...?

While the rumor seems a little far-fetched. I do have reason to believe it's at least partly true. Moscow is definitely not a city I would want to raise children in -- too crazy, too big, and while there are tons of parks and open areas I think it would be hard to let them be independent. Also, like Seattle, the majority of the year, Moscow is covered in clouds. Modesty is not highly valued here, and I'm beginning to think it's cultural. Everything is expensive - this is probably another reason why the rumor could be true. If a person is able to make enough in Moscow to feel comfortable, then they will be able to do this anywhere in the world.

As I look back on the last 8 months, I realize I have gone through a lot and survived. Yet, not all the native English speakers who came to Moscow to teach English survived their 9-12 month stint. Some left early, citing cultural issues or a dislike for Moscow as their major reasons. Out of our school's native English speaker newbies, there are three of the original seven left. Only two of us have committed to another year here. Either we're crazy or masochistic or exceptionally tolerant and open-minded or a little bit of all the above.

As I prepare myself for a month at home, I'm also looking forward to what the next 12 months will bring. There will be many new experiences and insights into myself and my culture I'm sure. I have been told to prepare myself for reverse culture shock before I head home, and I'm sure my view of America will change. I look forward to new students and new native speakers who come to Russia fresh off the boat with no idea what to expect. I hope I am able to guide them like I was guided when I first arrived. And of course, I look forward to gaining further use of the Russian language.