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My New Friends in Saransk

Posted by: Oksana Ingle | 08/20/2009 | 3 Comments |

IT IS EASY TO FORGET, HERE IN MODERN SARANSK, with new architecture and students and professors speaking fluent English (with a slight British accent), that I am in Russia. At the same time, Saransk reminds me of the old beloved Russia that I remember from my childhood. It is still in many ways untouched by western civilization.

During my visit, our host coordinator Olga (our “fairy” who makes all our wishes and requests come true) arranges for me to meet one of the professors of Russian literature at the university. She escorts me to the Department of Philology where not one, but five teachers are waiting with tea, chocolates, and cookies on the desk.

In the office of the Russian literature professors

In the office of the Russian literature professors

It is a Russian tradition to offer your guests a cup of tea with sweets. We talk for two hours. They ask me about the life, education, and customs in the USA. Unlike their English Language colleagues, they have never been abroad and they want to know first hand what’s out there. I ask them to share with me their teaching methods and course material. As I am leaving, they present me with a pile of their own books (which I am still making my way through, with great pleasure).

Next day, it rains buckets while two of my new Russian professor friends, Lena and Sveta, are giving two of us a tour of churches. As we are trying to say goodbye—for the third time—my umbrella begins to leak badly, my feet are getting wet, and I start shivering. But in true Russian style, we continue standing in the middle of the walkway talking.

One evening, Lena invites me to her home for dinner. She and her 4 year-old son come to the university to pick me up. Lena’s mother has set a festive table in the small kitchen of their apartment, where eight of us (including Lena’s father, two other professors, and one of their teenage daughters) will sit shoulder to shoulder during the meal. They talk to me as if they have always known me and that I have simply been away for a long time. The ladies are very sweet. The father, a distinguished doctor of philological science, looks noble, wise, and stern at first, but then warm—which reminds me of descriptions I have read of the great Russian author, Leo Tolstoy.

At Lena's home after dinner

At Lena's home after dinner

It starts getting late, so Lena’s mother invites me to spend the night in their home. I tell her that my apartment is a 5-minute ride by taxi. They call the taxi and when it arrives, the ladies escort me downstairs and outside to the taxi. Lena’s mother insists on paying for it because I have been their guest. I realize that, after more than 10 years in the United States, I have forgotten how good it feels to be the honored guest in a Russian home.

Days later, on the platform of the train station getting ready to board for Moscow, I ask one of my students what he liked best about being in Russia. He says, “Professor Gomer once told our class that the soul of Russia is its people. At the time, we thought, oh sure. But now I understand it. The people here are awesome. They invite you over, feed you, and spend time with you.”

As he says it, I think dearly of all my new friends. •

under: My Travel Journal
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Responses -

Nice pictures, great blog. Thank you for quoting.

Thank you!

Thanks for calling me “fairy” and thanks for nice words about out University and Saransk.


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