привет from Moscow where it’s 60 degrees and sunny. Things here are settling into a rhythm, punctuated by new adventures and daily surprises. A good friend wrote that she was enjoying the pictures of Moscow, which she hadn’t had a good visual reference for previously. I felt much the same way before arriving and the subtle beauty of this urban landscape continues to delight.
The weather here in Moscow is always a topic of conversation. Before it gets really cold, I’m planning to enjoy this beautiful autumn as much as possible. We’ve had quite a bit of rain these past few weeks and this town is so gorgeous after a rainstorm. I’ve mentioned the vivid clouds before and my evening bus commute is repeatedly blessed with these gorgeous views.
As for the air, it is so refreshing to be in a cleaner air environment. I certainly didn’t have it as bad as friends in Shanghai but there’s nothing like clean air to do a body good.
This weekend flew by but I did have time to explore each day. On Saturday, my friend Caitlin and I checked out Pushkin’s apartment down on the Arbat. For two art teachers, seeing the pomp and circumstance of 19th Century Russian interior design was pretty exciting. It’s so nice to have another art teacher from Seoul here with me.
On Sunday, my school organized an outing for us newbies at Izmailovo Market. Chock full of trinkets and stalls, the market was a fun starting point for our day out. The market comes to my school in December so be prepared for plenty of KGB flasks and t-shirts fronting images of Putin riding a bear in your Christmas stockings this year.
Next up – the Folk Flea Market in the courtyard of the Moscow Museum of Art. A true flea market, the silver plated pieces glittered in the sun as a Russian duo sang Elvis Presley numbers in the background. I remain surprised at how many staples of western culture, particularly that from the States, are seen here in Russia.
In the homestretch of the week, I’m looking forward to the Kremlin Military Tattoo in Red Square on Friday night. Russians really seem to love their fireworks so it’s sure to be quite a display. Pictures to follow…
At the end of my first week of school, I can honestly say that my new role suits. I’ve a great bunch of middle schoolers under my charge and an awesome schedule to boot. Morning classes are just one of the perks (why is art always left to the afternoon???). The kids seem really receptive and it’s just fun to be guiding a group in making art once again.
Tuesday was our first day of school and the school held an Opening Ceremony at the end of the school day, replete with a bell-ringing to usher in the new school year. Perhaps most notable was the Ceremony of Flags, in which the flags representing the home countries of all students are paraded in. The list was read for a good 10 minutes – our students must represent over 65 nationalities. I wish I knew the actual number but I can tell you that in just one of my classes, of the 17 students enrolled, 13 are from different countries. The countries vary from Italy to Oman. What that kind of diversity can do if channeled properly is pretty awesome for a teacher who gets to live it.
I shared this video with some of you when I first accepted my new job but if you’d like to see what my campus look like and hear a little about the school, feel free to take a look. The Flag Ceremony I refer to can be seen around 0:45. Clearly it’s marketing but I will say that it has thus far lived up to the hype.
There is another much more serious difference between my old school in Seoul and this new one in Moscow. It’s something I feel very strongly influences the entire culture of the school. If it’s absent, good luck making any strides. If it’s present, the opportunities are endless. I’m talking about sleep.
Never did I realize how important sleep was until I moved to Asia. You know how people say New York City is the city that never sleeps? Well, I think they could insert Seoul if they really wanted to be honest. When I first moved to Seoul, I had myself half-convinced that sleep wasn’t necessary, getting by on 5 hours a night. Not only did I burn out, I feel like I actually became a zombie. Part of it was a natural high of living in a new, exciting place. Part of it was the fact that those around me didn’t sleep much. In fact, they bragged about how little sleep they got.
To pull an all-nighter was a badge of honor for many. Some of my students told me their parents would encourage them to stay awake until the wee hours of the morning if they wanted to prove their dedication to their studies. My kids would email me about assignments at 3, 4, 5am in the morning. Korean coworkers regularly went to midnight movies with their spouses, bringing their children who would quickly pass out and sleep, and enjoying a date night (or morning?). It was surprising to see families with young children out playing in the park as I walked home at 11pm. Sure, it was the Land of the Morning Calm, but perhaps mornings were the only time anyone found to sleep.
While it’s only been a week here in Moscow, I see the evidence of the positive effects of sleep on my students’ faces. They’re more engaged, emotionally and physically, and it seems they’re able to be kids, pure and simple. It makes me so happy to know the majority of these kids are allowed to go home after school, eat dinner, and go to sleep at a (fairly) reasonable time. There are exceptions, of course – and video gaming to contend with these days – but boy does it make a difference to me as a teacher.
As I sign off at the end of fulfilling first week, I’m again thankful for this opportunity that I’ve been given and excited to go exploring once again in my new city. I’ll leave you with a quote from the Bohemian-Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. He had the following to say, translated from his native German.
Ah, the knowledge of impermanence
that haunts our days
is their very fragrance.
After a wonderful week getting to know my new school and preparing my classroom, I was dying to get out and explore this beautiful new city! My new school has really taken great care to help us settle in. After a MS happy hour to celebrate our first full week, we were shuttled to dinner at a relaxed restaurant (рестора́н) called Scandinavia. It was nice to have some downtime to talk and get to know everyone a little better. After dinner, a few of the Russian staff members offered to show some of us around town.
After a quick metro ride (a new train arrives every two minutes – they clock it in the station), we surfaced not 100 yards from the absolutely stunning Cathedral of Christ the Savior. I couldn’t get over the contrast of the beautiful white marble against the inky night sky.
An extremely historic venue, the original Cathedral dates back to the 19th Century. This was the site of the debut of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. This may cause my Boston friends to note how curious it is that every Fourth of July we celebrate the birthday of our country with a song written by a Russian composer. The Motherland, indeed.
The Cathedral was dismantled in 1931 at Stalin’s command (dynamited, actually). It was, at the time, the largest Orthodox Christian Church in the world. As the USSR adopted a policy of atheism, the church had to go. The plan for it to become a legislative site never came to be, however, and the massive foundation hole was transformed into the world’s largest open air swimming pool under Khrushchev.
Then, in the 1990s, it was decided that an exact replica of the original church should be built on the site. In 2012 a now infamous concert was staged there by Pussy Riot.
Back to present day. The rain decided to let up and our coworkers took us over the bridge to Strelka, a roof top bar which proved an idyllic setting. Located on the island of Bolotny (also known as Balchug), the area is home to scholars and hipsters alike. As we enjoyed the views of the Cathedral just across the water to our left, a full moon rose to our right, echoing the warm light bathing the Cathedral. As an architecture lecture went on down below (in English!), we drank in the wealth of information our coworkers had to share about the city they now call home.
As I seem to have moved from one major drinking culture into the next, I knew I had a lot to learn. The ladies tell us that “let’s drink for three” is a call to arms for thirsty Russians across the land. They also took time to share the tale of how a drunken night in the 1600s led to a nationally recognized flick of the chin.
It all started with that tsar of tsars, Peter the Great. Peter and his buddies, including were out drinking one night. After they were well in the bag, one of his buddies demanded Peter stamp him with the official seal to allow the guy to drink for free wherever he might wander within the city limits. Drunk as he was, Peter missed his mark and the stamp landed on his friend’s neck, leading Russians everywhere to give their friends the high sign on a Friday (or Tuesday) afternoon with a quick flick of the index finger below the jaw and a raised brow, indicating it’s five o’clock somewhere.
I mentioned that the phrase “let’s drink for three” is a popular way to call friends together for a drink. I recently discovered where the “three” comes from. The glass tumbler, birthed in Russia, was the perfect size to handle exactly 1/3 of a 500ml bottle of vodka. Therefore, friends would get together and split the vodka three ways, minimizing spending and waste (though I can’t imagine vodka going to waste here). To read more on this phrase and the invention of the tumbler (fascinating stuff), click here.
After a quiet morning, I set off on my Saturday journey with the goal of exploring the city on foot. I had an intended destination of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, just over 3 km from my house. Along the way, I was thrilled to encounter an old favorite – Le Pain Quotidian – only a mile from my home. Unlike knockoffs in Seoul, this one is the real deal, with a number of locations around Moscow. With breakfast served all day on weekends, you know where to find me 🙂
The MMOMA is a museum that I’ve been following on Instagram over the past year to get a vibe for the art scene here in Moscow. Situated in 4 main buildings, the museum features work that clearly pushes the envelope. As this work is from current day artists, it seems the name would be better suited to include the word “contemporary”. Art teacher moment – most people don’t realize “Modern” denotes a time period in Art History (as broad as the 1860s to the 1970s), whereas “Contemporary” is art produced by a living artist. Since modern, we’ve seen the Post Modern Period and Neo Expressionism take hold. As for what artistic time period we are living through now… only time will tell.
While in the museum, minders stuck to me like glue, following me from room to room and showing me where to meander to next. Once I got over their vigilant presence, I enjoyed the visit.
As I dip my toe into the pool of Russian contemporary art, I observe it to be much more on par with art coming out of the States these days. Themes included suppression, life philosophy, and the examination of life at its simplest, and/or most perverse. Shock value, experimentation, and a multitude of mediums (markers, sculpture, found objects, lighting, installation, textiles, and digital work) made up the bulk of the works on display. Sketches my experimental drawing teacher would have loved were among the fray.
Having had my fill of contemporary art for the day, I walked home through a public greenway, set up for artists to peddle their wares under a plastic covering. Birds flew past. The red clay underfoot popped against the lush green grass, made fresh from the early morning thunderstorms.
The last memory I have of waking up to thunderstorms is in Lugano, wild in ferocity as the storms rolled through the alpine valley we called home. I can’t think of many other places I’ve lived with thunderstorms just after dawn. As I’m still spending a lot of time on my own these days, memories of my former homes seem all the more vivid. Comparing and contrasting these places helps to get me grounded here in my new city.
This whole process of getting to know a new place and meeting new people often feels like I’m taking two steps forward, one step back. I heard a good quote today – “it’s like casting seeds, you throw water on them and see which sprout”. During times like these, it’s good to pound the pavement, see what you can while the weather is good. Just like with people, you invite a new city to show itself and see what sticks. Thank you to those of you along for the ride – your notes and Skype calls are the best company I could ask for.
As for my new ‘hood – Moscow West seems to be a great little pocket of the city. I’m lucky I can walk from my home and so happy to have gotten a taste of the art scene. I can’t believe my good fortune in arriving here in Moscow. I hope some of you will make the journey and see it for yourselves. Until next time…
Update: I recently discovered where the “three” in “let’s drink for three” comes from. The glass tumbler, birthed in Russia, was the perfect size to handle exactly 1/3 of a 500ml bottle of vodka. Therefore, friends would get together and split the vodka three ways, minimizing spending and waste (though I can’t imagine vodka going to waste here). To read more on this phrase and the invention of the tumbler (fascinating stuff), click here: http://rbth.com/arts/2016/09/10/nothing-humbler-than-the-tumbler-5-facts-about-the-legendary-soviet-glass_628651
At the end of my second week here in Moscow, I’m starting to get a feel for my day-to-day life. Tuesday the kids arrive and that is when the rubber really hits the road. My classroom is nearly ready and I’ve finally stopped getting lost when walking around my school. Starting to get my bearings. Here’s a few things I’ve noticed so far…
10 cool things about life here in Moscow:
My school has a forest. That basically makes me Hermione. Or is my school Durmstrang?
I have an assistant, which is totally insane. I share him with two other art teachers and he is pretty awesome. His name is Tamil and he’s originally from India. He’s fluent in Russian so it makes getting things done 100% faster at school.
I do not have to take out the trash. There is a trash shoot in my hallway.
Having a gym and pool at my school is THE BEST. I cannot say how great it is to blow off seam after school. A 5 minute walk from my classroom and I’m there. I look forward to it all day. Soon the school Wellness program will start – yoga, spinning, pilates. Really looking forward to it.
They park on the sidewalk here. It makes the Boston in me proud.
The Lada! These Old Soviet cars are everywhere and they are the cutest!
Hearing Cher and Air Supply on the radio. They are serious about the 80s here. Also Big Willy Style was playing at IKEA last weekend. Yikes.
They have special stairs for strollers to get to the metro. Brilliant!
Scooters are cool again! Adults and kids alike scoot all over the place.
The Everything Store next door sells hover boards.
The not-so-cool things (it can’t be all puppies and rainbows, after all…):
International teaching can be a little like freshman year of college, bringing out different sides of people. Takes a while to weed through the fray 🙂
Beggars at the train station, startling me during my meal – they come right up beside you at the outdoor cafes and ask for money
I learn a little more about this corner of the world each day. There’s so much to see and I’m really enjoying the vibe. I’m surprised by the safety I’ve found here and how truly European this city seems to be. Looking forward to getting out and exploring this weekend with some new friends. More to come…
I think I’ve uncovered a little gem, here on the edge of Europe. My first weekend in Moscow was lovely. I spent a rainy Friday evening at a nearby restaurant with my new neighbors, enjoying Georgian wine (they’re famous for it) and delicious meat (lamb, chicken, pork) and good conversation. In the corner, someone played an upright piano lit by candlesticks that burned on each side. It proved a cozy spot to wind down after a day packed with new faces, places, and experiences.
We newbies were about 15 in number on the Friday morning bus ride to school. Incredibly, the school provides us with transportation to and from our apartments, multiple times each morning and afternoon. As we chatted amongst ourselves, I was looking forward to a glimpse of my new school. I was anxious to step into my classroom and experience it for myself.
As the bus crested the front hill, we were astonished to find a good 30 of our new colleagues cheering our arrival. Dancers in traditional Russian dress marched forward to welcome us.
They slipped ribbons of sushki around our necks and spun us around in time with the music.
Sushki, traditional Russian boiled dough. Eaten with tea to soften.
We were then offered bread and asked to dip it in a cup of salt. This symbolizes our host’s wish that this be the only bitter taste left in our mouths during our stay. Also, salt is believed to protect against evil forces. Cheers to that!
Following the welcome, the school tour did not disappoint. With beautiful facilities and a wealth of resources, I am very excited to experience life as a Penguin. My classroom even boasts a balcony off the back for some plein air studio time! Big windows and great closets – an art teacher’s dream. Nothing can beat my room in SoKo – fishbowl and all – but this one has a lot of promise.
Here are a few photos of my new apartment (click for captions). With my shipment still in transit, the walls are oddly stark, but I look forward to a Christmas in September when everything arrives.
My bedroom with a view into the kitchen.
My huge new kitchen! Sure beats my galley kitchen in my Seoul loft.
Living room waiting for furniture.
Dining room that I plan to turn into a painting studio.
Half of my two bathroom “closets”. But a full tub! My toilet is in a separate “closet”.
As I sit in the piazza opposite Kiev Station, the chilly evening rain brings with it the promise of winter ahead. I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t share that I had definite apprehensions about coming to live in Russia. Rumors about the cold – both the winters but also on the faces of the people – dogged my mind. I knew the job would be a good one and would afford me the lifestyle and location I desired, but I honestly had no idea what my time outside of school hours would bring.
I am pleasantly surprised to say my fears were unfounded (aside from 60 degree weather in August!). I have found the people here in Moscow to be highly receptive and thoughtful. From my grocer to our taxi driver today, kindness is evident. Smiles may not be on constant display but actions speak louder. As I learned in Asia, it’s very American to expect complete strangers to smile at you when you’re out and about. Respect and kindness can be shown in other, equally powerful ways.
Now this is not to say that I haven’t had my moments. I’m about 50/50 on grocery purchases tonight ~ that definitely wasn’t milk… and, Oh! Cottage cheese instead of yogurt. But this past week has reminded of how important it is to abstain from judgement without proof, especially when such judgements encompass a whole people, religion, or country. People and places have a way of surprising you, if your heart is open and your aim is true. This fine city is certainly making me feel welcome.
Timing is everything. As I awoke Monday, the day of my flight to Moscow, word that Delta had grounded all flights worldwide gave me a bit of pause. Though I never fly Delta, of course my school had booked me on Delta for both legs of the journey. As luck would have it, I made it to Moscow only three hours behind schedule. Pretty done with JFK Terminal B but no complaints. Many new coworkers had it much worse. One even made the news. In general, I was shocked at the ease of the 9 hour flight from NYC to Moscow.
When I touched down in Moscow, my principal, our HR rep, and a number of other teachers were there to greet me. I couldn’t have felt more welcome and relieved. I also made a quick friend in the Middle School PE teacher, Shin, who knows my good friend Ryan Williams from APIS. Shin, it turns out, knows EVERYBODY, but that’s a story for a different day. There are a lot of connections among these seasoned international teachers. I am probably the youngest and definitely the least experienced abroad so it’s pretty cool hearing all of their stories. It would take a lot to rattle this group.
First impressions of Russia – some very interesting hair styles (designs buzzed into the hair of Russian males) and the airport was no Incheon, but the country’s deep history was immediately apparent. On the way to my new apartment, we passed sculptures marking Hitler’s eastern-most advancement in WWII, the location of the Battle of Moscow. We were also introduced to the Seven Sisters, a collection of buildings commissioned by Stalin made distinct by their “communist gothic” style. One the sisters, the historic Hotel Ukraine, sits just across the street from my apartment building. It is now a Radisson.
More impressive is the White House, which lies just down the street from where I now live. It’s used in the same way as the US White House, with the President spending the majority of his time there.
My first days in Moscow have been very calm and measured. My location in the city makes it very easy to get around and I’m finding myself quicker to explore than I initially was in Seoul. Remembering the days when I wouldn’t walk farther than eyeshot of Brownstone… Dinner in Red Square and an IKEA run were the big ticket items so far.
I’m sure you can understand that much of this experience includes me comparing my life in Seoul to my new life here in Moscow. It helps to contextualize the major jump I’m making and it seems pretty interesting, culturally. Alongside the comparison below, I’ve added photos from my grocery store run as I always find the shopping experience unique, country to country.
Similarities between Seoul and Moscow…
Both have fast and reliable metros. Moscows are works of art featuring mosaics and beautiful lighting fixtures. They are also very deep underground.
The everyday passerby on the street probably doesn’t speak English, or enough to feel comfortable sharing.
Both are walkable cities – though I’m much more central than I was in Seoul. No one lives in Nowon… 😦
I’ve landed in another clearly supportive community – though my school is huge in size, the housing communities are very close – coworkers in mine threw us a dinner the first night we arrived so we could meet everyone.
There’s a coffee (кофе) shop right down the street, next to my school bus stop. This one takes the cake over Dunkies SoKo due to its offering of cold brew and the fact that it is randomly located within a dry cleaners.
One downside in common is the amount of people who smoke 😦
Shopkeepers are very willing to help, especially when they determine you don’t speak the language. I’ve found the Russian people to be very friendly off the bat.
Moscow has the distinct feeling of a European city. The riverfront apartments near my house could be found along the Seine in Paris. The bike paths are quite beautiful, something I enjoyed in Seoul as well.
This one is heartbreaking – there’s little to no recycling here. I can’t believe it. I’m already planning to bring my basic recycling to school where they do their best. It’s almost unfathomable in this day and age.
I received a SIM card and internet access at home immediately, making life so much easier. While it took a month in Korea, this change makes an incredible difference in ease of assimilation.
My apartment is much more spacious. I’m turning the dining room into an art studio. I have an oven in my kitchen. My den will be cozy in the winter. And my bedroom has a door (not a loft!). Ironically, I have less storage space than in Seoul. The Koreans for the win on that one.
This one is a big deal – I’m rarely stared at on the street or the bus. People mistake me for a local, asking directions on the street. This is probably the greatest change from my time in Korea as there was absolutely no way anyone would ever mistake me for a native. It’s really quite freeing, I must say.
I live on an 8-lane road. No frogger here, See&Me people. The traffic never stops so I’m getting used to the din. With windows closed, it’s thankfully quite quiet in my place.
The grocery store (AB Mart) across the street is open 24/7. This means no Sunday texts, “Is Homeplus open?” and sadly no need for this brilliant website any longer.
The Porsche dealership down the block is decidedly different from the Hagye offerings… Also, when I see a Ralph Lauren store, it’s actually a Ralph Lauren store! Not that our old favorite, Abercrombie/J. Crew/whatever behind Induk University wasn’t a classic.
The alphabet is challenging in different ways from hangul. It is tempting to try and read Russian words as if they are English. But when P = R and H = N you won’t get very far. Fast forward to me on my nightly walk/study session, reading street signs. I got one tonight! Аэрофло́т, the Russian airline, known as Aeroflot in English. Quizing myself on store signs is helping. The history of the Cyrillic script is fascinating and I’ll definitely be sharing more in the future.
Tomorrow I’ll get to see my school and classroom for the first time. My school seems to be of the mind that they will ask a lot of us as teachers so they take care of pretty much everything else in our daily lives, from running a bus service that I will take to work in the morning directly from my building to paying our bills to maintaining a housing staff to do everything from install curtains to deliver furniture. They are treating me exceptionally well and I’m really thrilled to be here. More local pictures to come after I explore this weekend so stay tuned…
Welcome to my new blog, everyone! Thank you for joining me. On my last night here in the States, there are a few thoughts swirling around in my head. It’s been a wonderful summer and I’ve had a great time catching up with many of you. Here’s the highlight reel…
While I’m still missing Korea quite a lot, it’s heartening to have many of my good friends also moving on and scattering around the globe, simultaneously resettling. Missing those below, among many others.
As this is my second go-round living internationally, I’m coming up to speed a bit faster. Currently, my Russian experience involves my time teaching at the American School in Switzerland and amazing individuals like this one.
While I don’t expect Andrey to be the norm, it certainly takes me back… The poor kid’s only take away from 4 weeks of English lessons was “mountains”. God bless the Alps, which we could point to from our classroom veranda. This pic below is a throwback to that first summer – my English class of Minnows, all Russian!
From them, my known Russian phrases include the ability to tell someone to “Go to bed, now!” and “My name is Meg”. So far that knowledge has only come in handy once, when threathening noisy roommates in a Naples hostel. Меня зовут Meg, indeed.
Thanks to a random Russian course taken at the Global Learning Network in DC, I have learned Cyrillic before. I’m told none of the street signs are in English and learning to read Russian is imperative. And so… here I go. I’ve got a Duolingo app (Russian still in beta) and my school offers Russian lessons as well. After learning to read hangul, I’m hopeful I can adapt to another script, though I can’t promise those backwards Rs won’t trip me up.
“Why Russia?” is the most popular question of the summer. While Charlie and Emmalee may recall my initial nonplus in our morning taxi, the offer turned out to be an incredible one. An embassy school in a city closer to home (only 9.5 direct flying hours from NYC) with incredible resources, it seemed too good to pass up. Not to mention my love of the Russian painters (Soutine, below, sits at the top of that list) and Russian architecture. Moscow beckoned and I decided to take the leap.
What awaits? As was the case in Korea, I expect to be surprised, delighted, and frustrated, probably all at the same time. The people are at the heart of every country I’ve visited. My painting teacher recently shared a quote from a friend who’d lived in Russia for a time. He said that Americans were like peaches and Russians were like coconuts. Americans are soft on the outside but tough like a pit on the inside. Russians, however, were hard on the surface but soft on the inside. I’m hoping this will hold true.
The next few weeks will be chaotic, no doubt, as I acclimate to my new home. I’ll share the surprises along the way and, like my Seoul blog, take time to appreciate the process as I get settled into my new surroundings.
All of you have been wonderfully supportive, many even connecting me with friends in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Though I’ve never been to Russia, I already feel well taken care of, and my new school has done an excellent job of providing information on life in Moscow. I anticipate a challenging year – a rebuilding one – but I’m excited for the road ahead. I will miss my friends and students in Korea terribly but I hold them close. In this day and age, staying in touch is as easy as deciding to do so, and I’m extremely grateful for that.
Many of you have shared positive thoughts on my decision to continue teaching internationally. I just want to take a moment to tell you that I couldn’t do what I do without the support of each and every one of you. I may have friends in many ports but it’s your combined support that gives me the strength to continue exploring. It’s become a blessed unrest, this life I lead, and I’m thankful for every new opportunity. Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose😘