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Month: August 2019

Гребля, Пельмени, и Еще Больше: My Experiences at Concordia Language Villages’ Lesnoe Ozero, Week 1

Hi everyone! I just attended Concordia Language Villages’ two-week Russian immersion program at their Russian language village, Lesnoe Ozero (Лесное Озеро). Each day, between завтрак, урок, hanging out in Алматы (my cabin), going to the magazine with my дрызья to buy mango-aloe juice, and more, I took some time to record my experiences in a journal.

Through these journal entries – typed verbatim – I hope to provide a deeper understanding of what villagers do at Лесное Озеро and paint a picture of the everyday environment. As someone with no Russian ancestry or prior exposure to a completely Russian-speaking environment, I wasn’t sure what to expect going in. But my time at Лесное Озеро was absolutely wonderful, and I’m so excited to share it with you.

These entries are from the first week of camp. I’ll be publishing the second soon. Enjoy! Oh, and the first part of the title translates to “Canoeing, Pelmeni, and More” 🙂

Вторник, 30 июля

Привет from Лесное Озеро! I’ve been at Russian camp for about 24 hours now. I’m immediately struck by how much this camp mirrors an all-American, stereotypical camp-like experience. Log cabins, bunk beds, lakes, canoeing, etc. Except, of course, for one tiny detail – it’s all in Russian, and entirely Russia-themed! The counselors (вожатый) speak entirely in Russian to everyone (even those with absolutely no background, like my dad when he dropped me off) and use hand signals and gesturing to get meaning across. The teaching methods are really well-thought out, and they work. For example, in the morning, we have зарядка, which is a common phrase (“daily dozen” in English) that refers to morning stretching exercises. Counting out loud with all the other villagers the number of repetitions of a stretch out loud is how you learn your numbers in Russian!

Up until this point, I’ve mainly been interested in the cultural side of all there is to know about Russia (the literature, superstitions, Russian music, etc.), but already, being immersed in the language and really beginning to learn it has me excited to continue learning at home at an even more vigorous pace! My name here is Рая (pronounced “Raya”) Тургеневя. “Тургеневя” is my family (I wonder if that was on purpose, given that I had mentioned before coming that I read Fathers and Sons!). At Лесное Озеро, that’s who you eat with at lunch and do cleaning, activities, etc, with. They are named after famous Russians (in my case, Ivan Turgenev, the great author who wrote Fathers and Sons). One guy in my family is actually from NJ – what are the odds!

Essentially, how the day starts here is: Wake up at 8:00 with one family (different one chosen each day) screaming “Доброе утро!” (Good morning!) outside your cabin and banging on the walls loudly. Quite an experience if I must say so.

Another note about the whole “American camp experience” part of Лесное Озеро. I lose track of time so easily here, because no electronics, and I also forgot to bring an alarm clock. And there’s a cute little wasp’s nest outside my cabin. This is my first time at sleep-away camp (I guess Лесное Озеро would qualify as one?), but I’ve heard these are normal things. All part of the experience, I guess. It’s going pretty well.

Note: Bring notebook to cooking tomorrow. 

Четверг, 1 августа

Looking at that date reminds me that the second Democratic debates must have just finished. NYT, CNN, Fox, and Twitter must be abuzz with commentary. Kinda sad that I am missing out on it. During the last debate, a couple friends and I furiously texted and tweeted about the whole thing!

Camp overall is quite an experience. We have 3 classes (called урок) after зарядка and завтрак, all in the morning. My instructors’ (Russian) names are Kola and Dina – but if you pronounce them wrong, as I did at first, they mean ‘dinosaur’ and ‘cola,’ as in Coca-Cola! It became a joke in our урок group. (Роза и Александра, тоже! Я скучаю по вам, ребята!)

Tonight, Лесное Озеро is simulating a Thai restaurant for dinner to give us a chance to practice ordering, making reservations, asking for certain items (“Можно хлеб/воду, пожалуйста”), etc. – we went over all the relevant vocab during урок. During the simulation, we even actually had to call Антон and say, in Russian, how many people we were reserving for, what time slot we would come in, and whether we wanted a taxi (a camp car to take us up the short road that leads to the Санкт-Петербург building)! 

Пятница, 2 августа 

Тоday in урок, I learned some verb conjugations! It was really interesting to see the way Russian grammar compares to Spanish grammar. Spanish has -ar, -ir, and -er verb endings, which each have their own conjugations and irregular cases. But Russian has more than seven, I think! Combine that with verbs of motion, the notoriously difficult cases, and more, and you have possibly the most complicated language yet. Just kidding, I think… anyway, it’s no wonder Лесное Озеро has an entire час культуры (culture hour) dedicated to Russian grammar. (Земфира, if you are reading this, I so admire your enthusiasm for it!)

Суббота, 3 августа 

I got a shirt from the camp store yesterday, which I forgot to write about. It says, “Как ты себя чувствуешь сегодня?” which means, “How are you feeling in this very moment?” And then, there are a bunch of cartoon faces with all the possible expressions. It’s очень крутo. (Note from Рая, transcribing these after camp: check out the end of this blog post to see it!) 

Yesterday night, we did an exchange program with the German camp (Waldsee), which is right across the lake. There were plenty of snacks and food when we got there – noodles, crepes, gyros, falafel, corn on the cob, etc. – I’m not sure if any of those are actually German, though, will look it up later (edit: they are not). It was nice to talk to the German kids, though. The German вожатый – lagerberater in German – spoke to us “Russians” entirely in German, using the same hand-signal technique that is used at Лесное Озеро. We then played Capture the Flag with them, but with a twist. Some of the вожатый from both camps were aliens, who the teams (one family from each camp, together) had to capture and bring back to the jail. But in order to put them back in jail, we had to form a circle around them and sing a camp song on the way back – either German or Russian!

Воскресенье, 4 августа

Today was a more special, unusual day. We had no урок – instead, we had 3 huge мероприятие (essentially longer час культуры). The first one was to make pelmeni, or these little dumplings filled with meat or potato (картошка). I got the recipe from Маша and Камила, who gave me and my friends pointers and watched us make them. So did Фера, my cabin’s (yay Алматы!) вожатый. I think she mentioned she makes them at home. It’ll be so cool to make all these camp recipes on my YouTube channel – I’ve been writing them all down, in Cyrillic, in a brown leather notebook, with Камиллa’s help. 

I finally learned how to canoe – my friend Svetlana and I went during the third мероприятие. In Russian, of course. Here are some Russian terms related to canoeing: весла (paddles), каноэ (canoe), байдарка (kayak), lake (озеро), спасательный жилет (life jacket), and плыть в челноке (verb: to canoe). Canoeing’s a classic camp-type thing I really wanted to learn how to do as a part of my “all-American camp experience.” It’s even cooler to me that I learned it in Russian, though. And I can now canoe at national parks and other places nearby!

During the second мероприятие, I went boating with Kola, Svetlana, and a couple others on a small camp boat, which was fun as well. It was nice to actually be out on Лесное Озеро (quite literally translates to “Forest Lake” – what we call the lake, and what the camp is named after). Most of the time, we’d think about it just in terms of being the camp name!

Some end-of-week reflections: Camp overall has been a really interesting, transformative experience for me. Being completely in Russian all the time, both language-wise and culture-wise, has helped me infinitely. I’ve solidified my basic grasp on the language, and I have the opportunity to learn so much more about the culture! For my second round of час култупи (we switch in the second week), I can learn cool things like the balalaika (traditional Russian guitar), or pick up Russian folk dance – there are so many cool opportunities. We’ll see what I get. (Note from Рая, transcribing these after camp: more on the balalaika later…) But overall, I really like it here 🙂

Check out my journal entries from the second week here!

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I’m Back, and With Updates! A Russian Story Time at My Local Library, Concordia Language Villages’ Лесное Озеро, My New YouTube Channel, and More

Hi all! It’s been a while since I posted on here (sorry about that), so I figured I would post about what I’ve been up to this summer and my Russian-related plans for the next few weeks! Read to the end to see a fun candid of me as I write this in my favorite (and sadly, maybe only) Russian t-shirt, and check out the middle of this post for some very aesthetic images of my copy of Peter and the Wolf. Enticing stuff, I know.

Let’s start from the beginning. On June 15th, 2019 (the weekend after my school ended), I led a “Saturday Stories” session in the children’s section of the library. In this program, a library volunteer reads a selection of 3-4 short stories to children who are usually around 0-10 years old. From 10:30 to 11 AM on that Saturday, that was me!

I read 3 short children’s stories. The first was Clever Katya: A Fairy Tale from Old Russia, retold by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Marie Cameron (ISBN 9781901223644). It begins with a conflict between Ivan, Katya’s father, and Dimitri, Ivan’s wealthy, but self-centered brother, who both desire a young foal born to their two respective horses. It happens to be the one day that the “Tsar of All Russia” hears cases from the local people, and he has a penchant for riddles. For Ivan and Dimitri, the Tsar decides that whoever could solve his riddle – “What is the fastest thing in the world, what is the fattest, what is the softest and what is the most precious?” – would get the foal. Ivan turns to his seven-year old daughter Katya for help, and she wows the Tsar with her thoughtful and insightful answers.

Katya’s answer to the first riddle.

The Tsar is amazed and proud that such a clever girl lives in his kingdom – so much so, in fact, that he marries Katya when she comes of age. Katya then becomes the “Tsarina of all Russia.”

The happy ending.

According to Hoffman, this story is originally called The Wise Little Girl in Russia. In different variations, the girl is given no name, or she has to complete an additional set of tasks in the middle of the story. Hoffman gives her the name “Katya” in this picture book, reasoning that “the most important person in the story should not be anonymous” in an author’s note at the end.

Me reading Clever Katya to some of the kiddos!

When reading Clever Katya, I taught my audience (of little kids and some babies on the other side! So cute!) about what tsars and tsarinas were (like kings and queens, but Russian!) and explained their overall significance in layman terms as the “cultural aspect” of the storytelling. I also had my Russian/Slavic Instrumental Spotify playlist playing in the background (that’s why my phone is on the ground lol), which hosts my personal selection of Russian piano, string, and opera music from the great composers. Here it is – give it a follow!

Next, I read Peter and the Wolf (Пе́тя и волк) by Sergei Prokofiev, translated by Maria Carlson from Russian and illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak (ISBN 9780140506334).

Peter and the Wolf Cover
Aesthetic arrangement am I right? 🙂

It tells the story of young Пéтя (Peter), who lives in a cottage on the Russian countryside and makes friends with many animals, a small bird and a duck among them.

Russian countryside life, beautifully depicted by Mikolaycak, on the dedication page.

Пéтя, who can talk with animals, warns the little bird of a cat who was sneaking up on it. Петера дедушка (Peter’s grandfather) then worries about Пéтя going outside of the gated portion of the meadow with their house in it, as a wolf might come by. He then takes him inside.

Петера дом на лугу (Peter’s house in the meadow).

However, just at that moment, a wolf appears! Пéтя pays no attention to what his grandfather says and ventures past the gate. He watches the wolf swallow the duck whole! It then looks at the little bird and cat, who have climbed a tree for safety, with greedy eyes. Unafraid, Пéтя runs home, grabs a rope, climbs up the tree with the bird and cat on it, instructs the little bird to “Circle around the wolf’s nose, but be careful not to let him catch you!” and then catches the wolf’s tail in a loop he made with the rope, Western cowboy-style. Пéтя, some hunters, and Петера дедушка (who was still worrying about what could have happened) lead out a grand procession in which the wolf is carried to the zoo and locked away.

The волк (wolf) at the zoo. Note the Russian references (magnified)! I counted 4 but I missed 2 the first time, so just comment down below if I missed any more and I’ll modify this post 🙂

As the story says: “if you listen very carefully, you will hear the duck quacking in the wolf’s stomach. For the wolf in his haste had swallowed the duck live.”

One of my favorite things about this specific copy of Peter and the Wolf is the illustrations. Mikolaycak does an absolutely stunning job of depicting the Russian countryside and capturing the overall vibe of rural Russian life. Notice the traditional manner in which the elders dress: thick coats for the men and the handkerchief on the woman. As mentioned in this link, handkerchiefs were common among eighteenth-century Russian woman, according to Elizabeth Dimsdale, and were thought to “reinforc[e] the sense of purity” within them. I love how Mikolaycak thought to stay historically true to that. I let the children know about the cultural significance of the clothing and that it is representative of old Russian countryside attire.

Also, note how on the last page (the photo above), where the wolf is shown in its cage in the zoo, there are four references to Russia directly in Cyrillic; these definitely add to the distinctly “Russian” feel of this picture book. Here are their translations: “дикий волк” is “wild wolf.” The other three are all cut off, unfortunately. But, in Russian, in case anyone’s interested, the remaining, slightly legible portions say “ркофьев” (which translates to “Rafiev”? any ideas?), “(д/п)отнм” (my guess), and “-фе” (can’t really make out the first part). Overall, I just really admire Mikolaycak’s creativity, talent, and conscientiousness. He’s done a wonderful job with the illustrations.

While reading Peter and the Wolf. These two came up to see the волк!

Here’s my last note about Peter and the Wolf. According to Phil Tulga, Sergei Prokofiev, who wrote the story, was a great Russian musical prodigy and began composing at just five – five! – years old; he later studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, a very famous and prestigious music school. After returning from lengthy periods of travel to settle in the Soviet Union, Tulga says, Prokofiev composed Peter and the Wolf for a Moscow children’s theater; it was meant to serve as “a child’s introduction to orchestra,” he writes.

In addition to the actual opera, Prokofiev wrote this short, accompanying children’s story – Peter and the Wolf – which quickly became a Russian classic. I compiled a Spotify playlist with the opera (see below). The most interesting thing about this two-part series is how specific parts of the opera correspond with specific parts of the story as well as specific characters. For example, the wolf’s entrance is #8 on the playlist below; it aptly begins with an ominous, dark, and low tone. If anyone can place the instrument, let me know – I can’t find the sheet music anywhere. Anyway, if you’d like to read more about Peter and the Wolf, check out this well-written, informative essay. It includes part of Prokofiev’s personal description of his opera as written in his diary. An excerpt: Prokofiev says that the book is meant to be “read during the pauses in the music, which was disproportionately longer than the text – for [him], the story was important only as a means of inducing the children to listen to the music.” Interesting. He was committed to the music above all else. I suppose this is no surprise; after all, his accomplishments and professional areas of focus click with that decision. And as for the first part of Prokofiev’s musings – that’s exactly what I did! I read the book in the pauses of the opera, letting the music play from the Spotify playlist below. At the end, I told the kids about the actual opera (what I played) and reinforced how the story and the music go along harmoniously. They especially enjoyed the wolf’s section!

Next, I read Hansel and Gretel, the fairy tale about the kids who aren’t nice to the old witch who offers them food and shelter and later get eaten. Quite a classic! Its earliest, most probable origins lie with the Brothers Grimm – Jacob Ludwig Karl and Wilhelm Carl, two Germans who, according to Wikipedia, “together collected and published folklore during the 19th century.” I originally thought that German was a Slavic language; therefore, it would fit in with my “Slavic” theme for the library storytime. Not to mention that kids generally enjoy the Hansel and Gretel story anyway. But the history of the German language is actually quite complex, and many argue that German isn’t even a Slavic language at all! So I won’t discuss the story much here. The origins of German are indubitably interesting, but they will take a while to explain – I’ll save the genealogy lesson for another blog post.

All three of the books were picture books, with colorful, engaging graphics and simple text. This was a really important factor when I was choosing which stories to read, as the kids, although very cute, had generally short attention spans and more so enjoyed the pictures and my inflections and reactions to the stories. What I think also helped was that every now and then, before reading a line or so, I would ask them what they thought would happen, what they thought of the main character, etc. Other times, I asked if they could identify something in an illustration, or even if the content of the story matched up with anything in their lives. This was all plainly done, of course! I also went over the main morals of the Russian stories – insightful, clever heroines can get things done, to borrow the 21st century lingo (Clever Katya), and both taking risks and being kind to all pay off (Peter and the Wolf).

Ellen, a staff member at the library, helped me out with everything and gave me lots of useful tips. Huge thanks to her. After observing and preparing for weeks, I loved finally having the chance to share aspects of Russian culture with the kiddos. It was a really enjoyable experience overall.

Now, I’m super excited about this part. I just attended Concordia Language Villages’ two-week complete Russian immersion program at their Russian language village, Лесное Озеро (Lesnoe Ozero). That translates to “forest lake” – and fittingly, Лесное Озеро is on a lake, surrounded by forest. Real clever. But camp there was definitely one of the most unique, different, and immersive learning experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Not only was everything (and I mean everything) at camp done in Russian – so I picked up a lot language-wise – but I learned очень крутoй (very cool) cultural and skill-based things, like how to play the balalaika, a traditional Russian string instrument. Or even how to cook many different Russian recipes in my кулинарный час культуры (cooking culture hour)! I recorded all the recipes – in Cyrillic – in that brown leather book I used to keep pages still in some of the above pictures. And I learned how to canoe – all in Russian! I journaled about my experiences every single day while I was there, and I’m so very excited to share my entries here in the coming weeks. So stay tuned!

Also: the main reason (other than reading lots of Russian literature, and I mean a lot. So excited to talk about it) that I hadn’t posted much on this blog in the beginning of the summer is because I was kickstarting my YouTube channel! It’s also called Rhea’s Slavic Adventures (I know, I’m very creative. Lol). Please take a look and subscribe! I’ll be posting more очень крутoй content in the next month or two, including cooking vlogs of Russian recipes from Лесное Озеро and videos of me playing the balalaika along to camp songs (a rare opportunity to see me sing! Ура/Ura/Oorah, as we said at camp! It’s a famous Soviet military battle cry). I’ll also hopefully be posting a few literature reviews. Stay tuned for an essay about Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov that I wrote this summer to be posted on this blog, and some reviews of the book and also of the two corresponding movies on my YouTube channel. It was my ~book of the summer~ to be sure.

Check out my first two YouTube videos below!

So that’s it! Lots of fun content to come. I’ll leave you with this fun candid I took with my cousin while writing this blog post – in my Russian t-shirt that I got from Лесное Озеро, no less! It says “Как ты себя чувствуешь сегодня?” on the top, which translates to “How are you feeling in this very moment?” in English, according to my friend Юлия from camp. It then has a bunch of wacky cartoon characters below that depict many different feelings and possible answers (also written in Russian). There’s so many of them – 30, to be exact – so I’d say this is as specific and thorough a shirt as I’ve ever seen. I was just really setting the vibe for a healthy dose of Slavic-themed blogging 🙂

An only slightly weird candid 🙂

Bye!

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