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Category: The Russian Language

Международный День, Балалайка, Юрты и Еще: My Experiences at Concordia Language Villages’ Lesnoe Ozero, Week 2

Hey everyone! I’m back again with Лесное Озеро content.

A refresher: I attended Concordia Language Villages’ two-week full Russian immersion program at their Russian language village, Lesnoe Ozero (Лесное Озеро), this past summer. Each day, between завтрак, урок, hanging out in Алматы (my cabin), frequently 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, all typed verbatim, I hope you can gain a deeper sense of what villagers do at Лесное Озеро and picture the everyday environment. As someone with no Russian ancestry or experience in a completely Russian environment, I wasn’t fully sure what to expect going in. But my time there was absolutely wonderful, and I’m so excited to share it with you.

These entries are from the second week of camp (finally! they took a while to transcribe). The first week’s can be found here. And lastly, the first part of this title translates to “International Day, Balalaika, Yurts, and More.” Enjoy!

Понедельник, 5 августа

Today, I finally managed to wake up early. The nice thing about the расписание at Лесное Озеро is that we are quite literally forced to sleep by 10:30/11, and then “Доброе утро” is at 8 am. So it’s a solid amount of sleep that we get. 

For my second час културис, I got balalaika and cooking (again)! We’re learning to play one of the Russian folk songs that we sing here at camp – hopefully, I can record us singing it on my tape recorder (edit: currently processing! check back in a bit). Here’s a quote from Gogol that a вожатый put on the screen while we were doing folk songs, and one that I found particularly fitting and profound: “Russian folk songs are a living history of the Russian people, rich, vivid and truthful, revealing their entire life.” Food for thought.

So excited for cooking again, too – Kamila asked me to be on the International Day Team for when we simulate a MasterChef competition!

For the Вечерняя программа (evening program), the вожатый held a simulation for us campers on the Chernobyl nuclear accident. One of the first parts of the accident was that people didn’t quite know what was going on, but sensed that something was wrong. So throughout the day, even when it wasn’t the actual Вечерняя программа (evening program), the вожатым held a simulation for us campers, on the Chernobyl nuclear accident. One of the first parts of the accident was that people didn’t quite know what was going on in the days following it, but inherently sensed that something was wrong. So throughout the day, even when it wasn’t the time of the actual Вечерняя программа, we heard random loud noises that sounded like explosions, and saw вожатым running among us in hazmat suits. It was all quite confusing. 

Then, during what was supposed to be Тнхнй час (quiet time, or quiet hour), the вожатым ushered us all into the Мариинский театр (Mariinsky Theatre, a meeting place, and also where we sing camp songs before lunch. Named after the famous Санкт-Петербург Theater). They turned the lights off, drew the curtains, and put on a video of a ballet performance to Tchaikovsky’s famous Swan Lake. We were all pretty confused, and many were complaining about losing тнхнй час. I had wanted to use it to journal, and my friends to sleep! But this was actually all also a part of the Chernobyl simulation. According to one of the вожатый (I don’t remember who I had asked), during Chernobyl, the Russian government played classical music on the radio to distract people and calm them down. And when the Soviet Union was falling, the government broadcasted Swan Lake pretty much all the time, instead of the regular news broadcasts – and all in order to distract and calm down the people. Even though Swan Lake wasn’t actually played during Chernobyl, Dasha, the вожатый who was in charge of the simulation, told me that she wanted to recreate that feeling. It definitely worked!

During the simulation itself, all us campers were split into different groups – liquidators (put out fires, did cleanup at the reactor), government officials, Soviet scientists, Western press, Soviet press, and a couple more, I believe. I was a liquidator. One of our goals was to make sure we got out the story about suffering from radiation sickness, and about how we were told to clean up radioactive materials for much longer than was safe, to the foreign reporters and to our government officials, for stipends for our injured family/friends/etc. It was difficult, as we couldn’t tell the Soviet press or government about the struggles too much, for fear of our families (and us!) being killed. The simulation overall was very informative, and most of my friends and I really got into it.

After the simulation was over, our медсестра, Саша (who takes care of my many allergies, and is super nice!), got up to speak. She was actually a child growing up in Russia (about 10 yrs old) when the accident happened. She remembers her parents getting a call from a relative in the U.S. calling to say that there was horrible radiation in Russian and that they needed to get out ASAP – which they were all very surprised at because they lived 2 hours away from Pripyat reactor where the accident occurred. She then remembered that when news of the accident actually got out and was confirmed, her family tried to move to other, far away parts of Siberia, even go to Georgia, but they couldn’t due to housing shortages and people’s unwillingness to trade houses (government = landlord in Russia, said no to new houses, system is inherently Soviet, only way to get out was to trade and no one wanted to). She did, however, go to Moscow in government buses, and she remembered all her belongings, and herself, too, being doused with water to get rid of the radiation.

Most of all, however, she remembered and described the effects the radiation had with regards to livestock, babies, and cancer. She said that livestock and babies were born with 3-4 arms, had severe deformities, disabilities, etc. She noted that most of her friends’ parents died young, of cancer, and many of her friends contracted thyroid cancer – one from exposure to her father, who volunteered to help clean up the plant and spent his resulting, awarded vacation with his daughter, who was at the time around 10 years old. He would read to her on his lap, thus transferring the radiation, and then – 30 years later, a huge tumor on her neck (because radioactive iodine concentrates in the thyroid). 

Overall, I really enjoyed hearing Саша’s story. I thought it was incredibly touching & poignant. Very striking and scary, though. She said, “The worst was not the accident. It’s that we were lied to. A betrayal.” (by the government, who originally kept the severity of the accident, and that it even happened, from the people and world). I understand why governments like Russia’s, like the U.S. (Snowden), keep such things from their people. They have a reputation, an image to keep up. But it’s still quite horrible. Саша said that a friend of hers said, “The Soviet government would never let their own people die. That could never happen.” And yet, it did. Time and time again, incidents like this happen. And with many countries, not just Russia. As Саша said, in this case, “We have to think about what’s more important – to save face, or to save lives.”

Lastly, I thought it was quite nice how most of what I saw in HBO’s Chernobyl series (absolutely amazing. I discussed it with many campers and вожатый. Almost everyone had at least heard of the series, and many had even seen it). I’m glad I had some background going into the simulation from that series, and some outside reading I had done after watching. 

Вторник, 6 aвгуста

So I spent pretty much the entirety of yesterday during my quiet time / early hours journaling about Chernobyl and didn’t get to anything else! But so far, overall, camp has been pretty good. It’s now Wednesday when I’m writing this, so there is only today left with the normal schedule. Tomorrow (Thursday) is the end-of-camp banquet, and Friday is International Day, or I day. That’s where all camps meet at the German camp, Waldsee, and have a huge celebration, with lots of ethnic food stalls, things to buy, etc. Also, I think I’ve talked about what час культуры is before (cultural hour for various things). Mine have been matryoshka (last week), and balalaika (this week) and cooking (this week). Аnd Тарас, who is the вожатый for the balalaika class, said my friend Анастасия and I would be able to play with him and a couple others on I-Day, in the midst of all the festivities!

Before we settle into night routine and getting into bedtime, we have what’s called земство, where each member of our cabin will say a rose (something good that happened today), a bud (something good that happened today), a bud (something to look forward to), and a thorn (something bad that happened). We also usually include a hippo (something funny that happened). My bud was being excited about balalaika and cooking at I Day! I’m so looking forward to that. I’ve been writing down all the recipes from cooking class (which Kamila and Natalia gave us) in an old brown leather notebook – it’ll be my own Russian recipe book! I hope I can add каша to it (the camp’s recipe) too (edit: sadly, I never got the recipe). It’s a porridge/oatmeal type of breakfast food that they serve at least every other day here at camp. All of us campers, and especially me and some of my friends, get pretty excited about it. It can be made with rice, grain, etc., and it’s pretty filling. It tastes wonderful with lots of многа сахар, изюма, джема и сливочного масла. Oh, и фрукты! Клубника or черники are really good in каша. A friend of mine commented about how almost every culture essentially has some equivalent of каша – oatmeal, and in India we have something called दलिया (daliya), which is a type of porridge made with milk, etc. etc. I hadn’t really thought about that before, but it’s a very good insight.

tassel пампончик
Random note in a margin. This filter gives me a distinctly Russian feel. Correction: *медсестра*

While I’m talking about food, one thing definitely worth commenting on is how often we eat клеб and масла. Еvery single meal, untoasted! Аnd we are usually so hungry that we eat several slices, and quite rapidly, too! At lunch, when we eat with our families, there’s this boy at my table who almost always goes up to get another half loaf of bread. There was even one day, I think, where the kitchen was delayed in bringing out the main part of lunch, so we were all really hungry, and that boy and some others on our table when up to get bread at least five more times! 

There was also a huge thunderstorm on Tuesday night, so the Вечерняя программа got cut short and we hung out in our cabins.  I had to take a shower, and the shower curtain is covered in Orange mold at the bottom, which is growing up the curtain, which kind of sucks. But hey, that’s camp life for you.

My cabin (Алматы), named after a city in Kazakhstan (Казакхстан), is one of the smaller ones – I think the smallest, actually. So all of us girls here are pretty close – I think some of my best friends at camp are in my cabin. So yesterday, when it was raining, Лева (Taylor) got out her ukulele from home and played “Riptide” by Vance Joy, and then Настя played “Home” by Phillip Phillips. We all turned the lights off except for one soft, warm and orange one, which was left in the middle to simulate the campfire whose warmth and vibe we all missed. We all sang along to the songs! I have a nighttime shower time, and my friends and Фера and Нина sang so loud that I heard them in the shower and could even sing along! It’s been really nice being in Алматы. My cabin mates are some of the most interesting, nicest people I’ve met, and it’s nice that we’re so close.

hand signal
Аnother note in the margins. ш sounds ‘sh’ in Cyrillic. Shshshsh!
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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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Christianity and the Creation of the Russian Alphabet

Recently, I started learning the Russian language! It’s been a lot of work, especially to manage on top of schoolwork and other commitments, but it is very rewarding – I’m really enjoying the journey that comes with learning a new language. I’m currently working through UCLA’s first year Russian textbook, Beginner’s Russian, by Anna Kudyma, Frank Miller, and Olga Kagan, and I’m also using the interactive website that goes along with it. Right now, I’m on the 8th chapter. I try to do a little bit of it each day, which I find works pretty well.

The first few chapters of Beginner’s Russian introduced me to the Russian alphabet, derived from Cyrillic script, and also to some introductory words. In terms of the alphabet, as a native English speaker, something I found pretty confusing was that certain Russian letters are visually quite similar to their English counterparts, which makes them easier for me to remember, but others match with completely different English letters! For instance, ‘k’ in the Russian alphabet is ‘к’, as expected, but ‘n’ is actually ‘н’! I would have expected ‘n’ to be ‘и’ in Russian, but ‘и’ actually matches with ‘ee’. It took me a while to get a hang of such letters! Other than that, I find the process similar to that of learning any other new language.

I’m also continuing to read Phillip Longworth’s Russia: The Once and Future Empire from Pre-History to Putin, through which I’m learning more about the context surrounding the development of Russian culture. In the book, Longworth mentioned that it was actually Christian missionaries, not the Slavs, who created Cyrillic script. I found that really surprising!

For some context, according to Longworth, Olga, a powerful, vindictive Christian widow, ruled over Kievan Rus (the old Russian state) after her husband Igor died. She went to Constantinople, the “capital of the [Byzantine and] later Roman Empire and the greatest city in the world,” as stated by Longworth. Although her main purpose for the journey was to procure a more favorable trading agreement, Olga was re-baptized there (and that too, with the emperor as her godfather!), which first established a link between the Rus (early Slavic people) and Christianity. However, Longworth is careful to point out that she never forced Christianity upon the Rus due to their strongly conflicting divine beliefs; it was her grandson Vladimir who later baptized the Rus and solidified Russia’s entry into Christendom.

During her trip to Constantinople, Olga was shown the stunning imperial palace where, according to Longworth, there were “clockwork metal songbirds that sang like real birds; a pair of gilded lions which rolled their eyes and roared… [and even a] Church of the Holy Wisdom… with its immense dome.” Entranced, Olga brought word of these marvels back to Russia, eventually leading to increased Byzantine cultural and artistic influences there.

Soon, Byzantine Christian missionaries began to expand their reach to the Rus as well. According to the paper “Short History of the Cyrillic Alphabet” by Ivan G. Iliev (The International Journal of Russian Studies), it is thought to be Saint Constantine-Cyril, a 9th century Byzantine missionary (monk? I wasn’t sure), or his two disciples, Clement of Orchid and Constantine of Preslav, who invented the Cyrillic script. Due to the many conflicting accounts that Iliev highlights from the time, I get the impression that it has proven nearly impossible to narrow down the true creator out of the three! Anyway, according to Life of Cyril (the Saint’s biography, I presume?), Iliev writes, it was done at the request of the Byzantine emperor. Originally created for the Balkan Slavs (Slavonic-speaking people who resided in the Balkan Peninsula, a part of Eastern Europe), the alphabet represented the “sounds that Slavonic-speaking peoples made when they spoke,” Longworth writes in Russia. “It was to serve the Russians equally well,” Longworth continues, because “all Slavs, whether in the east, west, or south, spoke the same language at that time.”

I found this history behind the Russian alphabet really cool – it’s directly relevant to my introductory study of the language itself! I read a bit more about the alphabet in Iliev’s paper. Apparently, the Cyrillic script was not completely original, like the Glagolitic one (another Old Slavic script, also thought to be created by St. Cyril!). Rather, according to Iliev, it was mainly based on the Greek alphabet, with any missing letters borrowed from others. Then, the Cyrillic script travelled through Bulgaria (part of the Balkan Peninsula) to Russia, leading to the first Old Slavic texts (literacy!), the increased missionary action mentioned above, and eventually, diversification into the East-Slavic peoples we know today (Iliev mentions Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians…). Even nearby Uralic peoples adopted the script, Iliev notes. By the way, this separation of peoples happened mainly after Vladimir’s death, according to Iliev; I mention this to make it clear where the events stand in context.

For Russia specifically, the Cyrillic script further evolved and developed new modifications as time progressed. “In 1708, the Russian Tsar Peter I the Great conducted an orthographic reform,” Iliev writes, “introducing a new type of Cyrillic letters, called civil script, modelled in a Dutch workshop…” to take the place of some of the older ones. According to Iliev, civil script comprises the foundation of each and every modern-day Cyrillic alphabet – including Russian!

The first book written in civil script (Iliev 2013).

Finally, a quick observation about the picture above: Iliev notes that the inscription of “ГЕОМЕТРIА” translates to “geometry.” In modern Russian, “geometry” is “геометрия.” The old and the new are almost exactly the same, save for the last two letters: ‘I’ becomes ‘И’ and ‘A’ becomes ‘Я’ (for ‘y’). Cool, right? And the reappearance of ‘и’ brings us full circle with where my musings started.

I hope this was interesting! If you’d like, take a look at the Iliev paper (linked above) to get an even more in-depth look at specific events in the history of the Cyrillic script and its dissemination in other countries as well – I just focused on Russia here. Feel free to leave questions or comments down below, and stay tuned for a photo essay (!!!) next!

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