What Goes Back

This is a sequel to my post from August “What Goes” (you can reread it here: https://katyaskishinyov.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/what-goes/)

“Da” is the only word I know.
Will you miss Moldova?
Do you miss home?
Are you sad to leave?
Are you glad to go?
My lives are two,
But I am one.
I will always be both here and there-
Here, I was the girl from there.
There, I’ll be back from here.

What else goes back?
Three suitcases in navy
Still with tags from Emirate Air
And a sticker from Russian security.

Clothes, not very useful,
But the ones I love the most:
A hand-knit sweater dress
An apron,
Rugs worn as a skirt.

Fruits and from-scratch pastries
In the form of fifteen pounds.
Friends, already invited to my wedding.
Mounds of books that will become
Companions to my bedding.

Words in those books, words in this blog,
Words in a Russian dictionary.
Skills in speaking Russian,
For when a dictionary fails.
Thankfulness to my teachers,
And their emails.

Opinions, religion, self-reflection.
A lot of thinking,
As depicted in a local artist’s painting.

Hats, a new haircut, gifts.
A broader field of vision.
The knowledge that my life
Has been changed by this decision.

Plus a lot of other stuff
Packed not in a suitcase, but my mind.
Stuff that has made this year
More than enough.


Молдове/Dear Moldova

This is the forth and final poem/photo project. If you are not familiar with Bulgakov’s novella “Heart of a Dog” (Собачье сердце) and want to understand that part of the poem, I direct you to Wikipedia. The last two lines are from the famous Pushkin poem “I loved you” (“Я вас любил”). Like last time, numbers correspond to photos below.


Ты помнишь, когда
В первый раз
Я призналась в любви?
Мы были тогда
У озера.
Долго шли,
Долго еще было идти.
1. И лестница из камня
Поднималась перед нами,
Сплошная трещинами,
2. Как черешня трещится
После дождя
В нашем огороде
Где те огромные слова
Не уместятся
Между ветвями,
Заполненными плодом.
Тем более,
Горло загораживает
Или косточка,
Или ком.
Я только знаю, что
Черешня кормит
Не только тело,
А тоже сердце мое:
Собачье сердце.
Мой первый раз
3. В театре Чехова
Доказал, что лояльность
Моему американскому сердцу
Неизбежна; но–
Это не значит, что не влюблюсь
В новую шкуру,
Голос, глаза,
Которыми оказалась
Молдова моя.
Булгаков меня знает.
Тоже другие автора:
Лермонтов, Чехов, Толстой,
4. Которые манят на рынок
Пока я еду домой.
Когда приеду,
5. Цветные крыши
Как открытые книги
Красят соседние холмы.

Почему те трещины
Пели мне псалмы,
И именно тогда гласила
Наверное, знала,
Что потом взгляну назад,
6. Увижу красоту.

Минуют минуты
Неминуемой разлуки
С Молдовой, с Кишиневом моим.
“Так дай вам Бог
Любимой быть другим”.

Dear Moldova

Do you remember when
For the first time
I told you I love you?
It was at a lake
We were already then
Tired though and through,
And had a long way to go, too.
1. And in front of us a staircase grew
Stone by stone, into the blue
Until cracks appear
2. Like cherries crack
Dripping rain’s tear
In our garden
Where the sheer enormity
Of those words
Won’t fit between the branches
Domineered by fruit.
A cherry pit, or lump,
In my throat
Has made me mute.
I know only
That cherries tart
Feed not just my body,
But also my heart:
The Heart of a Dog.
My first time
3. At the Chekhov Theater
Proved, that loyalty
To my American heart can’t be
Moved, but that
I can fall for
The new coat of fur,
New voice, new eyes
That, like my Moldova,
Around me arise.
But not just to Bulgakov
Does my life have ties.
Lermontov’s, Chekhov’s, Tolstoy’s tomes
4. Beckon me to the market
On my bus ride home.
And when I arrive
5. Colorful roofs
Like open books
Cover the neighboring hills.

Why did those cracks in the stairs
Give me chills?
Why in that exact moment
Did love overcome me?
Probably because I knew
I will later glance back
6. And see beauty.

I can’t pretend
That it’s not coming close,
The inescapable end.
My Moldova, I’ll miss her.
“May God grant that you
Be so loved by another.”













Город на холме/The City on a Hill

My third poem/photo project. Numbers correspond to photos below. I apologize for the scrolling- couldn’t think of a better way to present it.

Город на холме

Я родилась в городе на холме.
Я теперь живу в городе на семи холмах.
Куда? И ответ:
Еще чуть-чуть наверх.
Ну хорошо, поднимимся
Шаг за шагом
Взгляд за взглядом
Поднимимся наверх.
Что там твориться,
В городе на холме.

Белое небо,
Чистый лист,
Обещает нам быть ближе
В городе на холме.
И белая арка
Над тротуаром
И белый забор
За красным тюльпаном
Обещают, что мы
На правильном пути.
И я–
Тюльпан ходящий
В красном плаще,
Открыт солнцу
Ослепившему небеса
А не меня
Я иду в город на холм
Выпучив глаза.

Красоту воображаю
Вокруг моего следа:
Сорняки, камни, грязь
Пот, как самоосуществяющую мазь;
Крутые те, кто
Крутые склоны преоделяют.

А мягкие склоны лукавые–
Каблуки приглашают
Не на камни, а на трещины
В одном большом
Бетонном камне.
И спотыкаюсь
Но иду, иду, на
Чистый лист
Говорят, что он блестящий,
Тот город на холме.
Минует меня мигом
Серебряная машина.
Я начинаю утомлять.

Эта гора
Эта обнимающая, удушающая река
На самом деле

Ведь они думают,
Что моя тень–
Что я уже плыву
По белому небу
Там, у ихних язычных богов
В городе на холме.

О! Вдруг все сомнения
Разлетают на все четыре стороны!
Я поворачиваю и любуюсь.
Я что думала про камни, про бетон?
Видимо, я по траве
Шла, шла и пела,
“Холмы живые
С звуками музыки.”
Я завоевала свое место на холме.
Но не могу сказать,
В городе на холме.
Ведь здесь души нет.
Я одна
Я, и белые небеса
И заброшенная бутылка.
И додумалась:
Пятиться пора.

Опять белый забор.
Пока я ветала в облаках
Тюльпаны поникли,
Цветы арки покоричневели,
Но мне все равно
Потому, что
Я лечу, лечу
И там, внизу

Будет мой дом.
А знаешь, холм коверкает.
Отсюда белое небо
Каждый может видеть.

The Сity on a Hill

I was born in the city on a hill.
I now live in a city on seven hills.
I ask:
Where to? The answer:
A little further up.
Well good, we’ll rise
Step by step
Glance by glance,
We’ll rise up
We’ll see what’s up
In the city on a hill.

The white sky
A clean slate
Promises to be closer
To the city on a hill.
And a white arch over the sidewalk
And a white fence behind the red tulips
Promise that we
Are on our way.
And I–
A walking tulip
In a red raincoat
Open to the sun
That blinds the skies
But not me; I
Go to the city on a hill
With open eyes.

I envision beauty
Surrounding me.
Dirt, rocks weeds teem
Sweat like a self-actualizing cream;
Cool are those
Who climb steep slopes.

Soft slopes are temptresses
They invite heels
Not to rocks, but to cracks
In one big concrete rock
And I trip
But I go and go
To the clean slate
They say it shines,
The city on a hill.
A silver car speeds by
And I begin to tire.

Maybe, this mountain
This embracing, suffocating river

Is actually a mole hill?
An ant hill, I mean.
After all, they think
That my shadow is a cloud
That I already fly
Through the white sky
There among their pagan gods
In the city on a hill.

Oh! Suddenly all doubt
Dissipates into the wind!
I turn and admire.
What was I saying
About concrete and rocks?
Seems like I walked on grass
Walked and sang about
Hills alive with the sound of music.
I earned my place on the hill.

I can’t say the city on the hill.
There’s no one here,
Not a soul
I’m alone–
With the white skies
And a tossed-aside
And it dawned on me:
Time to descend.

Again the white fence
While my head was in the clouds
The tulips wilted
The arch browned
But I don’t care
Because I fly, I fly
And there, below, is my

And you know, the hills lie.
From here I still see
The white sky.


















A Weekend in Moldova

Are you looking for a place to spend the weekend this lovely spring? On a budget? Chisinau is calling every type of tourist. Whether you are looking for an adventure in the most “developing” European country, a romantic getaway in a cute little capital, a unique cultural experience, or just a stamp in your passport (been there, seen that), I have a plan ready for you.

The Adventure
Go-to mode of transportation: marshrutki (mini-buses). The driving is wild.
Friday evening: Make plans to go see a show at the Theater from Rose Street. I promise you have no chance of actually finding the theater without having a regular of the theater (no, random person on the street won’t know) personally lead you there. Instead, you’ll have an adventure searching for it and seeing what a real Chisinau neighborhood looks like until you give up and duck into a sketchy-looking place for a bite to eat.
Saturday: Souvenir time! Get to the flea market near the railroad station early. If your sense of adventure includes searching among second hand clothing, broken phones and god knows what else for that awesome 50 cents Soviet computer drive or $3 fur mittens, this is for you. Next, get on a marshrutka and settle in for a 2 hour drive to Tsipova. Trust me, it’s worth it. The views of the Dnistr River are incredible, you can climb through escape tunnels in cave churches, and you can go on a real hike. Not a nice nature walk. Like a “will you hold this thorny branch out of my way” and “BLIN (a mild Russian cuss word) I just slipped down this steep rocky slope” sort of hike. You’ll be rewarded with a waterfall at the bottom, and when you make it back up to the top, a tasty, simple dinner at the monastery.
Sunday morning: Go to Codru, the neighborhood in the south of the city. Stop in the Linella (a supermarket chain) and buy a lot of plachinta. Then head toward the abandoned kolhoz (collective farm). Pick a direction and go until you are completely lost, then take out your phone to check google maps and remember you have no wifi here. Then plop down, eat your plachinta, and struggle on with renewed energy until you make your way to some sort of street. Find a marshrutka, any marshrutka, and hope it takes you back to civilization.

The Romantic Getaway
Go-to mode of transportation: once again, marshrutki. You will have a lot of physical contact, I promise. Space is limited.
Friday evening: Wine tasting is a romantic thing to do, yes? I’ve heard through the grape vine (haha) that Moldova has good wine. Settle in for a ride to Milesci Mici, the largest underground wine storage system of tunnels in Europe.
Saturday morning: Souvenir time! If owning matching (ish- they are all unique) hand-knit sweaters seems like an AWW THATS SO CUTE moment to you as much as it does to me, find the yarn store on Moscova. On your way out, buy some flowers from a grandmother on the street. You’ll make both her and your date’s day. Then head back to the center to Komsomokskaya Ozera (Lake). It’s a pretty walk, but more even more fun is the natural spring up on the hill, where you can cleanse yourselves together in mineral water if naked old guys have not claimed it first.
Saturday evening: Walk up to 31 August 1989 street to, in my humble opinion, the bes restaurant in town, called Tiffany’s. Don’t hold back: portions are small, so you’ll want appetizers, drinks. But save the desert and coffee for the French cafe next door, home of the best croissants in Chisinau. You think this will all cost you a fortune? That is the beauty. You would have to try very hard to make all of this (drink+appetizer+entree+coffee+croissant) add up to more than $15 per person. Then head over to the Theater of Opera and Ballet, and buy some $10 orchestra seats to something romantic like…opera or ballet.
Sunday morning: Hit up the central market. Get as lost as possible among the tents. Two goals here. First of all, the likelyhood that you will find wedding dresses is high (romantic, right?) Second, you’ll need food. Do a brinza (goat cheese) tasting in the big tent and buy what strikes your fancy. Get yourself some kalach (round braided bread–this becomes important, stay tuned), fresh fruits, Bucaria (locally manufactured) candy. Get unlost and make your way to the dendrarium for a picnic. After meandering among the flowers and finding yourself a spot, lay out your food and get ready to break bread–that is, kalach. In Moldovan tradition it is necessary to kiss kalach before you can eat it. And while you are already kissing things…

The Erudite Experience
Go-to mode of transportation: trolleybus. The reliable means of transport for the average Chisinau citizen. 10 cents per ride.
Friday evening: Souvenir time! Hightail it to the knizhni rinok (book market). If you make it before approximately 4 pm, you’ll be treated to a book lover’s fantasy: everything from 19th century books in German to the complete Dostoevski, sold only as the complete Dostoevski. (That would be 12 volumes.) 99.6% guarantee that you can find a soviet-era edition of any given Russian classic. You can also pick up some dictionaries to learn some language and make your the rest of your experience more erudite. Maybe your language skills can even convince your new book seller friends to invite you to dinner for real Moldovan food and conversation?
Saturday morning: Hit up the national history museum for your overview on what this country is. Don’t spent too much time there, though, because the main event of the day will be a day trip to Old Orhei, a monastery/ancient town with all kinds of cool artifacts. You can also get the feel for the traditional Moldovan village as you walk through the town to a restaurant for lunch.
Saturday evening: Go see a play at the Chekhov theater. At least once a month you can catch a major Russian classic, i.e. something by Ostrovskii, Gogol, Dostoevskii, Tolstoi, or the namesake himself, Chekhov. Success rate for these shows is about 60% but worth it for the erudite feeling of going to see a Russian classic at the thee-a-teh. And it’s only $5-7 for front row seats.
Sunday morning: True nerds visit national libraries. If looking through a paper catalog and reading newspapers from 1945 that only exist in this one library in Chisinau, Moldova seems like your type of thing, rock on. Just don’t have any actual goals about what you are looking for or you will be there too long and will miss your flight. Also byotp (bring your own toilet paper).

The I-Wanna-Be-a-Tourist
Go-to mode of transportation: taxi. It costs about the same to take a taxi across the city as a single ride in the New York City metro. If you are already being touristy, why not?
Friday evening: You want to do the tourist thing? First stop: the statue of Stefan cel Mare in the center of the city. Take a nice selfie. Then cross the street and go right to the iconic (as far as iconic goes in Moldova) victory arch. Selfie number two. Turn around and admire the parliament building and all that democracy (read: protests). Selfie number three. Look at each other, confused that you have somehow managed to see all the tourist sites in Chisinau within 3 minutes. Then go to La Plachinta, a “traditional” Moldovan restaurant chain, for dinner and order the stuff with the strangest sounding name (mamaliga).
Saturday morning: considering that you have already seen all the “must-see” attractions in Chisinau, make the couple-hour trip to Soroki. Here you will find more to do. The list: 16th century fortress (selfie number four), the “Gypsy mountain” with a bunch of strange houses, such as a replica of the Capitol building (selfie number five) and a thousand some steps up to a spectacular view of the Dnestr River and Ukraine (selfie number six).
Saturday evening: Once you get back to Chisinau, get some bubliki (cheese and cinnamon are especially recommended- about 20 cents a piece) at the stand across the street from the National Palace. Then, because you are good tourists, you planned your trip for when there is a traditional Moldovan folk dance show at the National Palace.
Sunday morning: Souvenir time! On boulevard Stefan cel Mare a few blocks east (“up” in local speak) is a tourist market for this very purpose. Whether you want an I ❤ Moldova t-shirt, a matroshka doll (it’s actually Russian, but no one back home will know the difference), or a painting by a local artist, you are covered. By this point you’re probably tired and are at a loss for what else to do–how about just getting some coffee before your flight? The magnetic pull of the foreigner trap Tucano will be too great to resist. About one out of three patrons at any given time are speaking English. And your wallet will be comforted by the fact that you are paying somewhat close to western prices ($2 for coffee). Actually though, the signature coffee (Tucano coffee of course) is really good. Just fair warning: don’t order a large if you are used to Starbucks temperatures, because it come in a large round cup and will therefore (surface area science stuff) will become lukewarm within 30 seconds. Bonus: there is free wifi, so you can post all those selfies to Facebook. #moldova #europeshiddengem.


For the past week, I have been a strict vegan. In Orthodox countries, several times of year there is a post (a time of fasting), when according to church guidelines people should decline to consume any animal products. The longest post, called the great post in Russian, corresponds to lent on the orthodox calendar (Easter will be on May 1st this year). The list of valid and important reasons the people go vegan is long: animal rights, saving the environment, staying healthy, maintaining your relationship with God.
My reasons?
1. I wonder what it would be like to be vegan.
2. I should probably eat less chocolate.
3. That amazing vegan chocolate cake my host mom made makes me believe I can actually live without eating non-vegan chocolate.
My host family observes post, so the basis of my dinners and breakfasts was vegan anyway. That’s over half the time, right? Making up the other half should be simple. All I have to do is swear off:
-Milk in my tea in the morning
-All lunches except the 5 options on the vegan menu (borscht, arugula and potato salad, cabbage and peas, beans, cheeseless pizza).
-All the German chocolate I buy
-Coffee drinks
-Cake with those coffee drinks
-Ice cream (the program somehow managed to find occasion to order it twice for us in the last week)
-Random American candies that somehow make their way to people here
-Brinza (goat cheese) on my salads, potatoes, pasta, mini sandwiches…
You know what’s funny? If you told me I had to give up any one of those, I would probably tell you that I don’t have the willpower to do it. It is actually easier to go without all of them. I think the reason is that when you have such a limited diet, everything is framed in terms of foods that you can eat, rather foods that you can’t. No one bothers to go through the regular menu and ask if every item is vegan. They just ask for a list of vegan foods, and choose from there. Among the list of foods that have become my staples:
-Placinta, a Moldovan pastry with thin dough and various fillings. My host mom makes it often during post with cabbage or nuts and jam. The nut one is sweet and helps stave off cravings for other desserts. Both are an excellent thing to pack and take with me when I will invariably still be hungry after lunch.
-Walnuts and almonds have always been available, because my family has a nut farm. My consumption of them has resurged.
-Everything fried in sunflower oil. Because eating foods that taste unhealthy is a must sometimes. When I say everything, I really mean just potatoes. But I eat a lot of potatoes, so that almost counts as everything.
-Pasta with jarred tomato-pepper something. After loads and loads of potatoes every day, pasta raises my mood as much as candy used to. Simple white carbs.
-Jarred things in general. My mom was preparing for post back in August, when she filled our cellar with cabbage, tomatoes, jams, etc.
-Oatmeal. Are it before, eat it now.
-Golupsi. If you remember them back from my post about the holidays, then about double the love I expressed for them there, you’ll have an accurate idea of our current relationship status. They are just as good without meat.
-Beets. I might have to go ahead and call them my favorite food. Filling, healthy, and they satisfy my sweet tooth.
-My vitamin. Got to get calcium somewhere. And when I looked up online good sources of calcium for vegans, I found lists that included “foods vegans typically eat”: tofu, soy milk, collards, broccoli. Um…I had broccoli a couple times here in restaurants…and the western cafe now offers tiny amounts of soy milk to add to coffee…
My conviction is stronger than I thought it would be. Of course there have been times when I’ve thought “wow, that chicken smells really good” but I’ve never actually wavered about whether I should eat it or not. The worst moment was when I actually opened a peppermint patty from America, and just as the minty chocolate hit my nostrils, I thought: I can’t eat this. By far the hardest thing to deal with has not been denying myself foods, but being hungry. Before my hunger level ranged from I guess I could eat to stuffed. Over the past week, it ranged from starving to pleasantly satisfied.
I’m no longer fasting, because I had to move host families and my new family had a tough enough time with their previous vegetarian host daughter, let alone a vegan. I’m back to eating chocolate; so much for that. However, the fact that I started the fast planning to stay vegan for an entire month made the past week, I believe, representative of how I would have felt had I actually stayed vegan for a month. And I accomplished what I set out to do, even if I started on a whim and didn’t realize it at the time. I proved to myself that nothing, not even chocolate, controls my life. I treat myself because I want to, not because I need to.
In my last two months in Moldova, I will do a lot. I will also not get around to doing everything. And I will try to apply this lesson as much as I can to my life here: doing things because I want to do them, not because I feel like I should do them. I will work towards appreciating the simple, the beets and pasta, and not constantly craving something more–which, to be honest, may or may not have satisfied me anyway.
Simple things, like enjoying my new host mom’s fried eggs, packing brinza to put on everything at a picnic, and accepting gifts of German chocolate from my friends.

Желтеет мир веселоватый/A Happyish World Glows Yellow

The second poem/photo project. I decided this time to take pictures of yellow things. I was suprised that by carrying around a camera in my pocket and taking pictures of only yellow stuff–a tiny percentage of objects in any country–I ended up with a very accurate depiction of what my Moldova looks like: the beautiful and the ugly, the natural and unnatural, the random and the meaningful. Unlike last time, I don’t mention all the photos in my poem (although all the images in the poem are somewhere among the photos). If you have any questions about what things are, please comment. I’d be more than happy to answer them; speaking of meaningful, I could have written entire stanzas about almost any given object. Unfortunately I don’t have the strength to eek out a poem that long. Actually, I more don’t have the strength to then translate what I’ve written into English. Speaking of which, a note to English only readers: the rhyming non-pattern is not a translation mistake, it is that way in the original also. It was intentional. Русские читатели–я знаю, что некоторые слова не существуют. Я нарочно их создала.

Желтеет мир веселоватый


Слыхала я когда-то,

Что страны

С желтыми флагами

Не рыба, не мясо.

Они не бывают



Это несколько странно,

Поскольку нас всех на свете связывает

Солнце одно.

Че, не считается то

Желтейшее существо,

Владеющее общественным счастьем?


О! Вот–уловила.

Счастье не ведет к власти.


Власть может счастьем управлять

А там, где солнце уже светит

Желтеет мир веселоватый:

Опасаясь ради лучшей крыши

Его ласковые лучи потерять.


Моя Молдова–желтая.


В природе штучки ярче

Желтого цветка нет.

Глядя на рекламу, папку,

Куртку, кнопку, каталку,


Забывается, что человечество,

Не творил этот цвет.


До того, как капитализм

Дал нам радоваться смайлику

Желтый все равно краснел весну.


Я не верю Достоевскому.

Ни на рынке, ни на природе,



Он может доить прочнее цвета.

(Спроси дерево, у которого плесень.)


Желтый! Какой ты покладистый.

Принадлежишь всем:

И библиотеке, и сигаретке,

И дому рядом с близнецом.

Оттенки отличаются–ну и что?

Соперничать не станем.

Мало того, приглашаем вас:

Пусть желтеет твоя душа у нас!


A Happyish World Glows Yellow


I heard somewhere

That countries

With yellow flags

Sort of…lag.

Mighty they

Are not.


Which is kinda strange, cause

The whole world whirls around

One sun.

That yellowest entity

Possessing the happiness of society

What, doesn’t count?


Oh! Figured it out.

Happiness does not lead to mightiness.

Might by the opposite is triggered.

Might create its own pleasure.

There, where the sun already shines,

A happyish world gleams yellow:

Afraid of rooves (that are better, they know),

Clinging to the rays they treasure.


My Moldova is yellow.


In nature, nothing’s brighter

Than a yellow flower.

Looking at a folder, jacket, slide

Button, billboard, bag-leaves,

It’s hard to remember

That such a color

Was created by a higher power.


Before capitalism

Made it into a smiley-thing

Yellow colored spring.


I don’t believe Dostoevsky

Neither on the market nor in nature

Is yellow an illness.

Although it might mooch off of more durable colors.

(Ask the tree with the fungus.)


Yellow! How agreeable you are.

You belong to everyone.

To grand libraries, to litter,

To strangely similar neighbors

The shades might differ, but so what?

We don’t compete or shun.

Moreover, we invite you:

Come yellow your soul here too!






Memorable moments

Each month we have to fill out anonymous quality control surveys for the program. The most recent survey included the question: “what is one memorable thing you did this month?” I was horrified when nothing came to mind. Nothing special, that is. I went to class. I read. I ate dinner with my family. I went to the theater a couple times. I made a birthday cake. I hung out in my friend’s sauna (while escaping the Romanian-language birthday party). Am I a terrible exchange student? Where’s the adventure, the what-a-great-experience-your-gap-year-in-Moldova-is? Why can’t I think of one moment in the last 30 days when I did something unforgettable?

Then I realized that the most memorable thing about this month, and the most memorable thing in general about my recent experience in Moldova, is conversations. Once I thought of this, I immediately reproached myself for undervaluing it. Caroling with my host brothers on New Years and getting lost on an abandoned kolhoz (soviet-era collective farm) in the snow are nice and all, and are certainly the anecdotes I will rely on when acquaintances want a 60-second answer to the question “How was Russia??”, but they are far from the most important memories. After all, conversations most neatly combine everything I truly want out of this gap year: learning Russian, sharing cultures and contemplating life. So here are 10 of the most memorable conversations I’ve had recently. This, of course, is only a tiny sample, seeing as I probably spend about 2 hours a day on average involved in some sort of “deep” conversation. (Come to think of it, I probably can thank the lack of adventure for that; my day-to-day life doesn’t leave a ton to talk about.)

Discussing career-family balance with my host dad. Conclusion: don’t give up family for your career, or you will end up feeling unfulfilled and will drive away your husband by being too controlling.

Discussing career-family balance with my host mom. Conclusion: don’t give up your career for your husband, or you will end up feeling unfulfilled and controlled by other people.

Ranting about geopolitics and over-focus on history with my friend. Opinions here are rarely moderate- either Russia is evil or America is evil. While the American is evil argument is not phrased this way, it certainly has Cold War flavor. The Russian is evil argument is more blatant: usually backed by the “we suffered under Stalin and Stalin is evil, Putin is basically Stalin” argument. Geopolitical problems, created. Out of nothing really that substantially exists in 2016.

Defending America’s dominance in the world to my teacher. On a test. Each week we have an oral component of our test, and one week my topic was American’s external politics. I said my bit, and then she started asking very pointed questions, like “Does one country have the right to dictate its will to the rest of the world?” For whatever reason I made the choice to complicate my life and answer yes, every country has the right to seek practical ways to defend and expand their interests, as long as they are not not in violation of international law.

Exchanging views on religion with a couple of my friends. Before coming here, my circle of friends was a liberal salad. Views ranged from moderately liberal iceberg to very liberal kale. Discussions usually centered around the degree of dark-greenest of leaf that balances healthiness and palatableness. Now my circle of friends includes, say, plums. Which means conversations about topics like politics and religion have suddenly become much more interesting. Also, for the first time I’ve had the opportunity to explain what Quakerism means to me from a religious point of view, not just the school tour “At the Friendly school, we interpret Quaker values in x y z way and love meeting for worship!”

Attempting to debate the existence of Israel with my friends. I say attempting, because we were just getting somewhere (our conclusions: it probably “should” not exist, but neither “should” America, and regardless it a moot point. And now the way to deal with that is…) when my friend’s host dad came over and asked if he could join us. By join us, he meant that he wanted to begin a photo-imbedded lecture about how awesome of a country Israel is.

Musing about the changes in our personalities and our names (and our weight…) with a friend. What exactly is different and whether it matters, and whether the changes will stick. Conclusions tbd.

Hearing about the war in Ukraine from someone whose family fled it. My friend has had a rough past few years, moving around and dealing with her father’s death.

Listening to any recollections of my host parents’ childhood. From frosting made from melted ice cream (there was no milk at the time in the city) to a dog that protected my host dad on the walk to school and low-quality shoes that did not protect my host dad from the walk to school, you would think the conclusion would be the opposite of what it is: “We were happy. We thought that out of the whole world, we were the children that lived best.”

Complaining about our frustrations learning Russian. In Russian, of course. I don’t think we’ve ever stopped to fully appreciate the irony of the fairly frequently spoken sentence “Мой русский ужасный сегодня. Не могу говорить.” (My Russian is horrible today. I can’t speak.)