Thursday, June 19, 2008

More from Moscow

I hate to juxtapose my posts with those on Mr. Russert. Its a tragedy that not only americans acknowledge, but many a russian also commented on the loss of our great american journalist. As a testament to Mr. Russerts accomplishments a teacher that I have asked us at the beginning of class, What is new in america? I answered by saying that Tim Russert had died. As a linguistic question he asked me who tim russert was, and trying to craft a linguistically complex answer I gave the russian translation of talking head (govaryashaya golova). My teacher literally spit at this answer and said that this was no way to treat mr. russert (and in retrospect I agree). He told me that that phrase is also used in russia but denotes a telejournalist without tact, prowess, etc. He said to use this term in reference to Mr. Russert was insult. personally it was lesson learned, and simultaneously it speaks to how revered Mr. Russert is around the world.

Aside from that, school is extremely challenging. Different from the russian program at chicago, which is no walk in the park mind you, but also tries to retain students by grade inflation, the program at International U in Moscow has no qualms with letting students know with grades just how poorly they comprehend the russian language. When we are asked a question we aren't meant to respond as an american learning russian would, but as a russian would respond to the same question. As a result we are all reelling after our first round of examinations and Im willing to bet that much of the weekend will be spent studying for all.

In my contemporary politics class, the one in which I meritted a spit, our teacher asked us about Bush. We all were up in arms and one girl especially mentioned Bush's failure in Iraq. Our teacher says in response: what did you expect from him? He said that he wanted to fight terror, and Saddam created terror. The big claim against bush was that he never found the WMD's. Our teacher laughed at this claim and said, of course he wouldn't find them, he wasn't looking for weapons, he was looking for terrorists, and to this regard he eliminated a big one. The weapons on the other hand, he argued, if bush had wanted to find those exact ones, used in Iraq against the kurds, would not be hard to find. He said: where would they be? We all yell: Syria! and he starts laughing again. He said, you americans, at one moment you criticize your media, at the next moment you take its word for the truth. He begins to rhetorically show us how rooted our belief were in an american perspective and then says: for russians the answer is very easy. We all already know. It took the dumbest one of us to find out, in probably a week. The class then spent 20 minutes trying to figure out where they could be and he says: you idiots, they're in Belorussia. We all look dumbfounded and he says, who gave him (Saddam) the weapons, who taught him how to use them? --the USSR. and who among former USSR states would have agreed to take them back? The Belorussian. they needed oil, which saddam had, and they already knew what the weapons were about and what to do with them.
Despite the lack of evidence this argument was an eye opener to me on how rooted my thought was in american-constructed thought. The russians are very smart people, and their sense of history is MUCH more absolute than ours. Our teacher spent a long time in convincing us that the world is a much bigger place than America and that those two eyes (you'll appreciate this doc) chronology and geography aren't autonomous of one another. I could go on, but I'm sure you see how this played out, as I'm sure you struggle to teach the same thing.

Everyday this place opens my eyes a little wider.
Neil

1 comment:

Paddy said...

A priceless education indeed! Good thing we got that Spanish course changed back in Junior year, eh. Love the posts - can't wait to see photos if you can manage em.