Classes at the MezhFak (Mezhdunarodniy Fakultet – International Faculty) have been getting better and better; I’ve been getting used to the Russian way of teaching (a method much less forgiving than back in the good ol’ US of A), which got easier after I ceased to notice the continuous tapping of 3-inch + heels rushing up and down the corridors. Later today I’m sitting in on Old Church Slavonic, one of the mainstream classes I might take with Russian students.
Although this is my “study-abroad”, my academic studies have only been a small part of my experience in Irkutsk so far. In addition to the full immersion in the culture and language here, I’ve also had a chance to discover some of the natural beauty of the region. The main natural wonder here is of course the astonishing Lake Baikal, the deepest, purest lake on the planet, which we saw in its entire splendor last weekend. We—the Middlebury group, our resident coordinator Riley, and our guide Nadya—got to Bolshie Koty (which apparently does not mean “big cats” but rather “big wooden shoes”, which used to be made for state convicts?) on a boat that went up the Angara River into Baikal and past Listvyanka, one of the main tourist towns on the coast of Baikal. After arriving to Bolshie Koty and dropping off our stuff in our cabin-hostel we hiked up to the peak of a small mountain, allowing us to see the whole town of Bolshie Koty and a huge chunk of Baikal, which seemed more like an infinite ocean rather than a lake. Looking past Baikal it was interesting to think that past the other coast of this gigantic body of water was the rest of Eastern Siberia, all of the Far East, followed by the largest ocean in the world, followed by California, where my parents were most likely sleeping since it was probably really late at night, the previous day. I think that’s when I realized just how far away from home I am.
We got back from our exploring and made some dinner (pasta accompanied by a tasty meat sauce made by our favorite German Helena), and after dinner finally experienced the Russian Banya! It took Ethan and me a while to figure out how the whole process with the birch leaves was supposed to be carried out (all of this in almost 200° F). The evening ended with us gazing at the most stars I’ve ever seen in my life in the clear midnight sky of Bolshie Koty, peaceful night to precede the rigorous 7-hour hike to Listvyanka that was to come the next day.
It’s also been great getting to know my host-parents (host-older-siblings?) Sasha and Vitya, as well as their cat Persik (a cat that doesn’t hate me?), who’s become one of my best Russian friends. Sasha even advertised for me a bit online and I’ve been teaching English to two of her friends since last week! A wise man once said, “**** ******, get money”.
Going to class now. Plans for tonight: 2 hours of English with Anya and Sasha (also a guy’s name in Russia, short for Aleksandr), read Gogol’s "The Portrait", and prepare for a camping trip with Nastya and Misha (her boyfriend) and co.
Pizza with Sasha