Careful, doors are closing.

During orientation, we were shown a diagram depicting the stages of culture shock; initial elation is usually followed by a period of distress and struggle, after which one begins to cope and eventually adjust to cultural differences. A week ago, the idea of culture shock was a distant thought in my mind, maybe even an abstract one. I didn’t doubt that I would experience it, I just didn’t think about it at all. After a few exciting days in the heart of the city, I moved to my home-stay. There I understood the wonder that is culture shock. As I sat in the kitchen with my new family (my host mom, Nata, and my host-sister, Anya) struggling to keep up with their lively, and (unfortunately for me) interrogatory chatter, thoughts of all kinds swam through my very jet-lagged head: Who forced me to come here? Why can’t I understand anything? Do I even know any Russian? I clung to words I recognized like a child clings to a blankie. After unpacking my things in my new room, I returned to the kitchen for dinner. We attempted more conversation, had varying success, and then I went to bed. After a few days of this, I began to notice a few things.

1. I have a future in the miming industry.

2. When I’m having trouble explaining something, my host mother twirls her hair nervously.

3.  I often trail off at the end of my sentences in the hope that someone will guess what I’m thinking.

4.  Nodding and smiling indicates understanding – when you don’t understand, don’t nod and smile. This leads to confusion and misunderstanding.

5.  It’s possible my host family thinks I’m afraid of science. I meant to say spiders. See # 4.

6.  My vocabulary mostly consists of phrases like:

  • “No, thanks, I’m full.”
  • “Interesting!”
  • “Me too!”
  • “I love cats.”
  • “Uh.”

Even so, every day is better. I recognize more words, and I (usually) go the right direction on the metro. During class, I no longer feel the need to jump out of the nearest window, though sometimes I do want to slam my head on a desk. And on my way home the end of the day, I allow myself to blend in with the crowd (a fallacy, since I don’t wear a fur coat or high-heeled black boots) and sway with the lurching metro car. It’s strange, but I’m always comforted by the words the float through the loudspeaker at every stop: “Ostarozhna, dveri zakrivayutsa.” Careful, Doors are closing.


For the feline fanatics out there: my host family has not only two cats, but also a new kitten. They tried to apologize for not telling me sooner. Hah.



One Response to “Careful, doors are closing.”

  1. Jeb Bird says:

    Hi Alex,
    I laughed out loud reading this blog. Glad you are getting more comfortable with the language each day. Isn’t it interesting how much one can communicate, both accurately and not, using body language and facial expressions. We miss and love you. We had many of the same questions you drifted into about going and now I’m pleased and thankful about your decision. We’ll hopefully have time in the future to discuss this. Please say hello to Nata and Anya from us and thank them for expanding their cats to three. Wow, one for each. Look forward to your next entry.


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