A MOVABLE FEAST
Reflections on a Seven-Week Visit to the USA
by a Russian Teacher
A day does not go by without my remembering our fabulous seven weeks in America.
And still, I felt I needed time to sort out my impressions and experiences. Everything – beginning from that incredible moment when Karen Bradbury telephoned to say that I was awarded a trip to the USA, the remarkable reception at the American Embassy in Moscow; Washington and the University of Delaware – was overwhelming.
“A face is blurred/Seen eye to eye,/Contours emerge only at a distance,” famous Russian poet Sergei Yesenin once said. One can recognize the importance of an event, or pass an objective judgement on it, only when it has become a part of the past.
It is next to impossible to mention all that happened and that I saw – it is unembraceable. I won’t describe those fascinating tourist spots we visited. And I must say that we have used our time to the utmost. In New York, though on our own, we managed a hectic itinerary – catching the first ferry-boat in order to climb to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, and indulging ourselves with the third musical on Broadway, being in rapture from the previous ones (“Ragtime” and “Chicago” were on our ACCELS program) – we selected “Forever Tango” and were speechless after the show. We slept only five hours a day.
And when the euphoria is over; when you are home again and the last wave of culture shock has vanished; you relive every moment of your discovery of America again and again.
What was so important to me is that in the USA I found some subtle things which were a confirmation of my innermost thoughts. I must confess that at first, before my visit to the USA, I had been a bit apprehensive or even skeptical about America; now I understand that this was just because of my ignorance. I simply could not believe in what I did see. I was really impressed with the principles of liberty and democracy that do exist in this diverse country – because laws operate in the USA. People there understand freedom as a sum of obligations and commitments, not as anarchy.
I was impressed with integrity and patriotism which did not seem to be fake.
I was impressed with the independence and self-reliance of individuals. It is like an opera – each performs their aria, but all the singers sing together!
In my country, lofty ideals (which I cherish and share), once proclaimed, turned out to be only delusive hopes. They were distorted and betrayed. I was amazed to observe my life-time ideals being preached in America.
Of course, I am well aware of idealizing what I saw – we were shown the best side of life, the splendor of the country. We were treated as guests of honor – everything was at our disposal, on a silver platter, prearranged and taken care of, though some of those whom we met displayed a kind of condescending superiority; what Faith Morningstar had called in her lecture “tolerance”, “acceptance”, but not “respect”. Well, we can understand such an attitude, it is natural, we are all human after all.
In fact, to impress unspoiled Russian teachers was easy. Being “naive and innocent”, we reminded ourselves of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. We teased each other about the mind-boggling amounts of food, services and facilities; we laughed a lot at ourselves, telling jokes about our everyday mishaps.
I was happy that my adjustment was almost immediate; I am “gung-ho” about everything new, and the energy of the Americans is contagious to me. For me, without any exaggerations, the whole trip was a “moveable feast”.
And still, what makes a country, a place, so special to me? It is people. My biggest impression of America is the Americans. I admire their daring nature, their impatience and impetuosity, their pursuit of unreachable perfection, and the stunning ability to be very at ease with themselves.
During our seminars we were presented with a unique chance to meet the best people, best teachers, best hosts. People who care. People with a divine gift to teach. People who have devoted themselves to children. It was the luxury of interaction with extraordinary and charismatic personalities that made our visit so wonderful.
I was elated and inspired by meeting with such linguistic luminaries as Dr. Dan Davidson, the “founding father” of the US-Russia Awards for Teachers of English, and American Studies Project, Dr. Wilga Rivers, Professor Emerita, our “guru” from Harvard University, who introduced me to the notion of bichovinism, which I found to be extremely important for my country.
Brilliant professors taught us at the University of Delaware: Dr. Marina Piscolish and Dr. April Veness, Dr. Danilo Yanich and Joseph Matterer, to name but a few.
An exceptional opportunity to exchange views with our colleagues, American teachers, was given to us at the “Celebrating Excellence in Teaching Conference”. I enjoyed the comfort of kindred spirits and made a lot of friends, literally from Alaska to Massachusetts. One of them, Charles Sposato, an outstanding teacher from Framingham High School, came to Russia in October 1998 to teach at my school. That was fantastic! Now he is one of our lot, we hope.
During our professional development seminar I felt the power which emanates from working with smart, highly-motivated people, all of whom are under stress and strain. And I was a very small part of the team. Once I thought I was shortchanging myself by teaching; I cannot say teaching in this country is immensely rewarding; but I flattered myself that I affected young minds. And I was moved beyond words when Dr. Dan Davidson thanked us for not only being teachers, but for not leaving the profession.
Glorious thanks to all those remarkable people who worked on the project. It was just awesome! I appreciate everything they did for us. I relished every minute of my stay in this country thanks to their unsparing efforts.
Thank them for empowering us!
Oscar Wilde once said: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”. I can only hope that I belong to the latter.
by Inna Fenina,
English teacher, Gumnasium 91, Ufa
Winner of 1998 US-Russia Award for Excellence in Teaching Program