Days merge into weeks that result in a month that looms in the horizon indicating that it is not sensible anymore to think about it as a tourist visit at all. As someone who had travelled a bit before, I had the urge to fall into the trap of thinking of being here as a slightly extended tourist stay that had definitely already been different from any trip I had previously ventured on. Yes, I was already the second month in and I certainly didn’t believe I actually was at the time! Given that I arrived in late August and spent the entire September here in the U.S., October was going to be the third month I was going to spend here! I was wondering when I would actually stop keep tracking of time, which as the most intangible thing there is, is the most intangible thing that tangibly controls us.

The first day of the second autumn month and the second full month of my life here was marked with a nice pensive walk in Brooklyn with a fellow Fulbrighter. New York looked more like it was still lingering in the beautiful early autumn realm of September. We could enjoy a lovely talk and meal sitting on the grass in Prospect Park sharing our perspectives, experiences just to find that as confused as we could be about where our lives are going, knowing that there is someone struggling in pretty much the same way you are is absolutely comforting. I knew from that early point on that it was all about the people who I was going to meet and hopefully maintain and nurture my connection with. Museums, music, teacher-student misunderstandings, accommodation issues – it wasn’t only our present that brought us together (and it might as well with tons of other strangers enjoying that Sunday afternoon walking the Brooklyn Bridge that Sunday evening), but our past as well, the past we might have been wanting to take a break from here, but here it was doing all the bonding for us to make our present even more alive and vibrant.

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge

I was also trying to establish more connections with “my” (I was getting to a point where I could call it that) campus community. I was increasingly more picky about the events I was going to attend, but I certainly knew I couldn’t miss a few inspirational talks given on a regular basis at the business center of our university. Unflagging optimism isn’t something Russians are good at even believing in, but Americans certainly pack a punch when it comes to at least giving an illusion of optimism. I am obviously not the one to take a credit for that, but I call this “American air punching”. This is exactly how you feel while you are listening to another speaker who has had their share of trouble and misfortune just to rise above it all and embrace life and all the beautiful things it has to offer. I think public speaking skills that are generally fostered in American public education system certainly come in handy to create the effect. You can really feel in the moment with the speaker and they have you hooked and wanting to have the words they say resonate with you and your experiences. Of course, you are very unlikely to walk out of this cosy space a different person as the package of our past is what we drag along into our present, but the feeling is real and it is here now. It would take a while for it to start feeling more like an illusion, but when you hit a slightly low point in life, it might pop up in your head to give you a sense of security. That’s generally how I feel about the positivity in America. The part of the country where I am in might not be too representative of the entire nation as this area is very diverse, but there is something that unites all of the United States or at least it’s something intangible they want us to believe exists. I’m not sure if Americans are generally better at dealing with life crisis than other nations, but on the surface they certainly want to appear to be. This is why I choose to call it an illusion, it’s not tangible at all, but it might go a long way controlling your thinking and life in a very tangible way if you let it.

I was trying to move ahead with my research, but as I had found out earlier, there is this organization called the IRB (institutional review board) at American universities. If your research involves human subjects, your proposal has to go through this organization for them to make sure there will be no physical/mental damage caused to your participants. This is another cultural thing you have to deal with here, as it might seem too overwhelming how sensitive Americans are about ethical issues. They are so wrapped up in this paradigm of looking at it (as we might be in ours as well) that it might come across as totally strange how we find this whole thing too ridiculous and try our best not to be vocal and explicit about it. As a result, in order to comply with all the requirements and following my supervisor’s advice, I found myself changing my original proposal significantly. There was one training session organized by the IRB, and what it did was to confuse me even more about what I would have to do and if I did exactly that, how long it was going to take before I could actually start? I decided I would continue to do interviews for my “Bilinguals” project without waiting to get my official IRB approval as long as my participants were OK with that. It was actually another excuse to maintain and nurture friendly connections with people as we made arrangements to meet for interviews and enjoy lovely conversations afterwards while it was still surprisingly warm and nice outside. I think studying language and bilingualism in particular is about getting in touch with people and being a good listener to whatever they have to share about them and their stories. This romanticized view of the subject might not agree with the general rules and regulations enforced by the IRB though…

At that point, I wasn’t too discouraged as there were a lot of other things to keep me interested and busy right here on campus. Right across the street from my building, there was the School of Communication and Media. I was there for the official opening and could enjoy some free ice-cream and a live open-air concert. Yes, Americans love free food and now I do even more than I could ever imagine! As it was open house, everyone was welcome to come and have a look at all the brand new facilities and equipment. I felt something within me fluttering and sending vibrations of life over my body as I entered the building and saw all different rooms it had where people were busy showing news reports being put together, videos being edited, etc. Some of the rooms overlooked the Manhattan skyline and that was where some of the students aspired to take their skills I guess. Such an inspiring environment to be in! After joining a few tours of different classrooms, I dropped in to the editorial board of the local newspaper called Montclarion in the hope of arranging to get published there. Yes, dreams of journalism aren’t meant to simply die here on the other side of the Atlantic! Needless to say, I walked out of this building with a tiny extra portion of life injected in me with that illusional but sweet feeling that whatever you set your mind to the universe will help you achieve…

As a language teacher, I couldn’t help taking advantage of a very beneficial linguistic environment I was in. Of course, it would have been very unprofessional of me to have any significant difficulties using English from day one. Being a teacher inadvertently involves being a constant learner as well. But eventually after all those small triumphs that one might have only been dreaming of achieving (talking to a native speaker for the first time, getting to speak English for an extended period in a natural setting, etc.), the excitement wears off and instead of an excited and inquisitive learner you grow into a user of the language. I would never underestimate English and the role it has and is playing in my life and its current extensive international chapter, but throughout the last few years of teaching, travelling and generally reflecting on life, I have discovered that the professional, social, personal and “linguistic” me would definitely benefit from stepping out of the increasingly growing world of this international lingua franca. It might sound sappy and cheesy after all, but English is like the first love for me, something that cannot be erased and would have an effect on any of my future endeavors. It is also like a truly genuine friend to count and rely on to facilitate communication. But what about trying to make a few new friends (linguistic and human) while learning a new language? I wasn’t the one to acquire English in a natural way, it was all through formal instruction (mostly on my own and later on at the university). How did I even do that? I don’t want to sound overly self-confident, but the fact that I am writing this living here shows I must have done something right on my English learning journey. Is there any way I could help others in theirs as well? That has been something I have been paid to do during the last five years. It wasn’t until I started learning new languages that I realized my own experience of learning a new language could give me a better insight into whatever was happening in my classroom.

Even though I wasn’t going to be teaching during the next ten months, I decided to continue with my linguistic escapades as part of my big American journey with the above and some other purposes in mind. Yes, that might seem like a strange decision to make in an English-speaking country, but here I was! Back at the Uni, I wasn’t much excited about having to learn a second foreign language and never had got to use German naturally till I had travelled to Germany, which was brief and awkward. Yes, I knew those were going to be the two words to describe my attempts at new languages, but being a teacher one might forget what it is like to be a learner who is meant to fail and flounder. My first encounter with German that I wanted to refresh my memory of was during a German class here at MSU. As the language material being taught was incredibly easy, I could observe and reflect on how much of our personalities we bring into the way we teach. The teacher had her students painting and drawing, which I hadn’t really asked my students to do as I wouldn’t have been comfortable with it myself. Was I robbing them of a chance to or was there something I hope I was contributing to their learning, something so “me”…? Actually, I got to speak some German with the mother of my Austrian friend and I loved every minute of that spontaneity, briefness and awkwardness!


The other two escapades were more rough, risky, fresh and belle with a lot more briefness and awkwardness to them. The first one was with Italian. Yes, at this point of my stay, I was already missing Europe and I was dreaming I might end up in the bellissima Italia in my future career. The people from the Italian program were amazingly friendly and accommodating and enchanted me with their Italian charm. Even though they were all living and working here and some were even born and raised in the U.S., there was something persistently Italian about them that I don’t think they would ever agree to let go of. Their fashion sense, that sophisticated appeal they radiated was so undeniably there! This bellezza had me wanting to do my best to sing every vowel of this word the way Italians do! The symposium of Italian teachers I had the honor and pleasure of attending later in October gave more opportunities to get inspired to continue on my trip despite briefness and awkwardness I had trying to speak Italian.


I knew I could speak it better and give it more commitment if it wasn’t for French, which could have been a bit better if it wasn’t for Italian. Yes, choices can get tough! Maybe I needed that double portion of brief and awkward in my life after all… We sometimes venture on linguistic journeys driven by some romanticized idea of a nation inspired by its cultural contributions to the world or even some individuals we see on our trips. Some stereotypes are here to be born and dismissed and some are so undeniably there! The romanticized stereotype of French seemed to suit the real and tangible me that even my Mum who we’d never had any talks about languages with, once said I should try to learn French. Really – do mothers sometimes just know? Yes, and I came here straight from Paris where my parlez-vous anglais proved how English would always be there to give me comfort while I was just like a kid learning to swim (I can’t actually!) and going into the exciting new waters under a watchful eye. My first American experience of French was during a conversation class here at my university. Fashion and language interact in their own delicate and subtle way and that was I was thinking as I put on my Breton striped shirt and Eiffel Tower-shaped earrings I got in Paris to help me along. Well, whatever facilitates that move out of the comfort zone… Am I really getting out of my mouth something that I hope sounds remotely French in front of a native speaker? Of course, English is always here to help, but anyway, it is happening in its own tiny and fearful way! As long as there is patience and understanding from a person who has to abuse their ears listening, I am not too hard on myself for whatever it is I am saying probably having tons of mistakes in it. Yes, teachers have a hard time with accepting mistakes, let alone making them, because we hear plenty almost every day anyway. They are part of learning as annoying as they might get when being made over and over again. Therefore you have to be a bit adventurous and curious as a teacher to do something that would inevitably involve you making mistakes. As someone doing research into language and personality, I couldn’t help but wonder how I was coming across trying to get out of the comfort zone of English into the uncharted but merveille territory of French. I haven’t had anyone trying to speak bad Russian in front of me, but if I ever do, I promise I will treat them as nicely as I was. Would I have had this experience if I had never dared to fail and flounder? Yes, you feel vulnerable in the process and as a kid playing in the sand, you might get an adult watching smudged and stained while you are busy building something and that is how you feel with native speakers who might in fact turn out to be generally very nice people (and from la plus belle city you’d been to so far) and inspire you even more with their own personalities and stories that might have all the stereotypes reinforced, revisited or thrown out of the window altogether… Yes, one’s teaching experience might get in the way of learning as I discovered during the French class I had attended. Even though there was stuff for me to learn and accepting I had a hard time memorizing, the teacher in me kept analyzing how my colleague is going to handle a particular stage of his class and what the transition to what I thought I knew was coming was going to be. Yes, our professional past is always there resonating into our present, but isn’t that another exciting adventure…? And yes, we do bring our personalities in the way we teach (and see others do so)!


Another passion of mine that I was dreaming of happily incorporating into my love for languages is writing. Am I not making another humble attempt at that as my fingers are tapping on my keyboard typing this…? I had attended a few writing events at the university, but one definitely stood out as I actually got to write something and hear a reaction to it. What the two lovely instructors got me and a few others present to do was to randomly scroll through out timeline on social media and put whatever visual or verbal data we came across into a story. As much as writing sets me free, I might cringe a bit (isn’t that the fear of making mistakes or coming across in a certain way?) at the thought of having a native speaker of English listening to my writing. Of course, once I was done writing, I was still on a high this activity has a way of giving me as I explore my own limits that open up a small new vein in my creativity that sends waves of electricity into my own sense of being. Under this drug of stimulated creativity, my insecurities naturally went down even though my voice was trembling a bit as I was reading (because yes, the insecurity caused by your own accent and overthinking of what effect it is producing was there). The reaction I got from the instructors was absolutely amazing! My own amazement also went up to a whole new level as I heard one of the instructors say to the other one “Her English is amazing!” after we said our goodbyes and I turned to leave. That might have been that boost and burst of emotions writing had given me, but I felt like smiling back to the world that I felt smiling at me or shedding a tiny but genuine tear of happiness. I knew I must have done something right to make me a tiny bit proud of myself at that moment. Thank you, English for that! You are a true friend that enables people to believe in me whenever I get too busy convincing myself I shouldn’t.

Creative Writing--2016/2017 — Jordan Glen School & Summer Camp within Creative Writing Quotes And Sayings

Finally, there was some travelling involved as well of course! It used to be one and only topic I would write extensively about. Now I had found myself trying to incorporate it into other things that I was attempting to incorporate into the bigger picture of my American life and hopefully my life afterwards. It felt bizarre to travel all this way to the other side of the Atlantic not exclusively for travelling. That certainly gave new adventures a bit different flavor. Our first day trip was to Philadelphia as it seemed as the closest large city in another state. I guess that was the initial superficial criterion for opting to travel there. Our first experience with the Greyhound bus service got off to a bad start as our bus got broken down a few minutes after it had left the Port Authority in New York. The whole feeling of travelling to New York from Montclair on a dark and rainy autumn as a starting point of a trip was unusual. The weather is another intangible thing that tangibly controls us. At some point you give up trying to plan around it and that seemed exactly what we did as we found it was really raining just as the weather report said it would be. The power of a good company and spirit can make the control the weather has over us slightly less tangible. American road trips are a lot of fun as long as your bus is moving providing an array of landscapes with different degrees of variety. Crossing from New York back to New Jersey all the way down to Pennsylvania was part of that rainy morning. About two hours later the three of us – two Russians and an Austrian – ventured into exploring the historic city center on our own with about six hours on our hands. In a bizarre way I didn’t have much of an idea what the city would have to offer. We are sometimes so overwhelmed by the global power of the USA that it had had throughout its relatively short history that we might forget about individual and overall importance of particular states and cities in making this country what it is today. Philadelphia houses what has played a huge role in shaping the idea of pursuit of freedom and independence. The Liberty Bell is humbly located in the building overlooking the Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. A huge chunk of the U.S. history was right there for me to embrace against the grey skies of Philadelphia. Compared to more familiar landscapes of New York, it seemed a luxury to be in a city and being able to comfortably see the sky! The way the historic heritage is treasured and preserved in America is incredibly humbling. I am not sure if it has to do with how fairly short and incredibly rich it is, but it certainly fits into the idea of the American nation we have. Interactive screens and efficient service contributed to a real experience of the history of the city. Unlike in New York, it was all so tangibly in the air here. The problem was that enjoying a walk, which is arguably the best way to explore the city, was virtually impossible as the rain was drizzling throwing subtle shades of pessimism on our plans for the day. At the end we decided to do a very touristic thing and take a bus tour of the city center. Of course as you had already been living in a country for a while, the feeling of being a tourist even while getting around evaporates into the desire of simply enriching the existing knowledge. The house of Betsy Ross, the woman who made the first American flag, the Reading Terminal Market, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway lined with international flags (guess what flag two of us were busy looking for?), Philadelphia Museum of Art with the famous Rocky Statue and the Steps that after a few doubts we climbed. I didn’t know about the others, but that was there that I was ready to acknowledge how far I’d come to actually be here at that moment and mentally I threw my hands into the air in Stallone’s character victorious fashion! Colonial houses lining the streets made me want to come back in a warmer weather. The tour finished not far from the City Hall, a massive and gentle greeting from Europe. This largest municipal building with the architectural structures surrounding it gave me a retreat and a feeling of being an exploring tourist here in the USA. Later we met a fellow Fulbrighter who was studying at the University of Pennsylvania and enjoyed a local specialty – Philly cheese steaks. The meat was really good and the cheese – well, I developed an even more loving and affectionate relationship with cheese here as I could eat anything as long as there was some in it. The power of social connections and how personal they make a visit to a city is hard to overestimate. As it had stopped raining, we could pick a beautiful spot for the interview for my project on the grass right in front of the Independence Hall. We wrapped our day in Philly with a walk back to the City Hall. As I turned with my back to it after peering at this magnificent European beauty, I could see a few humble (compared to New York) skyscrapers and what generally looked like a mini-sketch of a typical evening in NYC. It was time to walk back through Chinatown to the bus station with Europe on the right and the USA on the left. I had the soundtrack from the film “Philadelphia” starring Tom Hanks playing in my head. Walking the streets of Philadelphia gave me this kind of a serene and a bit bleak feeling. It was time to say goodbye to the City of Brotherly Love.

Independence Hall in Philadelphia
The Liberty Bell
The Rocky Steps


A cafe in the Historical Philadelphia
Fulbrighters from India and Russia
Celebrating ME in the downtown Philadelphia
Skyscrapers in Philadelphia
A piece of Europe in Philadelphia

The effect of another trip of the month was supposed to be more predictable as it involved visual marvels. But in the end the decision to go to the Niagara Falls was quite spontaneous as our Austrian friend came across a cheap package tour. Why not? Embracing spontaneity is something a lot of us here were getting better at, I think. Unlike Philadelphia with its historic significance, the spectacular grandeur of the Niagara Falls is a totally sensual experience that requires no solid prior knowledge. With things like Instagram increasingly taking over our everyday lives, we are easily lured by anything visually appealing. With an image of the place and our own individual expectations of the visual scale of the place, we set off on a trip with a group of mainly Chinese tourists together with a few fellow internationals from our university. I had never thought I would use this word to describe this particular season, but here in the U.S. I learned how gorgeous autumn (or fall) can be! It was the fall foliage season and going on a long bus trip to the upstate New York was a perfect chance to see it unfolding in its multicolored beauty and charm! As I was trying to make sense of the guide’s comments who switched from English to Chinese and back, my eyes were treated to the kind of autumn I’d never seen before. I had forgotten about a reading book I had with me and even the music on my phone. The latter has this amazing power to enhance our visual experiences, but at that particular moment I decided not to let it interfere with a canvas of landscapes changing from a combination of different shades of orange, yellow and red (that color got me completely hooked and charmed as it seemed to be missing in all of the Russian autumns I had seen). I am not into painting and drawing so I am not impressive with describing colors, but I think the effect the nature had on me was just perfect and right and made me live and enjoy the moment while my Austrian friend sitting on the left was alternating doing the same with preparing for her test in Chinese and felt those small linguistic triumphs whenever she could figure out some word the tour guide was saying to the Chinese-speaking part of the group. Our first stop was at Watkins Glen State Park. Just as their history, Americans know how to preserve their nature. Parks are very welcoming spaces to connect with it without getting lost as trails are clearly marked. It was a small warmup for the Niagara Falls as there were some waterfalls as well. It was a bit rushed and as my knitted coat seemed a bit too warm, I did felt a bit sweaty and uncomfortable. As a Russian, I had to mentally get used to be dressed lightly in the middle of the autumn. That was another surprising thing to discover about this season that I used to mainly associate with depressing transitions and my birthday which I wish was in spring or summer. Another quick stop was at one of the Finger Lakes. I am not much of a nature admirer and still have to practise opening up my sensory tools, but it wasn’t just because we were given very little time that I virtually ran to the Seneca Lake, but it was because I couldn’t wait to stand surrounded by this emerald vastness that matched the grayish skies. The life around it was so laid-back with a few locals sitting here enjoying the afternoon. Yes, we were still in the state of New York but considerably far from the hustle and bustle of New York City. It would have been great to enhance the serene feeling of the surroundings in one of many wineries we drove by. The houses and the feeling was so incredible that I texted my sister telling her she was probably better off not getting to see them as her life might never feel the same afterwards as I knew that looked a lot like a place I imagined she was dreaming of living. A few hours later we were approaching the Niagara Falls. It was a bit too early to try to compare the expectations and reality and nothing we were approaching so far seemed to match any. Niagara Falls is a city whose life is largely centered around tourism. My own expectations of what I was about to see after crossing the street with a Hard Rock café might have been not realistic as I imagined I would be sizing up this water mass while looking all the way up. That was how I had been imagining the place all my life till that moment came when I heard the water streaming and actually had to look all the way down to see it climaxing down into making what the real image of the Niagara Falls is. Looking up, I could see the Canadian City of Toronto and its lights. Visually the whole landscape is certainly appealing as the colors merge and change. Sometimes a human touch to a natural wonder enhances it for other humans. That was definitely the case. There were a bit too many humans wanting to take their pictures of course, all of them looking down with cameras in their hands. After we had visited a mediocre native American dance show, we drove to our hotel for the night. On our way we could see the Canadian border and what I thought was a customs post. Yes, even here on the other side of the Atlantic far from Europe I can see two countries so close together. We weren’t happy but chose not to complain about something that looked like bed bugs at our first American motel as we only had something like five hours to sleep. I guess I spent one of them just listening to a Buffalo radio station and contemplating and not even trying to count how many nights I had spent at hotels lying thinking like that. When the morning came, we set off to explore the area around the Niagara Falls and that was a gorgeous autumn morning that we spent driving around and walking. As we were so close to Canada and could even see its flag waving at a distance, we got a taste of France as well when we went to see Fort Niagara with its French castle overlooking the marvelous Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes. When we got back to the Niagara Falls, what we saw was pretty different from what we did at night and I think it was more natural. We took the Maid of the Mist boat along the Niagara Falls dressed in pink ponchos to mark the Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I think at that moment my life-long image of the Falls and the reality were finally at peace as we had to look up to see the water running down and splashing. Little moments that are too short but powerful enough to contemplate long afterwards… Soon we were ready to go on a long ride back home, to New York.

In Watkins Glen State Park
Seneca Lake
Niagara Falls at night
Colors of the fall
Lake Ontario
Niagara Falls
On the Maid of the Mist boat
Water, water all around

The City was still there with its messy and inconsistent texture waiting to be explored. It is when you repeatedly travel to a place for different purposes that it becomes part of your life. Meeting new people, seeing new friends, attending some events or simply wandering on my own – New York had had me coming back a lot! Once we got to experience it in an unusual way as me and two other Fulbrighters were paired up with a local host to show us around. This lovely girl, a student of the New York University, showed us some places that would become usual places for me to visit such as Bryant Park, Grand Central Terminal, High Line, Washington Square… She also took us to her apartment and that was actually the first apartment in New York I had been in! This is a city of stories of lots and lots of people living and usually sharing apartments like that one with others…

Bryant Park
Whitney Museum
“The Miami group” at the Fulbright reception at Columbia University
Global Expo at Montclair State University

Autumn in New York especially in October made me want to see the movie with the same name again. Central Park has to be part of the autumn experience here in New York. Even though its colors weren’t as spectacular as they were on the way to the Niagara Falls, being there on a sunny day after walking the Avenue of the Americas, or the Sixth Avenue, passing by the NBC studios and Radio City Hall with two fellow Fulbrighters from my university from Montenegro and Papua New Guinea was amazing. Taking countless pictures and talking about all sorts of things in that perfect coat matching the color of my eyes – that was perfect as well! Just a little human-made touch to hopefully enhance and be confident with what the mother nature gave me!


Sixth Avenue
Fall in NYC
Montenegro, Russia, Papua New Guinea
Central Park
Fall in Central Park
Beauty of Central Park

And of course, the whole month was also marked with the color of pumpkins that were virtually everywhere in the run up to Halloween, which I didn’t care to celebrate on the last day of the October, because I’m just not into spooky stuff. Anyway, there were all reasons not to be scared but excited about what the next month had to offer!




For as long as I can remember, my Septembers have been chaotic, confusing, bewildering and that has always been when things started seeming so overwhelmingly real. Starting back school after three months of trying to entertain myself during the non-Internet era, going back to the uni after two months spent in the soothing and carefree comfort of my parents’ home, returning to work at this very same university after feeling blessed to have spent almost two months in the very same house … You got it – Septembers are meant to be tough for me!
Since that was the beginning of a very brand new start for me here in the USA, I realized that first month would be challenging, but little did I know that September would render that all familiar feeling of being confused, bewildered and overwhelmed. But now the reasons for that were all new… Those few days I had spent at the gateway orientation in the sunny (and occasionally rainy) Miami gave me and, I guess the other few dozens of amazing people I had been lucky to have met, the illusion that another chaotic September would take its time and the feeling of a real life would never kick in. It certainly did and I kind of knew it would especially when I bid my goodbye to Miami and got on my plane up to New York. The comfort and casualty of a domestic flight got me thinking of how I was no more a visitor but more a temporary resident moving from one state to another. It felt strangely “normal” to be flying to New York as I had already been in the country for a few days. Was that the “everything is possible now” feeling kicking in…? I knew my supervisor was meant to be waiting for me at the JFK Airport. “There is already someone actually waiting for me”, I thought! It somehow made me feel I was already starting to belong here. “Even if she fails to show up for some reason, I will handle that!”. Yes, I instinctively knew the “honeymoon” stage we had enjoyed in Miami was now officially over! What might follow was supposed to be filled with its joys and responsibilities as I am now here on my own. Well, I know there are already a few amazing people I have a connection with here in the country that was merely a word or a bundle of stereotypes a few days before! “How much is it going to cost me to catch a taxi from here to Montclair if there happens to be no one waiting for me?”, I was thinking as I was making my way wondering how far head-spinning and mind-blowing skyscrapers of the New York City were from there. After literally half an hour walking to the luggage claim area, I saw the sign that read “MONTCLAIR” and my supervisor holding it and that was when I knew the worst-case scenario was off the table. Well, somehow my suitcase, which was actually one of the first ones to show up on the luggage belt, seemed considerably heavier now and that made trying to break the ice and making a good first impression that one never gets to make again a lot harder. I was trying to remain cheerful and linguistically agile and occasionally remembering to look out of the window to see if the New York skyline was in view as we were changing from train to train, going up and down one elevator and another. I wasn’t quite able to comprehend I was actually already on the New York subway and a tiny miniature part of the city’s crowd who had no idea I was thinking of how I was here for real now with my enormous suitcase on that train taking me where I trusted my supervisor to know. It was getting increasingly hard to be making a small talk but I was still hoping that what she called “a recognizable Russian accent” would improve. Well, it is tough for language teachers to reconcile themselves with how their national and linguistic identity would show up despite the years of linguistic training and teaching experience.

As we arrived in Midtown New York and had to walk to another subway station, I discovered one of the wheels of my suitcase had got broken, which explained why I wasn’t performing my best socially and linguistically as carrying it along the New York sidewalks was incredibly and excruciatingly difficult! “Look, this is New York for you”, I said trying to distract myself from the heavy suitcase and being disappointed at how low-key and physically uncomfortable my first walk along a street whose name I didn’t know and care to know yet was. I had a feeling I might have seen it in some Hollywood films. “Just give yourself and New York time”, the growingly and maybe unreasonably optimistic part of me was saying. My supervisor got apologetic again saying that she wished we could have driven all the way to Montclair, but that was a Friday afternoon and the New York traffic would definitely get insanely chaotic. There was actually a rationale behind staying optimistic as a few other people in the New York crowd offered help with my suitcase that my supervisor suggested we took turns to drag. I couldn’t bear letting her do that for too long of course. During what was our final train ride to her hometown where she suggested I spent the night instead of going to Montclair, I felt relieved enough to notice a group of teenage girls that reminded me of a few other Hollywood films. It felt awkward to be listening to their private relationship dramas, and we both felt we had to keep the small talk going. The landscapes of New Jersey offered a nice topic for it. They actually looked a lot like those back home apart from an abundance of American flags waving in the wind on the roofs of occasional typically American houses. After a short ride from the train station (yes, cars are an essential part of living in this country), I got to my first American house that looked amazing with the surroundings too serene to be true! Squirrels! These “girls”, as my supervisor called them, were an incredible and unexpected part of my first evening in New Jersey! They were everywhere running from a tree to tree not really minding the newcomer to the Garden State!

I was yet to discover how grocery stores are an essential part of reminding us of the inevitable daily routine. At the place where we drove together with my supervisor I was curious enough to sneak a few pics of whatever I saw on sale trying to figure out the prices and stop myself from converting the U.S. dollars into roubles! I was pretty amazed at the selection! I knew I would have to learn to work my way through it without going broke. After a typical American dinner in a typical American kitchen at my home for the night and more small talk, I was ready for my first night in New Jersey and a more casual and routine life here in the USA. I had already estimated how large the house was and felt ashamed of how a walk from my room to the bathroom actually made me tired. Well, that was a heavy suitcase with a dysfunctional wheel after all! It was nice I didn’t have to carry it upstairs as there was a small elevator in the house – Americans seemed better at making life easier! Thinking of recycling (I mean, can people actually care to bring their shopping bags back to the grocery store to be recycled?) and a bunch of other things that make life so much more routine, I prepared for a newly discovered French song to keep me awake for a bit longer among a row of photos of American smiling faces I didn’t know. I came here from Paris a few days ago after all… Good night, USA! Let’s take it one thing at a time!

After a brief relaxation in the garden following my first sleep in New Jersey and more encounters with squirrels, it was time to get to my house for the week to in Montclair, my future home town for the next ten months. Driving in a car through the north of New Jersey – that was so American and real! During the first week me and a fellow Russian Fulbrighter spent living sharing a room in a house together, I couldn’t get enough of the views that provided me a generous portion of rows of lovely houses and green spaces surrounding them. What really amazed me was how open those spaces were and there were absolutely no fences or anything! As much as privacy is valued and nurtured here, I could get a quick look and imagine whoever and whatever was behind the walls of another gorgeous place. I felt as if I was walking along a row of lives, not merely architectural structures as there were all sorts of personal visible touches that indicated touching sparkles of life inside them. That week we felt more like a pair of tourists eating out all the time and speaking our language. The downtown Montclair appeared to be a nice place but with not too much happening. I had yet to learn to embrace a different American suburbia. I think I was always compulsively on the lookout for something remotely European about anything – trying out a few Italian restaurants, peering at some of the facades in the downtown – and I was happy to get my appetite for that part of the world delicately fed with a generous portion of something explicitly American on top.

Downtown Montclair
A house in the downtown

Moving to my permanent house was when the reality of having to deal with daily life kicked in. I was missing my lavender-colored room back home and did all that I could and could afford to do to make my new place for the next ten months remind me of it. That did involve spending a bit more than I could have and I had yet to learn to figure out my finance. There is an element of childish insecurity and helplessness about coming to live in another country for an extended period. I actually felt no one I had around me minded me being a child and some people seemed kind enough to provide a secure space for me to learn by making my own mistakes sometimes. I had to remember the time I moved away from my parents’ home to study when I was almost 18 as such a trite and routine thing to do as doing grocery seemed new and weird. We had moved to our own apartment back home six months before and I had to do almost the same all over again here in a different continent! Buying a bunch of essentials like dishes, towels, blankets, etc. with my US dollars was a bit overwhelming and I would have never thought it would be from back home! That is something we as humans find ourselves doing on a daily basis almost anywhere we happen to be in this big world. But on the other hand, there are these small things we don’t become aware of until we move anywhere new that make those basic experiences different depending on where we are. How to find a suitable bed linen for my American bed, what kind of food it is cheaper (and hopefully healthier) to buy and finally whether to swipe/insert/dip your credit card! These are the small things we tend to overlook crossing the borders and oceans in pursuit of bigger things! But there is basically no way of escaping having to deal with them. Being someone who used to cook frequently back at home, I had to accept that at least during my first week of having to get used to a new selection of foods and sharing a kitchen with a few other people, I would eat mainly sandwiches!

Me and the fellow Russian Fulbrighter were given a tour of the university campus by my supervisor who had driven us here. It seemed huge set on top of a hill overlooking large green spaces. As it was still August and also unlike in Russia, not all schools and universities started back on September 1, the campus was deserted except the two of us following my supervisor showing us around. What I couldn’t stop imagining and thinking about was all those people I hadn’t met yet that would flock here a few days later and how I might end up becoming friends with some of them and that could be sitting on any of those comfortable benches all around that we might be having plenty of insightful conversations! I knew for sure I would have to get lost here a few times before I felt comfortable navigating the space! There were separate buildings for institutions that merely took a tiny shabby office back at my home university! That certainly looked like a fantastic place for thriving academically, socially and personally! The Conrad Schmitt Hall that housed the Department of Linguistics looked nice and welcoming, and we could actually get into my supervisor’s office of course! Before that we could enjoy a few views of the New York skyline from a building in front! Yes, New York was just 12 miles away! I knew for sure the physical environment one works in has a huge impact on one’s performance and makes all the difference to how doing whatever it is you are here to do feels! Even though I would not have my own office of course, I could feel I would be comfortable working here.


Getting started with my research wasn’t as easy as I’d thought as any study involving human subjects has to be certified and approved by a special committee. This is something you initially find yourself peeved over as you think getting kick started with what you came all this way to do is what would make adjusting a lot easier. Through the course of the first month I had been learning to see the bright side of things going incredibly slow as that left me with much more time on my hands to explore whatever the university had to offer. First off, I did find myself trying to attend as many events as possible as American universities are universally known for engaging their students at all levels. First and foremost, that was a great way to meet new people and introduce myself to them. I had to struggle a bit explaining what I was as I came here as neither a student nor a teacher. It did flatter me a bit when people would mistake me for a student, but as someone who had been a teacher for five years, I wanted to be treated with due respect and taken a bit more seriously. With my supervisor away or too busy with her major duties, I was trying to master being absolutely independent and learning to make connections with people. What I found was that maintaining a connection was the hardest part as people who were willing to talk to you once might not be as interested in you if you happen to talk to them again. That was something I had expected about the American work ethics and I could do nothing but accept that and not take it personally. Eventually I did find myself attending other colleagues’ classes, going to meetings of a range of students’ organizations, visiting seminars on professional and personal development, etc.

As an English teacher, I found the whole experience of being in an English-speaking country a fascinating yet overwhelming one at times. What I found was that I did feel more laid-back and relaxed talking to international people than I did with Americans. As my research has to do with bilingualism, I was profoundly interested in learning what it is that changes the way we use English and what it is that shapes the way we use it and how we are effectively perceived by others and ourselves in the process. Admittedly, that wasn’t always an easy linguistic ride for me as sometimes I had trouble understanding people especially in catering. On an unusually hot September day, I found myself being served a hot coffee instead of an ice one and while sipping on it, I was thinking of how on earth that miscommunication could have happened! I was really admiring courage and flexibility of those who came here with no professional training in English and the way they were getting by being so creative with the language and willing to use it as a tool to connect with whoever and from wherever they met was marvelous! Of course, I wasn’t too certain about how flexible I would have to be with my research as my supervisor had been convincing me, I might not be allowed either to get people to write emotional texts or conduct interviews as the idea of my research is to compare how non-native and native speakers of English use it in texts of different genres. One thing I was absolutely sure about was that studying languages and how all these people go about using them was something worthy committing to. I will to be patient till I find a specific way of addressing this and making it more comprehensible as of course, there had to be a solid scientific evidence base to whatever instincts and perceptions we have. People and languages did inspire immensely even though there had been times of self-doubt and questioning during the first month as well. I was growing to love being around people more and more and little did they know (or sometimes that ended up to be a whole new conversation point if I chose to tell them) that I was listening to them carefully and analyzing whatever they were saying!

As for making friends, of course the initial surprisingly strong connections with “the Miami people” that I had met during the gateway orientation had to start fading away as the reality kicked in and after Miami a lot of us parted ways to travel all over the East Coast. Even though as September 3 rolled around and the campus was getting busy, it wasn’t always easy to find people to have all those conversations with. Most of people I saw on campus were American students I overheard talking about relationship dramas, courses to take, etc. I wasn’t considerably older than them, but I had just finished teaching kids like them two months before coming here, so I was longing for a more mature company here in Montclair. That was when I felt I had to go introduce myself to some teachers who I considered colleagues even though I wasn’t technically a teacher here. We did keep in touch with the fellow Russian Fulbrighter and would catch up on campus regularly. I was really curious about how her studies were going and of course, as we had things bringing us together, age wasn’t much of an issue, but I admit I couldn’t help feeling like a mentor to younger people sometimes sharing with them my experience and preventing them from making some of the mistakes I had made at different points of my life. It was so amazing to finally get to meet some of “the Miami people” during one of welcome receptions organized by the Fulbright in New York! We hadn’t been aware of how much work would and effort would be put into helping us to bond, make new friends and keep in touch. There was a certain pressure as we kept being told we were special and we knew we had to live up to all the expectations, but on the other hand, we were also free to be whatever we were just laughing, talking, catching up and having a good time with an incredible amount of like-minded people. They are the biggest and most precious value after all! It wasn’t just about this country, but the fact that it had all these people in it was a reason enough to love it! I couldn’t believe that just a few months before that I was suffocating with no prospects for any social life and professional development and now after meeting those people I feel obliged to keep going through self-doubts and all. Arranging to go out with a few people I’d already met was something new as back home unfortunately, my social life was non-existent. Of course, sometimes things fall through as plans might be cancelled last minute, but it is so good when you get to hang out and share your anxieties, dreams and plans just to find out how we are all quite the same no matter where in the world we come from, but there is indeed something we can teach each other based on our experiences of what we call the comfort zone of our home countries. As much as I was starting resenting American food, my belief in the bonding power of having meals together was reinforced! Eating out has never been so much fun as conversations and laughs are able to turn a bad dish into a good one and a good one into an exquisite one. Fulbright is about so much more than just connecting with people as you also get to experience your new “firsts” and discover a lot about yourself and your own goals and values while you are exposed to the world like that. One of my “firsts” during my first month in the USA was getting to hold a baby of a fellow Fulbrighter from Chili and experiencing a moment of mutual confusion just to find that babies can be cute and how much they need us adults (or bigger babies) to hold and nurture them into their adult life. We decided this baby boy had to become a Fulbrighter when he grew up after having been held by so many Fulbrighters! I will remember him for sure no matter what my decisions and values later in life will be…

Meeting some of the “Miami people” in New York
India + Russia
Hanging out with some of “the Miami people”
With my dear Indian friend travelling to Staten Island
Me and a future Fulbrighter Milan

Of course, not forgetting the location where most of these happy and enlightening moments were taking place – New York… Never would I have thought you would be this big chunk of my American experience and my life here as such! After the awkward first encounter with you when I was dragging my suitcase against your sidewalks, I finally could enjoy my time with you and take things slowly unlike all those crowds of tourists that come every day just to take a quick look at you. All the things that you realize are happening right here and now and all those myriads of people coming, leaving, staying for a countless number of reasons are just mind-blowing! Being a tiny little particle of the world’s biggest linguistic and cultural melting pot took a few visits to become aware of. Just being on the notoriously imperfect New York subway trying to navigate it was so overwhelmingly ordinary! I have no clue whether that was the power of New York or I was ready to take in the city like that, but I kept having a feeling I had been here for a long time even when I got lost a bit. Times Square, Wall Street, Brooklyn Bridge, Fifth Avenue – I knew I didn’t have all the time the world with you, but I did have time to be able not to worry to take ridiculously many pictures and just enjoy feeling so casual about taking a train or a bus from Montclair to find myself in the busy vibrant heart of Manhattan that takes all the diversity quietly and never gets a heart attack seeming to take in whoever comes in.. And the rest is history – people are coming, leaving, staying… I did have a few moments of discovering the city as a tourist on a few guided excursions to give me more of an idea where to keep exploring. Of course, it took a little time to realize how close to the Atlantic I was and that was when I let my overflowing love for water go overdrive! The ocean – I’d been dreaming to just come like that and take a promenade along a boardwalk just watching you flickering your lights against the sun and whispering your gentle loud whisper into my ears! I had been here a few times alone as well and that was the place where my own company was all I needed. Coney Island had also been a place where I had had a chance to connect with other Fulbrighters during the Coastal Cleanup Day. There wasn’t too much cleaning to do, but being able to make a difference and trying to abandon the idea that being environmentally-friendly is all about talking was great! Rockaway Beaсh was a perfect location for a date with myself with its long waves playing with my dress and having no inhibitions about touching my feet and ankles.

In Wall Street, NYC
Times Square


Relaxing in Central Park


DUMBO and Brooklyn Bridge
Beautiful NYC skyline and the Statue of Liberty at a distance on the left
Coney Island, NYC
Enjoying the Atlantic
Continuing my love affair with the Atlantic!


Rockaway Beach
The Atlantic

Finally, apart from being one of the most uncertain times of the year, September is when I have my birthday! I had no doubts I would be spending it with you, New York, and the fellow Russian Fulbrighter. Of course if it hadn’t been a weekday and just the first month of my stay, I might have had a few more people joining in, but that turned out to be a great experience anyway. The magnificence of New York left me no time to think of how weird it would be to be spending my birthday away from anyone I would normally have with me. Having my new friend who was the first I had done an interview for my project with in Central Park call me at midnight and all the birthday wishes I got on Facebook were mostly from the people I had already met and that made me feel I could matter and make a difference and it’s never too late for that! The sweeping height of the Empire State Building just to take a memorable look down on the city to know it would still be there for months ahead followed by a delicious meal in Little Italy to wrap the night with a rooftop party walking along the Hollywood-style busy streets of Manhattan. Just like I did the nights before and after, I came home that night just to take some time to sit back and reflect – that was all happening and real! I’d just had my birthday in New York and it didn’t seem to mind my festive spirits! Being a year older can actually feel good when you welcome a new year of you like that!

In NYC for my birthday
On top of the Empire State Building
A birthday treat!
In Little Italy for a birthday meal

September has been more than I had expected, but it didn’t fail to be uncertain and confusing. The only difference was that it felt perfectly OK like that this time. It was feeling like a start of something new. Of course no road is perfectly smooth as we occasionally push the brakes and pause at turns. Everything seems and feels stronger – a toothache as you don’t want to experience the American healthcare, cravings for Russian homemade food get too much, but all the things that color up your soul and inspire you to wake for a new day are so much more intense as well – new connections, impressions and emotions and the English language to live in! “You will be fine in two or three months”, said the manager of the house where I rent a room on the day I moved in. I was already looking forward to how that would feel and so many more things on my way. Here is to the September to remember! I wouldn’t mind playing back some parts of you for sure!

Miami Gateway Orientation (August 21 – 25, 2017)

Here I was on a flight from Moscow to Paris. It seemed ironic as I thought travelling to the USA was what I needed to do to let go of my romantic tendencies, but I was about to start my journey there via what is generally known as the world’s most romantic city. I knew that night at the Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow that my final hours in my home land were running out. For a moment it felt as if I was actually on a trip to Paris, to where I think my favourite part of the world is. But I hadn’t really been to the others so was that too early to profess never-ending love…? That’s the thing about first love that you think nothing in this world (or no other part of the world) is capable of extinguishing it. Is it indeed? I was granted this beautiful opportunity to test my feelings and myself while experiencing a whole range of them.

Who was that person waiting to board her flight for Paris? That was someone thinking back to all those months and months of anticipating, waiting to hear the news and getting increasingly worried about what she would do if it came and what if it didn’t come at all? I’d spent so many breaks at work looking at another classroom at the university where I had been teaching English for almost five years thinking whether I would be there that same time next year and see all those same faces? I needed a break, I did know that but was I ready to handle that change of scene the way I wanted to? How would I tell everyone if I got it? Did I really know I needed that break for that matter?

It felt so nice that night in Moscow to think back to those times of uncertainty just to realize I was only thinking back and I was taking my break, no doubt about that any more! Sometimes it takes someone else (the Fulbright people in my case) to let you know you deserve a break. They obviously knew better than me at that point and what I had to do was just to believe that I was good enough for what was to come and let go of my self-deprecating (if not romantic) tendencies for sure. I could only hope and do my best to get my professional, social and personal makeover underway and control and embrace those changes in me.

I had read quite a lot on what a Fulbright experience constituted for different individuals. What I decided and thought a sensible thing to do was to make it more not just about places that I was looking forward to visiting to nurture my love for travelling but about all those individuals they had no idea would come my way and neither did I know I would meet. The problem was how to store my memories and keep them alive and running? That’s what I knew I would do while taking care of my other love, which is writing, not just about me but people that contribute in various ways to how I feel and see me as part of sharing this huge universe with all of them.

A few hours I got to spend at the Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle airport, which included sipping on a cup of a revitalizing beautiful French coffee, got me dreaming of people and places that were just a long transatlantic flight away. Paris-Miami! Would I ever have thought I would be on such a fancy flight at all?! Paris, I knew I would miss you even if realistically my French isn’t good enough yet for me to take you in. A multitude of beautiful faces, the way you sound… After hearing a combination of mostly English, French and Spanish, I was ready to start my journey swept away by more handsomeness on board. Through the course of my flight besides drifting in and out of sleep and enjoying the beautiful food and drinks generously served by Air France, I took time to browse through some videos and marvel at the beauty of marketing and how a single piece of an advertisement or music video could transport you to your image of France. But I am going to the USA of course and who knows what kind of new images and colors this land is going to create in my head…


A bit more than nine hours later, I caught the first glimpse of the USA. Yes, it was astoundingly regular – green fields, blue skies! Before taking off in Paris, I got a message (thank goodness for the Internet!) from a fellow Russian Fulbrighter who happened to be accepted at the same university as me saying that her flight would be arriving at about the same time as mine so we would be able to share a taxi ride to our hotel in Miami together. It was thanks to the Gateway Orientation that we got in touch in the first place. Technically we must have met during the reception in Moscow in late June, but we probably wouldn’t have talked at all. Initially one might be skeptical about spending time with someone from your country while abroad as first of all, both of you might end up in a linguistic bubble that would leave you with a zero chance to practise English. But as we are both linguists, we laughed off this possible danger some time before finally meeting in Miami and knew we would have to be extra cautious not to let anything of the kind happen to either of us. Being able to find each other at Miami International Airport quite quickly after our arrivals and sharing a taxi ride through what to me seemed more like Spain that I had visited a few months before made for a nice transition from Russia to Paris and finally onto Miami. We have to give ourselves a breather when it comes to facing enigmatic abysses of new cultures and thus it is comforting and reassuring to have someone coming from your сulture taking this plunge into a new one with you and having pretty much the same things to admire (beautiful weather in Miami) and complain about (the Russian mobile providers that wouldn’t operate well here).

We arrived quickly in Downtown Miami and found the smiley and friendly Helen, one of the organizers, at the hotel lobby. That was another beautiful moment of actually getting to meet in person someone you’d been talking with online for a while in the run up to the event. It felt as if we’d known each other for quite long. We both got cookies from Helen as a welcoming gift that said “Glad that you have arrived”. It is so amazing how these little things make life taste and feel so much sweeter. I was astonished at how much thought must have gone into planning the gateway orientation as contrary to what I had expected, Anastasia and me coming from the same country and going to the same university weren’t going to share a room as according to Helen, that was part of the plan to put people from different countries together in a room. Yes, we would have simply ended up speaking Russian and living Russian, that’s fair enough. I went up to my room to go back down for the welcoming dinner a bit later. I was wondering if my roommate was already in there. Who would that be? I found the room empty and resisted the temptation to crush on the armchair as it had been a long flight. Jetlag wasn’t surprisingly an issue at all. My part of Russia was seven hours ahead and I had actually got those seven hours of my life back having arrived here. Palm trees lining the street and a remote view of the bay – that still seemed to remind me of Spain. After a much-needed shower, I went down to the lobby to find Helen seated with a few other Fulbrighters. I smiled to myself at the prospect of being able to meet these people during my first hours here in the USA. There were three girls from India and one from Costa Rica. I was worried I might have difficulty remembering the Indian names and was mentally sorry about that. These first probably originally clumsy conversations are always to be remembered particularly well. I could well relate to Lalitha, Krittika and Geetanjali struggling to explain what spices are used to cook popular Indian dishes as I was experiencing the same speaking about how to prepare one of Russia’s most popular dishes, i.e. borsch. Sharing is caring and it is so beautiful to share a piece of our culture and what used to be your everyday life back home to become something extraordinary for someone who had been a stranger before. I felt a shot of national pride showing the girls some pictures of our national costumes as they were going to wear theirs for the culture showcase event. Those next few days would involve a lot of generous sharing! I felt sorry for Karla who was ill. She had travelled the shortest way to get here from her warm country where she hadn’t heard about all those winter clothes we have to wear to keep warm in Russia. The rest of us were astounded looking back at how long we had actually travelled to be here having this conversation eating our first American food surrounded by the catering staff all speaking Spanish. I was all ears ready to take in whatever linguistic miracles were about to unravel. We even got to talk about Indian weddings and found that Krittika had just got married and how she and her husband had to compromise to accommodate the customs and traditions of their diverse regions of India. It is incredible to think of all the people these individuals had left behind to come here, all those sacrifices made for a better lives to be enjoyed with those we love… Adriana, a Mexican girl, joined us later. We had had an agreement to meet at the airport and share a ride together but there was no way I could have let her know I was leaving earlier.  We greeted each other in the Latin way and it felt as if we had known each other. Social media has this inscrutable power to create an illusional (or is it really?) sense of being connected with people you have never met.

Having decided to make it an earlier night, we went up to our rooms. It felt amazing to be going to bed knowing there would already be people you would be looking forward to meeting and so many more you were just about to meet. I found my room still empty and that got me even more curious when and most importantly, who I was to share this night in Miami with here in this room. A little while later, I heard someone trying to get in and I opened the door for them anxious to make their acquaintance. That was Julia from Hungary. We didn’t happen to talk on Facebook before the event so we had all those ice-breaking activities to engage in. I love how travelling is a powerful conversation starter. Budapest, goulash, paprika – I was hoping I was providing a transition for Julia who had just arrived as I knew about them already having been to her country just a year before. I had actually finished writing about my trip to Budapest before I left for here.  A combination of travelling and writing are an immense social lubricant. Another chance to get astounded at the routes and times it had taken us to be here… Julia came here to do her research in linguistics as well and talking a bit about Chomsky’s theory was what reassured us we were in the same club! Was that also part of the thoughtful conspiracy to put us together like that…? Showing off each other’s suitcases and how much heavier mine was as I was to be here for twice as long as Julia was part of our hotel fun. It was even more reassuring to learn some of my fears, anxieties and funny stories were part of someone else’s stories as well. I felt I had to introduce Julia to the view of the nighttime downtown Miami in our window. After taking in the view for some more, getting through bedtime routines and trying to get myself to believe I had finally made it here, I went to bed with a smile knowing that it was all going to work out.

Miami at night. View from the hotel room

A new day waved me a sunny hello as I looked out the window incredulous at having just spent my first night in the USA. It felt so new to start off the day by saying “Good morning!” to my “roomie” and laughing about how funny it was to speak English first thing in the morning. I was grateful to the organizers for providing me with someone to share breakfasts and speak English with. Going down to a hotel lobby to find a fine selection of food is part of a holiday experience  and that was even more than that as there were more people to have conversations with. We were joined by Camila from Dominican Republic and Cristina from Mexico. I could feel this Latin flavor added to our breakfast as we shared our perceptions of each other’s countries and I was ashamed to admit that my view of Latin America was excessively generalized, but of course both girls had their own national identity to prove me wrong. Another thing that made me feel ashamed was to see lots of different fruits on the girls’ plates, which made me want to go get some as well to let my palette take advantage of where I was. Sunshine, fruit, the coast were things that these girls were more accustomed to and that made me think of how all these were so quick to trigger images of holidays in my head. They probably wouldn’t in theirs. It was great to have some fresh fruit on my plate that morning as, to the girls’ astonishment, those weren’t readily available all year round in Russia. The rainbow of colors my stomach had just been treated to matched well with the downtown Miami that felt incredibly humid and tropical as we took a quick walk to the Miami Dade College for our first day of the gateway orientation surrounded by rows of palm trees and air of humidity and excitement feeling our relaxed lungs.

On the way to Miami Dade College on our first morning in Miami

I knew I would have a sort of a jaw-dropping moment stepping into an American higher education institution for the first time and that was it! Beautiful space with large interactive screens welcoming us all in. We got our bags, posed for some photos (there were a lot more of them to come) and got into a big conference hall for our first sessions.

With Anastasia and Qian from China

What followed some introduction speeches from the organizers working hard to make us feel welcome on our first full day in their country was one of the most extraordinary things. A lot of people have dreams of travelling the world but to our chagrin, it is not “doable” for all of us. It seemed plausible and possible then as each participant took us to their part of the world and pointed it on the globe and gave us what I argue is the best taste of a land – its language (music to a linguist’s ears) teaching us how to say “Good morning” and “Welcome” in their respective languages. The room was certainly filled with all sorts of music to my ears coming from 32 nations that morning. Some things cost nothing to share but are much more powerful than a lot of material things. During a break I got to meet Pascal from the Netherlands that is known to have a large number of fluent English speakers. I was actually humbled by how confident and good he sounded. I occasionally get those moments when I wished I hadn’t mentioned I was in fact a teacher of English. He’d been to South Africa for a year and I admired his brave and adventurous personality for that and made a mental note to myself to try to finally visit Pascal’s native country and see beyond windmills, canals, waffles, etc. Another person sitting next to Pascal was Dania from Jordan. I have to admit it is the country I hadn’t even had any misconceptions and stereotypes about. I had ticked the first blank space on my globe! During the coffee break it seemed that everyone was eager to make as many international connections as possible and even though we had exchanged a few comforting Russian words with Anastasia, I knew we were both better off letting each other mix with other people. Here were Lalitha, Krittika and Geetanjali again and we had already had a connection going and that was thanks to the previous evening meal. I also had Dea from Kosovo come up to me. Of course her home land was not a blank spot on my globe but rather a controversial one unfortunately. We were really amazed by how similar our accents were! That had to do with our common Slavic roots! Languages have the power to provide a good cement for friendships and connections. We both shared love for Italy and Dea was lucky to have spent a term studying there and enjoying beautiful aspects of la dolce vita. Europe, I already hear the bells telling me I miss you. But I was getting the idea that nowhere else in the world would I have been able to encounter such an extraordinary amount of diversity to inspire me to visit places I’d never been to and long for those I had travelled to.


Lunch was also full of new interesting encounters and interactions. During the bingo game, I got to meet Pedro from Mexico thanks to the question I had that was “Find someone who has travelled to your country”. I thought I would not be lucky on this. It was fascinating that contrary to what the media back home have us believe, people do love visiting our country despite it not being overly tourist-friendly. Pedro had even been to Kizhi Island in the north of Russia, our open-air museum known for its architecture, where I had never been. We talked to Camila more and I learned that she had actually brought her cat here and would be taking him all the way to NYC that she was deeply in love with. I smiled to myself for having a chance to feel that way too soon. The whole room was full of people talking and enjoying substantial meals – a perfect happiness and joy formula! I also met Ogochukwu from Nigeria, a mother of four. She could read bewilderment about that in my eyes! I could well picture her and a fellow Nigerian Enibokun being in the forefront of a feminist movement. As we were to learn later that day during a group discussion, they were both very assertive and vocal. It wasn’t just their bright-colored clothes that made that hit the spotlight. I couldn’t stop myself analyzing, matching visual and linguistic images of people…

At lunch
From left to right: Ogochukwu from Nigeria, Anastasia from Russia, me, Camila from the Dominican Republic, Bent from Afghanistan, Enibokun from Nigeria
A group photo

Before we were to wrap up our first day with dinner in the famous Nikki Beach Club, we had about an hour to spare. Me, my “roomie” Julia, her fellow Hungarian Patrik and Cecilie from Norway decided to explore the laid-back area of Bayside Marketplace. Cecilie was going to MIT and she seemed so humble about that. We also talked about Surströmming,  a type of “stinky” Baltic fish that according to Cecilie, wasn’t too bad as some travel videos had me believe. How more stereotypes would have to be thrown out of the window through the course of our stay in this country…? We took some scenic photos and joined a crowd of holidaymakers having conversations and munching on their food.




A bit later we were taken to Nikki Beach on a classic American school bus where I was most delighted to be joined by Apoorva from India. We had talked on Facebook before and I had a feeling I was going to connect with that particular person for that light she was capable of radiating even miles away. I believed this feeling was mutual as we finally met in person and spent the entire ride talking about London where she had studied, Bollywood and the way their films reduce human emotions to primitive. I couldn’t help bringing up Bollywood as another feeling I had was that I was sitting next to a Bollywood A-lister! We were distracted by the beauty of the Miami coastline and impressive rows of luxury accommodation. As diverse as Miami seemed, it certainly appeared as a place fit for living it up. The Nikki Beach Club was so relaxed and people around seemed too busy enjoying themselves to mind a crowd of us turning up.

At the Nikki Beach Club

The Atlantic Ocean, I knew I would be having this moment of reunion with you as I had laid my eyes on you for the first time just a over month before in Portugal!

The Atlantic Ocean
From left to right: Patrik from Hungary, me, Julia from Hungary, Cecilie from Norway, Solongo from Mongolia
All of us at the beach

! I could go on and on complimenting the Atlantic and it was time for me to get one from Professor Johnson saying that my dress was beautiful while he was walking by. It was so unexpected and nice! I should keep practicing paying compliments after all! Paula from Spain who I had just been telling about my trip to Valencia earlier that year to thought it was sweet as well. Our meal here at the Nikki Beach Club certainly had a Spanish taste to it as more than half of the people at our table were Spanish-speaking. Me and Pedro exchanged some more thoughts about Russian food and made the rest of the people curious as well. At some point the conversation broke completely into Spanish making me aware of how being fluent in English alone wasn’t always enough to make you comfortable. Of course, we all love this solace and comfort our native language creates for us and might forget about strangers to our land of comfort. After it seemed as if we could eat no more, we were joined by John Chin from Miami Dade College to have an enlightening discussion about what we were to expect here in the USA in terms of politics, economics, etc. I would love to take this chance to mention again how friendly and approachable the organizing team was! Later on, I was joined by Michael from Belgium and that was when I couldn’t help starting a little chat about bilingualism. Michael seemed so outgoing and engaged in our conversation and I was amazed to talk about the linguistic landscape of my country as well which didn’t quite seem so diverse as huge as Russia is. It is not just about the size in sociolinguistics after all! We shared our final chat at Nikki Beach and a ride back with the shy but lovely Patrik. It wasn’t his first time in the USA and it was wonderful to hear his reflections on the places he had visited. We both agreed that the views of the lit Miami skyscrapers we saw driving by were breathtaking. Finally, we were ready to call it a night and head back to our hotel rooms. We shared quick impressions of the day with my “roomie” Julia and we also agreed on how special and privileged we were made to feel being here. We decided we would come back to the beach the next day during our free evening. With that in mind, I couldn’t help going to bed with a smile on my face after taking a while to peer at the dancing figures on the nearby building through our window where I’d also seen my first quick downpour here.

Our second morning in Miami started off rather cloudy and I thought I’d rather not start feeling gloomy that the beach might not be on the cards that day. I told Julia about that quick tropical rain I had seen at night and how changeable the weather in this part of the world should be. After eating a nourishing breakfast that I knew had to contain some fruit and greeting a growing number of familiar faces, we headed to the college where we had more lectures about cross-cultural understanding and interpersonal relationships while I couldn’t help checking my phone sending photos of me and my new friends that we had just taken on the way here to my family and waiting for their reactions. During another coffee break there were more opportunities to talk to people I had already met and to watch others interact as well. I was thinking about how grateful we should all be to English as an international language making most of our communication possible. We had lunch at another building this time where we started with another chat with Pedro and his impressions of my country. I even showed him a photo of a monument to Peter the Great in my city as Pedro turned out to be interested in this particular Russian emperor. What followed was a talent showcase with the participation of Dania from Jordan with a fascinating quiz about her home country, Apoorva talking about the history of India’s national costume and Lalitha performing a traditional dance. Straight after that we were to go on a tour of the city and had only a few minutes to get back to the hotel to change or get some stuff. I was in such a rush to do that as I knew I would hate myself for possibly missing out on swimming in the Atlantic that I had forgotten my cell phone on the table. That was only at our hotel room that I realized I had. I ran back hoping I would be able to get hold of it and I saw my roomie and my savior with my phone in her hands! At that moment, I knew there were people to rely on in this part of the world as well! As we had just boarded the bus, it started raining so heavily I wished I hadn’t run back to the hotel to get my swimming suit. Dr. Paul George was a marvelous and a very enthusiastic tour guide telling us more about Miami’s attractions as we were driving by them in the pouring rain. I was becoming increasingly aware of the city’s diversity as I saw displays of luxury that looked a bit menacing against the rain and grey skies and sketchier neighborhoods with run-down cleaner’s, groceries, etc. Our tour guide seemed more knowledgeable about the routes to take than the driver himself. He seemed to be attached and close to every turn, every corner that was given account of with unflagging enthusiasm and assertiveness. We were sharing our thoughts with Cecilie sitting next to me. I was really charmed by Little Havana (La Pequeña Habana) as I discovered passion for Cuba in me while travelling to Valencia earlier this year. Cigars, colorful window shops, Spanish signs everywhere and of course occasional people out in this weather – we could imagine Cuba in all of its dimensions! We do bring a piece of home either consciously or subconsciously wherever we choose or have to go. I thought if it didn’t look like we were going to hit the beach, we could come here after the tour was over. Another gem of Miami surrounded by an alternation of fancy and sketchy streets was Wynwood, a world-famous neighborhood showcasing art on countless murals. That reminded me of the Berlin Wall that I had had a chance to see twice in my life. The tour guide asked if there was anyone willing to go to the beach so the driver could drop them off a bit earlier and Cecilie suggested it could still be a good idea. When we were approaching the hotel and it wouldn’t stop raining, there was no one willing to do that. Well, weather has a way of interfering with plans we are sometimes so busy making. Everyone seemed to want to go to either Little Havana or Wynwood. I knew I would join the first group for sure! Julia, Patrik, Cecilie, Michael, Pascal and me set out to get there. We walked, took the subway, a bus, then another bus. That has been a long way there and we didn’t seem to know how much further we needed to go! But we were having fun about it. Michael threw in some ideas that made me take a new perspective on the research I came here to do. On our final bus ride where I got to witness the ethnic and social diversity of Miami, he seemed to be enjoying the company of two Russians at a time as me and Anastasia sometimes presented contradictory facts about our country making it even more of a “riddle wrapped in a mystery” as Churchill famously called it. There are things about your own country that this overseas experience makes you question and ponder. A bit later on this ride, Pascal joined us and together with Michael they got into an extensive discussion about Europe’s economic prospects and who might be held accountable for what as they were both involved in Economics. I felt I shouldn’t have prompted this discussion that left me feeling a bit ignorant about their home part of the world, the one I was so in love with… All I could do was to applaud their linguistic prowess in English. After we got off the bus, we walked for some more and that was long enough for me and Michael to engage in more profound discussions about what we were pursuing here professionally and personally and talking about my motives for coming here and how doing that wasn’t something the society back home wanted and expected me to do but I didn’t care. Michael agreed I shouldn’t. We were really happy to see that after around two hours we were finally there as Little Havana was welcoming us in on this grey evening. We finally agreed on a place to eat and that was a low-key Cuban restaurant with a very plain interior.


La Pequeña Habana

Me and Anastasia got into a discussion about what we could order and what we could expect to turn up on our plates and how different that would be from whatever we were used to back home. Michael sitting across the table kept on making jokes. Regina from Brazil was sitting facing me across the table. Food is definitely another thing we all humans share and bond over! It was fascinating to learn that Beef Stroganov was a popular dish in Regina’s home country. I had to struggle explaining about our main national dish borsch again and that had to be really representative of Russia despite disputes of it originating in Ukraine, which is a current burning issue back home. As we were talking with Regina, I had a feeling we should have met earlier during the event and I had no idea why we didn’t. On my left I had Joris from France. He took me back to my Paris-Miami flight. All this handsomeness and charm reminded me why I was so longing for this country that was my favorite back when I was a child. We exchanged some words earlier that day and my humble “Bonjour” was all I felt confident practicing with a native speaker of French. Having been a language teacher doesn’t help in being OK making a disgrace of yourself when it comes to embracing a new language. As our drinks had arrived, I proposed a toast as we always do in Russia. As Joris’s relatives have been to Irkutsk (a remote city in Siberia), he knew from them that toasts are an essential part of Russian parties. I felt a bit sorry imagining French people in the Far-Eastern region of my country. What made Joris instantly unique to me was that he was one of few French people I’d met who spoke decent English. I was able to reminisce about my quick trip to Paris a few years earlier, my sweeping love for Nice and how I thought sometimes I should have been born French (despite my rusty French skills). Joris had studied in Texas so he wasn’t new to this country. Yes, when you are away for a considerable time, you might miss some important things happening in your family and those sad moments that we pray will never happen either with us there or away. There was one moment like that Joris had missed while being far from home and that got into perspective sacrifices we make in pursuit of what we hope would be a brighter future with all of our loved ones around to witness it. On a brighter side, Joris seemed to match a few typical stereotypes of the French – he ate frog legs for festive occasions and had croissants for breakfast every morning. We laughed hard about that as we were working our way through our food. Joris was doing so much better while I found a portion of black rice, seafood and fried bananas too large for any average female to manage. I was making a good progress enjoying house wine, though, which to break at least one stereotype, Joris wasn’t having (he preferred beer to that as most people at our long table). I really have to thank him for making me feel welcome in his country if I happen to decide to embark on a longer trip there (it will be a while before I do as I have the survival French to master at least). It was getting late and it was time we left. That had been a great evening filled with laughter and food. Someone was going to be in charge of walking all of us back to our hotel. It started raining again, but we didn’t mind as everyone was busy talking with someone. Qian from China, Anastasia’s roommate, was amazing to share a talk with. We talked about China and Russia and our corresponding national dishes of course. We were also joined by David from Colombia who we had exchanged glances with before but had never actually talked. He seemed the type of a person who seems more laid-back and relaxed the more you get to know him. We all admired the views of the Miami skyscrapers and I mentioned we now needed nothing more to remind us there would be lots more skyscrapers for our enchanted vision as we are in the USA!


The hotel was actually only 40 minutes’ walk away! We were really amazed how it could have possibly taken us around two hours to get to Little Havana! We finished off the night with me, my roomie and Cecilie sitting near the hotel pool and reflecting on the day. The next day was going to be our last one here together… Let’s just refrain from thinking about goodbyes for now!

Our last full day in Miami, Florida, started off cloudy again. I was starting thinking of how I would miss speaking to Julia first thing in the morning…  As we went down for breakfast, I saw Kirill, a fellow Russian, who was to join us later that day to share his experience being a Fulbrighter in Atlanta, Georgia. He had been there for a year and had one more to finish his studies. We had talked on Facebook previously and instantly recognized each other in the breakfast venue. There is an air of reassurance about meeting like-minded fellow countrymen abroad. It was starting feeling bizarre speaking Russian now, though. A whirlwind of linguistic transformations was what we had all signed up for getting this scholarship!


Downtown Miami taken by my “roomie” Julia
Julia and me

We had a leadership workshop early that morning taught by the amazing Dr. Mercedes Medina that spread happy positive vibes all across the classroom. I used to think being a leader was something I was completely terrible at. But to come to think of it, this is a skill we would have to see ourselves acquire especially when we return to our home lands as people are definitely going to have high expectations of us and our accomplishments. There had already been so much to take away from the things having been talked about in that classroom, things I didn’t use to dare to ponder back at my own classrooms both as a student and as a teacher. At lunch we were joined by the fellow Fulbrighters like Kirill who were to give their presentations straight afterwards. At our table we were joined by Syed Mustafa from the University of Florida we had previously talked on Facebook with. Solongo from Mongolia was sitting next to me and once we made an acquaintance, I thought we should take a photo together as we were getting the feeling it was all coming to an end. I chose to attend the presentation by Kirill and we laughed about how cold the room where it was to take place was! Well, someone must have known there would be two Russians in there who were supposed to be fine with that! Kirill’s section was informative and fun and I could feel our shared way of approaching some things and I loved the fact he was sharing that with the others present. We walked to another building for our final lecture with David. Before the final lecture I met Mercedes from Argentina who came here to study urban construction and that was when I got a feeling I wished we had met earlier again. Some more laughs with my roomie, Adriana and Cecilie during our final group discussion… We had some free time before our farewell dinner at an Argentinean steak place across the road from the hotel was to kick off. I felt a traveler in me disgruntled at the fact I hadn’t got my fridge magnets and postcards yet. I knew that was what I would be doing before I got changed for the evening. Julia felt like relaxing at the hotel room so before I ventured out on my own, we laughed about that thing I felt I would resent myself if I didn’t get done. The street was wet and full of puddles. I didn’t get mind my feet and new shoes I was testing for the night getting drenched. I felt I was here for real as I knew I couldn’t possibly be surrounded by such nice people the whole I would be here. Sometimes it is refreshing to get a moment with the city on your own and compare the feeling it gives you in its urban privacy. I heard so much Spanish being spoken as I was shopping and I smiled at the thought that the top I was to wear for our dinner came from Valencia and somehow had never been worn before.

Cecilie from Norway, me and Julia
Me and Krittika from India
Solongo from Mongolia and me




We took some more photos at the hotel lobby and had so much fun with posing for what I called “a Hungarian sandwich” as we were striking a pose with Julia and Patrick. Looking back at the whole experience was what we were doing as we were treated to a lot of various food including steaks of course!

Me and Patrik from Hungary
Hungarian sandwich!
Me and Michael from Belgium

More funny stories from Julia and some life reflections with Qian who had left her husband and young son behind to do her research in Translation Studies here. It was reassuring again to hear her say that I should relish and make the most of this time of freedom I had been rewarded with. She was the one telling me it was ok not to want to settle down yet. I wish I had heard more people telling me this back at home. More farewell group photos followed as we started saying our goodbyes to those heading back to the hotel.

At the final dinner

A group of a few of us decided to head to a bar. We had another chat with Joris on our way back to the hotel and I was surprised to learn that the name of the city I was heading to the next day didn’t really sound as French as I thought! Perceptions of words and emotions we attach to them can be so different depending on the color and flags on our passports. It turned out Joris was the one to lead us back to our hotel from Little Havana. Now he was going to be the one to lead to a place somewhere “around the corner”. It really wasn’t, but as we were having fun, who cared after all? I knew I had to taste a Belgian beer here as Michael was around to give advice. Joris was the one to be entertained and treated to more Russianness the way Michael had been the day before as me and Kirill told him more contradictory fables about Russia. There were things we agreed and laughed about and that might have confused the poor Joris even more. How could Kirill have possibly cooked borsch for four hours? I knew I would hope I would be able to get at least some people from here to come eat my borsch. I am not saying I am a brilliant cook but I think there will come a point when I will feel like cooking the way I did back home and that involved cooking for not just myself and this is what I argue makes the process more fulfilling and rewarding. It was time for me to feel younger and freer as we were to get an Uber to a dance club. I can’t say I feel really comfortable being there as I haven’t been to many at all, but that night in the open sky of Miami I didn’t care and I think everyone else would have agreed I shouldn’t. Who cares about dance moves, it’s all just about being present in the now and hang on to it while it is here… We drove back home through the nighttime Miami without a care in the world with music beats still in our ears. I was leaving early in the morning the next day with Anastasia so it was now time for hugs and goodbyes. We’d only known each other for three days but it seemed we needed them anyway… It got really sad back at the hotel room with the suitcase to pack and carry again… I was thinking about transformations our personalities undergo as we switch languages while Julia was having a conversation with a relative on the phone and I was wondering whether she was the same person speaking her language that I couldn’t understand and thus didn’t have to worry about invading her privacy. I took extra time to watch the lights on the building next to ours burst into beckoning lights that to me symbolized freedom or at least its pursuit that millions of people have come to this part of the world for…

At the dance club

After our final breakfast in the morning and a wet embrace with Julia who was taking advantage of the early morning swim in the hotel pool, I had to say goodbye to Miami and this sweet “honeymoon phase” of my Fulbright experience. I wished I had had more photos with everyone I have made sure I mentioned here, but that might be another excuse to meet again! We won’t be able to forget each other for long as we are now in each other’s happy memories. We gave each other a taste of what a Fulbright experience is about and it is first of all about building bridges making the world a home comfortable for everyone. Now amidst all the things that we have had or will have coming our way here in the USA we have these three days we had spent together in Miami. Happy moments are so quick and fragile, but our memory that knows we have been lucky to have had them keeps them lasting and strong inside it. Thank you to everyone who have been part of mine. Fulbrighters rule! 🙂