In 2016, I was nervous. As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, we had the opportunity to give presentations about our experiences in Russia and, for me specifically, experiences in Smolensk where I studied Russian language. By that time, I had many experiences to pull from. I had played in a Russian men’s basketball league and thought about the differences between American and Russian play styles. I was a teacher, and the university environment I was in was much different from my alma mater, William & Mary (go Tribe!). I was also extremely fascinated by the cultural importance of a “hello” that was valued by my close Russian peers. Despite all of these interesting topics, one group of women made much more of an impression on me than anything else – the вахтеры of our dorm at Smolensk State University.
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world
I recognized the importance of language and its connection to freedom when I was very young. At the tender age of 13 I traveled to Paris with my mom and I quickly recognized the limitations of not being able to communicate freely. My Russian and my poor English were not much use in Paris. We got around, ate well and saw all the important sights with relative ease but I felt there was more to this than meets the eye. Deep down I knew that I didn’t truly connect with this country and its people.