I love Russian.
I found these two quotes last night while I was trying to think up a name for this ordeal. Both are from Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky:
“Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.”
“For men are made for happiness, and anyone who is completely happy has a right to say to himself, ‘I am doing God’s will on earth.”
I played on the first one for the name of the blog and the second one is just about the truest words to ever be written. And both of these are written by a Russian author which brings it back to the point of my post:
I love Russian.
Russian is a beautiful language. It is so much more rich than English. I learned it while serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years (7/10-7/12) in central and southern Ukraine. I lived in the cities of Nikolaev, Dnepropetrovsk, Yevpatoria and Poltava. I absolutely loved it. It is hard to put into words exactly everything that happened and how it affected me, but if you knew me before and you see me now, you may be shocked. While I was in Ukraine, I learned Russian and for my last three months when I was in Poltava I heard a bit of Ukrainian and have since been studying here and there to get better at it.
It is interesting how much a language affects the culture, once you get through a language barrier, you can really get inside of a culture and begin to understand the people, where they came from and why they think and feel the way they do. It is really remarkable. It definitely changed my personality to an extent. The language is very direct, and succinct. It’s very sharp and to the point. When I first got to Ukraine, I was at a family’s apartment (I had been in country for four days) and I remember asking my companion, Elder Berndt, why the kid was yelling at his mom because that is how it came off to me. I couldn’t understand what he was saying (I only had 11 weeks of studying before they sent me out.) and I thought the kid was a punk. My companion was completely confused and couldn’t for the life of him figure out what I was talking about. For him, it sounded completely normal: he had been there for a year and spoke the language well. Then it dawned on him and said “don’t worry, it’ll sound normal soon”. As time went on, I saw how I became much more direct in how I spoke, without any fluff. Much more of an “it is what it is, take it or leave it” mentality that is central to Ukrainian and Russian culture. Living there definitely made me more confident in what I had to say and not afraid to say it. I live with another one of my companions and we still make punny jokes and laugh about things in Russian because learning another language doubled the opportunity to make witty one-liners. It opened me up to an entirely different sense of humor that at the start of my time in Ukraine didn’t make any sense to me but now (when I understand the pop culture references at least) I find hysterically funny.
And then there is the added benefit of being those people who speak in a different language in public so no one understands them. By the way, it is much more convenient to be able to speak Russian than Spanish, considering half of Provo went on a Spanish speaking mission. You can’t get away with it.
But my Russian didn’t stop there. I am currently taking a class on the history of Russian culture and it is amazing. I’m convinced that Raisa Solovyova teaches history better than anyone on the planet. Maybe it is a combination of the fact that she grew up in Russia and then emigrated to the US after the fall of the Soviet Union and saw it all so it is so personal to her coupled with how involved with the culture I became while I was there. Whatever it is, I think it is the best class I have ever taken. I am also double majoring in Russian and Information Systems and am planning on spending next summer in Moscow doing an internship there.
Really, learning Russian has set the game plan for the rest of my career. It is a huge blessing that I never expected and had never crossed my mind until I opened a white envelope on March 11, 2010 telling me that I would be spending two years teaching people about Jesus Christ and would be do it in Russian. The quotes from the book (and many other Russian writers) only reinforced my feelings that Heavenly Father took care of the Slavic people during the centuries of repression and lack of religious freedom and gospel truths are still rooted deep in the culture and the church is beginning to uncover them.
I could go on about the food…but that deserves a whole other post all to itself.