A few weeks ago, I partook in a 24 hour trip with five other Carleton students to Murom, a small town southeast of Vladimir. The purpose of this trip was educational exchange; we spent the day with first-year students who study English at the Murom Institute, a branch of Vladimir State University. We (Carleton students) began by giving presentations in English about aspects of American culture that interest us, then spent time in the Murom Institute classroom to get to know the students.
Afterward, the Murom students took us on a tour of town. We started in the Murom Institute museum so they could tell us about the history of the school, then we hopped on a bus to the center of town where most historical sites are located. The students brought us to over a dozen locations, and at each location, a Murom student gave a small presentation about the history and significance of the place in English. My favorites are shown below.
This trip proved to be educational in a manner that Moscow has not yet been able to offer. First, it was interesting to experience the role of language-knower rather than language-learner; we spoke slowly and simply in English in order for the Murom students to understand, and when they could not think of a word during conversation, we suggested words to help them respond. This must be the same process that Russian speakers go through when we struggle to keep up in a complex conversation in Russian (although everyone’s language skills have noticeably improved in the last six weeks).
Second, these students were fun and easy to talk to and connect with, and I don’t think this was due to our speaking in English. These students were open and friendly, speaking about their hobbies and life experiences more freely than I have encountered in Moscow. I speculate that this has to do with the slower pace of life and small size of Murom as compared to Moscow; in order to keep busy in Murom, people do not have the option of eating at one of thousands of cafes or walking through museum after museum. Instead, they turn to each other, drinking tea on a dormitory balcony or spending time at home with family. This may be obvious to those who grew up in a small town in the U.S., but coming from a big city, I was struck by how much Murom as a place was tied to the people who live there.
A big thank you to Diane and the Philology Department at the Murom Institute for organizing this incredible experience.