How many college students get to say they taught English for a day at a college in Russia? I’m going to take a guess and say not many. When I first heard of the possibility to do such a thing, I hopped all over it. A group of us were soon headed for Murom, a town of about 100,000 people that is located to the south-east of Vladimir and to the south-west of Nizhny Novgorod. Unbeknownst to me before arriving, Murom has a rich history and is far more than just a small town on the east border of the Vladimir Oblast. With settlements dating back to the 9th century, Murom is one of the oldest towns in Russia and holds the oldest monastery in the country after Ukraine established itself as a separate state in 1991.
After a four and half hour train ride from Moscow, we arrived at the Murom Station. We were immediately greeted by two of the professors who teach English at the Murom Institute and then driven to our next stop which was, in my opinion, a very pleasant surprise. Our initial plans had been to stay in a hostel neighboring the institute but due to lack of time, rooms were cleared out for us in the only student dormitory on campus. The atmosphere in the building was completely unlike that of the dorms in MGU. The whole building was bustling as kids ran all through the hallways with music audibly blasting on most floors. It was a welcomed change of pace.
The next day was when the fun happened. Working with the professors who greeted us the night before, we were to teach English for the day. We came prepared with a game or presentation using simpler English that would keep the students engaged. I elected to make a presentation about my home state, Texas, which displayed all sorts of aspects of the state from geography to the cuisine. My actual presentation lasted just over 5 minutes long, but I found myself behind the front desk answering questions for much longer than that. Both students and professors were enthralled. I received all sorts of questions asking about everything from the weather, especially the heat, as well as Texas food. It was a very rewarding experience and left me excited for the possibility of doing something like that again. After our presentations, we received a tour of the foreign language wing of the institute where we saw pictures previous students who had also came to teach in Murom. Previous Carleton trips to Russia had also sent students to the same institute in Murom and I am very fortunate to be one of the students that carried on the tradition.
Following the brief tour on campus, we were then given a student-led tour around town. Getting to spend all day with the students provided us an opportunity to get a peek into the life of younger people who live in smaller towns in Russia. A conversation about Moscow and St. Petersburg was started and met with the reply that “Those cities aren’t real Russia. This is real Russia.” I was familiar with this concept that Moscow and St. Petersburg are considered their own entities by Russians living in smaller towns but it was still jarring to hear it come out of someone’s mouth. I didn’t get the feeling that the students resented people from Moscow or St. Petersburg. Many of them said they actually visit quite often, yet it was clear that there exists some divide between the two groups of Russians. This conversation gave me something to chew on the rest of the day as I walked around “real Russia.” Returning to Moscow, I continued to think about the conversations I had in Murom. Currently I am not fully equipped to answer the question “What is real Russia?”, nor will I ever be, but seeing the differences firsthand between urban and rural Russia really makes you think.