Tales from Ufa

Undergraduate student Peter Marzalik is learned more than intensive Russian this summer. The double-major in Russian and International Studies (concentrating in security and intelligence) had many lessons following his arrival in Mother Russia—he has survived culture shock, learned to shop Russia-style, and found that Buckeyes are everywhere, even at the bank in Ufa.

Read all of Marzalik's blogs about his amazing summer in Ufa at: ascatosu.tumblr.com

He also is learning about himself…

I have discovered my activities outside the classroom are just as important as my studies at the university…I have surprised myself by how open I have been when talking with those who I would still consider practically strangers.  Trust flows quite seamlessly between people when they willingly share their experiences and also possess the patience to listen….

Every day, I find out how little I really know about the Russian language.  This makes me greatly discouraged sometimes.  However, I understand that all I can do is keep trying...I have found that if you are willing to learn then there is always someone around to help… 

Marzalik is a participant in the Critical Language Scholarship Program, a State Department-funded intensive language study abroad program. He arrived in Russia in June and returned to the U.S. in August in time to resume his studies fall semester.

He lived with a host family in the city of Ufa in the southern part of Russia and studied the Russian language at Bashkir State Pedagogical University.  

He blogged about his experiences with honesty, humility, thoughtfulness, attention to detail--and wit.

His latest blog tells of his trip to the dacha owned by his tutor’s family. As in many of his previous blogs, food plays a key part—and it appears that Marzalik is beginning to understand the underlying meaning of the adage “travel is broadening.”

I had nearly no time to survey my surroundings before Julia’s mother ushered me inside to eat lunch.  Though I had already had a large breakfast of what are essentially potato pancakes and ham at home, I found room to fit rice, sausage, and cake as well.  I certainly ate my fill to what I thought summed to an impressive amount, but Julia’s mother was still puzzled why I ate so little!  Having enough food to eat has certainly not been a problem during my stay in Russia… 

After working in the garden, we went inside for a midday snack (I don’t think the concept of a snack has reached Russia yet because it was basically another meal!).  Julia’s mother served a delicious cold soup known as okroshka, which is a mix of raw vegetables, boiled potatoes, eggs, and ham with kvass, a beverage made from bread.  I ate to bursting to the delight of Julia’s mother. 

Everything was delicious except for a foamy white beverage that had been placed in front of me, which turned out to be horse milk.  I feared the face and sound I made after trying it might have offended my hosts, but it turned out most of Julia’s family also couldn’t stand it.  Her father was the exception and drank it like water.  Ridiculously full once again, I figured this was a good time to grab a game rarely played in Russia: Frisbee.

His account of the ensuing Frisbee game and experience in the banya...the most intense and most rewarding cultural experience I have had so far in my study abroad in Russia...illustrates his ability to write tellingly about things other than food.

And, his initial blog vividly described first impressions of the land of Peter the Great, Lenin, Stalin, and Tolstoy—not in that order.

I arrived in Ufa at 10:30 pm on Wednesday, June 13, 2012.  My mind was reeling from jet lag and I barely had time to think how odd it was that the sun was still in the sky (lighter later in Ufa) before I was hastily shuffled into a taxi.  After two flights, a long layover in Moscow, and nearly 24 hours of travel, I was immediately introduced to my host family and obviously expected to speak Russian right away. 

My host mom, Olga, and her 15-year-old granddaughter Nastya, excitedly welcomed me into their home.  I plopped down in the kitchen for what I thought was going to be an onslaught of questions not much different from an interrogation. 

But it is Russia and food is never very far away…

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find a home-cooked meal simmering on the stove.  I ate a hearty dish of chicken and potatoes as my host family slowly and patiently described the workings of their home.  After a seemingly successful first employment of my Russian language skills, I collapsed on my pullout couch bed for some much needed sleep.