In this blog, I will be detailing my other-worldly experiences as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Ulan-Ude, Russia. Ok, so I technically won’t *actually* be leaving the planet… In fact, Ulan-Ude is only about 6,000 miles from Detroit—which, in the grand scheme of things, really isn’t that far. But surely you will excuse my hyperbole when I assert that my adventures will be out of this world.
I have officially booked my tickets to Ulan-Ude, and have acquired a shiny new Russian visa in my trusty passport, so this whole thing is suddenly becoming very real for me.
I hope you will allow a brief and superficial overview of my “extraterrestrial” destination (based primarily on information you could easily find on, say, Wikipedia). I’ll admit that, even after four years of an almost unhealthy obsession with Russia, an entire semester spent living in St. Petersburg, and months of borderline-creepy internet-stalking of random Russian cities that I could maybe potentially be sent to for this Fulbright, I had never even heard of Ulan-Ude. Even with all my experience with the Russian language, and my wishful superpower of omnilingualism, just the name sounded foreign to me. Not Russian at all. So I became pretty excited—all ready to boldly go where no man has gone before.
And then I did my research. Turns out, it has been heard of. There’s a whole Wikipedia page about the city, and all of my friends from Russia and other Eastern European and Central Asian countries know about it.
Ulan-Ude is located in Russia’s Republic of Buryatia—that is in southeastern Siberia, nestled right between Mongolia and Lake Baikal. It’s a whopping 11 time zones away from home (12 during daylight savings time), and it takes either a 7-hour plane ride or 4 days on a train to get there from Moscow (fun fact: Ulan-Ude is actually closer to Beijing than Moscow)! Inspired by the presence of the Uda river and old Soviet ideology and color preferences, the name actually comes from the local Buryat (a dialect of Mongolian), roughly meaning “Red River.” Originally inhabited by the Evenks and then the Buryat Mongols, the city was settled by the Russian Cossacks in 1666. It grew to become a large trade center, connecting Russia, Mongolia, and China and is considered to be a “gateway to Asia.” It is a major stop along the Trans-Siberian Railway. It is also home to the world’s largest Lenin head statue, so of course I’m looking forward to seeing that! Climate-wise, I’m in for a treat: it’s a real, true Siberian winter for me! Warm summers and frigid winters, the average temperature in January is supposed to be -25 degrees Celsius (that’s negative 13 degrees Fahrenheit). Average!!! Yikes.
Oh yeah, and Ulan-Ude was completely closed to foreigners like me until 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union. Oh how the times have changed! Lucky for me.
So what will I be doing in Ulan-Ude? I have received a Fulbright Grant to work as an English Teaching Assistant at Buryat State Agricultural Academy. The Fulbright program was founded in 1946, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Every year, they offer grants to U.S. and international students and scholars to travel around the world to conduct research, teach, and study, providing a means of international cultural and educational exchange. Basically, I’m a special agent of cultural diplomacy, and my mission is to share the English language and American culture with Russia while simultaneously experiencing and learning about Russian culture, with the objective of improved relations between our two countries. How do I know this will work? Because my Independent Study told me so!
Clearly, I’m excited. I’m excited for the places I will see and the people I will meet and the experiences I will have. I’m excited for the opportunity to improve my Russian skills, to see a part of Russia unlike any part of the country I’ve seen before. And I know from my previous study abroad experience that discovering a new culture provides very deep insight about one’s own.
So thank you for reading. I’m sure no one will care about a lot of the stuff I write, but I’m going to get a lot out of it, so this blog is as much for me as it is for you.