I'm about to leave Russia for the tenth or eleventh time--enough to begin to lose count. The first time I visited Russia in 1988, I was the age of most of the students on this trip. Clearly it was a transformative experience, although I had know idea at the time how much it would shape my future life and present career. What I learned from that experience was that every assumption I had held to that time had another, "Russian" dimension: what it is to be a good friend, to have a bad day, to take a class, to encounter the police--nearly every aspect of life had another way of being, a "parallel universe" in Russia. Even the basic building blocks of daily life--bread, house, street, store--conjured up different concepts in my mind during and after my first stay. And I realized how many parallel universes there must be in different cultures, each with its own social codes, material reality, assumptions. For those better traveled than I was at age twenty, that goes without saying, but for me it was a revelation.
During this trip I've met a number of people who have asked why we're here. When I explain that this trip is a practicum for the elementary Russian sequence at our college, people smile in awe at the lavishness and logic of visiting the country of the language you are learning. And I realize what a remarkable, wonderful experience this is, and how lucky I am to be able to teach this class the way I feel it should be taught.