Traveling Within Borders

One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to travel, not only miles and miles away, but here at home.

Whether I spend an extra moment of my day appreciating something in my home town or taking a short 30 minute drive to a neighboring place to go book-shopping, I treat my days like I’m exploring someplace new.

I noticed, while flipping through photos on my phone, that there are gaps in my story, long stretches of time where I haven’t felt the need to document a single thing. What I love most about traveling is the spirit of adventure that pulls you from place to place– the realization that every place you stop to eat, or drink, or sit is someplace new. You take the time to look at the wallpaper of restaurants and stare up at unfamiliar buildings and read about their history. Why don’t we pay that much attention to the things we see and do every day?

What makes a trip to a tea-house more important in Russia than Massachusetts?

This last month, I’ve gone out of my way to explore new places around home; a tourist in my own town. I’ve spent afternoons sipping tea and eating scones in Northborough and taken trips into Wellesley to check out a popular bookstore and get lunch with a friend. Just like when traveling in another country or another state, the daylight hours tick by quickly and I crawl into bed tired and content with the day’s events.

Today I tried my first acai bowl and spent a day playing F***, Marry, Kill with one of my best friends. We listened to music from all around the world as we went, describing the scene that would be playing out on screen should those song find their place in a movie. You know it’s been a good day when American Author’s Best Day Of My Life could turn the days photos into a killer montage.

I promise, I just need to run in and buy one book” turned into a sixty dollar charge on my credit card and a new stack of travel memoirs to dive into whenever I find myself missing foreign cities.

I swear, I won’t change the song this time” turned into a Bollywood music sampler pack, though it’ll take further listening sessions (to the complete tracks next time) to determine any new favorites.

Though I plan for my next adventure abroad, I can’t lose track of my time here at home.

There’s so much to explore in your own backyard if you only take the time to pull up your hair, tie up your favorite shoes, clear up the lenses of your biggest pair of glasses and step out the door.

The Poem I Wrote When I Couldn’t Write

Poison White

when your mind decides to quit,

it shudders and shrieks as the padlock clicks closed,

binding shut the safe where precious words are held.

 

you can reach for a pair of headphones to disrupt the white noise,

like you did,

like you always do–

but when melody strikes, the lyrics crash down

                                                                  onto your lungs,

                                                            into your memory,

they’re threaded within each breath you take

until every word you could possibly use to wrap the white noise in chains becomes

           a cheap copy of some other artist’s words.

 

the block,

the gap,

the box

            is empty.

 

and they hurt–

the forgotten words that get stuck in your throat–

oh, how you wish that something

                                                                               anything

would crawl free of this white paper,         

                                                  of these white noise cuffs,

and stain your page

 

not because you feel the need to write melodramatic poetry,

                                                                       (though what else have you ever written?)

but because for some screwed up reason,

you think that words on paper or

                       lines drawn across some strangers’ lips

                           touch deeper into your core than the thoughts inside your head

because what are thoughts if not slivers of mind-bound babble

poison to the thinker,

cure-all to the reader.

 

they argue back and forth, the belladonna letters,

’til they decide on a single word to grind into your bones

 

and suddenly you’re driving down Main Street on a Sunday evening and everything you pass is branded red.

                                                             red, regretting the words you never wrote

                                                            and the ones you always said.

red because yesterday at 3:00 AM you sat up straight

and watched a phrase dance across your palm,

                                                               but you surrendered to sleep

and now its gone.

 

                      you have yet to figure out a way to punish sleep.

 

though then again,

to build yourself a reputation,

                          on language’s back,

by God, you must be a fool,

for anyone sane must know that language fails and words are bastards

who run away to cheat

                                          and kill

                                         and mame

                                         and burn

until it is not they who have been torn apart and laid to rest on paper,

                                                              it’s you.

not within the words themselves,

but spread               between                    the               lines

in the empty spaces where language will not lie.

                                                                               there it is.

                                                                                your failure.

                                                   blank,

                            vile,

and poison white.

When You Say You’re Not Creative Anymore

You’re wrong

Creativity is a living, breathing thing. I imagine her dancing across lines of language and leaping from imagination to imagination, sparks flying as she skips from pen to pen. All people can be creative, for creativity herself is not exclusive. She welcomes anyone who takes the time to call her name. Inspired, she’ll move like energy– zapping through neurons from your brain, down your spine, right through your hands– tickling your fingertips until you reach towards a tool, be it a pencil, a keyboard, or a paintbrush.

What makes humans so unique is our natural curiosity and our ability to harness those free-flowing wisps of creativity as they float by. Like the great rat, Remy, from Ratatouille once said, “There’s something special about [humans]. They discover, they create.”

Our ingenuity, our determination, and our success when it comes to following through with creative efforts can all be linked to inspiration. Inspiration makes us antsy to create something worth sharing, either with the world, a single friend, or even just ourselves.

Inspiration is the strike of a match that sends a spark high in the air, a signal designed to catch creativity’s eye.

If we’re lucky enough to catch her, creativity becomes the fuel to our slow burning flame. Inevitably, we’ll run out of creative ideas, and it’s at these moments when we feel the well is empty that we return to our initial inspiration and seek to strike another match. Once we’ve worked hard enough to create something, it becomes a part of our story.

Without language, however, ideas would never leave our minds– they may not even exist at all. Language is humanity’s greatest tool, a system of communication so intricate and advanced that a single language can be molded into infinite stories and inspire infinite ideas. Our desire to pass on these ideas to future generations and leave a record of our past innovations have caused us to develop thousands of foreign tongues across the globe, some written, some drawn, some only spoken. Language’s widespread existence is just another piece of evidence that proves the boundless reach of creativity, for language couldn’t have been developed without it. Who decided that an A would represent the sound “A”? Who was the artist who drew the first letter, or the writer who wrote the first word? I cannot even fathom the amount of creative work it took to develop the first alphabet.

I wonder how many years the architect sat striking matches.

It’s an endless cycle, you see. Inspiration drives creations that we share through language. Language itself was a creative response to our need to communicate. As someone who loves foreign languages, the people I’ve met around the globe inspire me everyday to expand my vocabulary and add my ideas to the discourse. I take a dose of creativity every time I set out to write a poem in French or an essay in Spanish. Creativity is woven through the music in my headphones, the paintings on my wall, my host sister’s sense of humor, and the movie that  always makes me cry. (Yes, I’m referring to Titanic).

It disappoints me when people claim they’re not creative. They speak and they write.

They discover, they create.

When Plagued with a Homework Free Vacation… 

That’s It?

What do you do when faced with days of spare time? How do you choose to fill those empty moments?

When school is your identity and school is your future, you pour your heart and soul into every assignment each and every day until your fingers twitch without an essay to write or a sheet to fill with notes.

This Winter break, I find myself without anything to do. College apps are in, I’m more or less caught up with my online work, my principle declared this week “homework free” and for once in my high school career, I feel like I’m caught up. This is freedom… right?

Well, if that’s so, then why do I still feel like there’s a to do list hidden somewhere with a hundred things to do.

Suddenly, every project I had sitting on the back burner, lukewarm, that I’ve been waiting since September 1st to work on feels like a chore.

This Christmas Eve, as I’m supposed to be lying in bed and wishing for presents to pile up beneath the tree as I sleep, I find myself making a list and checking it twice, though it has nothing to do with who’s naughty or nice. On my list, there are a collection of things for me do–fun things. This is a list that holds nothing for me to be afraid of.

My list:

  • Cuddle up by the fireplace with a nice Gingerbread latte and read a good book (or two)
  • Go café hopping with a good friend
  • Find a new bookstore and take the time to browse
  • Work on my scrapbook– cement those memories with paper and glue
  • Bake something ridiculously unhealthy and enjoy eating it
  • Practice my Russian and finally get around to translating that Pushkin poem
  • Catch up on Marvel movies (Infinity wars is coming!)
  • Do some yoga
  • Take a walk
  • Write some poetry and learn how to doodle better
  • Write a blogpost (check!)

Everything on this list sounds amazing, though I have a nagging suspicion it would be hard to complete in six days. Nevertheless, it now exists.

It’s out there, floating around in some internet oblivion for me to stumble across one homework filled evening when I need to remember that lists are just fun.

Nothing on this list takes a long time to do. Nothing on this list requires long periods of planning. Nothing’s stopping me from taking small chunks of time out of busy days and getting some of these things done.

So, as my favorite bloggers Damon and Jo would say, it’s time to Shut up and Go.

Happy Holidays,

 

Independent Language Learning in High School

Options Exhausted

School schedules are more flexible than one might think. What may seem like a rigid, boring, and oppressive regiment to your day can actually be crafted to fit whatever classes you’d like to take; you just have to know what you want and ask.

Some classes are unavoidable– math, english, science, etc.– but nearly every high school has opportunities to further explore one particular area of study. This could take the form of electives, extra lab/gym periods, and even substituting one core class for another. As a foreign language kid, I’m used to manipulating my schedule to incorporate more language learning time, so that tends to be my area of expertise, however many of the following techniques can be applied to any subject matter, be it STEM, history, or even writing/english.

Tip #1: Academic Electives

This is your prime opportunity to add an extra class to your schedule. My freshman and sophomore years, I took Spanish in place of a typical elective like art, music, or photography. As much as I would have loved to learn more about those sorts of things, substituting an arts class for an extra core academic class was the only way I knew to keep up with both French and Spanish my first year of highschool. I also have friends who take both Mandarin and Spanish. Later down the line, if you’ve exhausted all of the school’s classes in one of these subjects, you can swap in an online class from either a virtual high school or a university that allows you to continue with that area of study.

Tip #2: Online Classes

Most high schools offer dual enrollment programs that allow you to take classes at a local university or online highschool for credit. Sometimes, these credits can be transferred to your future college as well, just like an AP class. When it comes to online foreign language programs, I recommend looking at University of Wisconsin Madison Online, or Middlebury online K-12 learning. Middlebury offers classes through AP for French and Spanish, as well as Chinese, German, and Latin courses. For Spanish learners who have already taken the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam, I would look into taking AP Spanish Literature online through Johns Hopkins. During the school day, you’ll be given studies to compensate for the time you’ll spend working on your online course.

Tip #3: Independent Studies

Some people believe that in order to apply for an independent study, you need to have some amazing job or internship opportunity, but in reality, anyone can create an independent study. This upcoming year, I’m designing an independent study to prepare myself for the C1 DALF exam and the B2 DELE in June 2018. My teachers and I are creating a curriculum that incorporates small projects and online tutoring sessions that will allow me to keep up with and further develop my listening, reading, and presentational skills in French, Spanish, and Russian. Weekly activities will include everything from reading novels by Gabriel Garcia Marquez to watching Russian history documentaries. You could also offer to help out in a beginner French or Spanish class and act as an assistant teacher.

Tip #4: Senior Project

Many schools offer the chance to design a senior project, the perfect chance to explore a new language. Whether you want to analyze French literature or test the Duolingo philosophy that with only 30 minutes of practice a day, you can speak fluently within a few months, Senior projects present an opportunity to explore a unique niche within your target language and dedicate the entirety of your day to its study.

Polyglot pursuits are daunting, especially when you’re a high school student. Instead of thinking about the school day as an obstacle, consider these hours an opportunity. If you’re passionate about foreign language learning, you’ll inspire your teachers, parents, and guidance counselors to help you in any way that they can.

Why I’m Scared of Schedules

Consider the Setting

It’s senior year– the year of college applications, AP classes, and last ditch efforts to make yourself as well-rounded and perfect as you can possibly be before your stamped onto paper and sent in to admissions.

Sometimes it’s a wee bit overwhelming, so instead of working on blog posts and being productive, I write poetry.

Schedules

There are one hundred and twenty six things I have to do today.

One hundred and eleven of them are nothing–

steps in an everyday routine.

Five assignments due tomorrow,

four languages to tune,

three miles to run,

two books to read, and, somehow,

a life to live.

 

Schedules are terrifying.

Schedules are necessary.

Schedules are bone needles and sinew thread.

 

I wake up on Thursday morning and the there she lies,

an agenda fully stocked.

That’s when the veil settles–

one a needle cannot pierce.

Through the thick, grey fog

there’s a dark hole with a warm candle, and

a flurry of soft music

whose tinker-bell chimes invite me to their home

where schedules don’t need to exist.

 

There are one hundred and twenty six things I have to do today.

I can’t do one.

 

I’ll test my weight on tired feet

and think about apples and oatmeal and shoes and eye shadow and that book half finished on my nightstand and that test I have tomorrow and that application thats due on Sunday and those return labels I still haven’t printed and that text from my aunt that’s 136 characters too long and I won’t reply.

 

Each empty box on today’s to-do list pings

like a marble dropped into a crystal glass.

I teeter on the edge of a single shard,

frozen solid,

terrified to move,

an unproductive hazard.

I’ll make another list.

This time I’ll add time.

Then I’ll compile another.

 

I’ll set my plan.

I feel marbles rolling through my fingers.

I’ll step towards the kitchen.

I taste dust and fresh ink.

I’ll pick up a spoon.

I hear a beating heart that’s two sparks from out of tune.

I’ll sit back down.

I see F’s and idle hands.

I’ll stare blankly at a ticking clock.

I smell the lazy coffee still in its mug.

 

Here I am, hours later–

hands tied to this chair,

feet bound in rope,

pure panic in my heart–

with one hundred and twenty one things left to do.

Last Travel

I tried something new…

I sat at my desk today to write a blog post and I wound up staring at photographs on my wall for more than an hour. This is not the first time I’ve lost myself thinking about my travels this year. I’ve only been home for a few weeks, yet the travel itch has already returned. I’m beginning to realize just how much I miss France and Russia. France, especially, has been a consistent throb in my side this last week. I tried to write a typical blog post about just how much I miss my exchange, but nothing I wrote sounded right.

I gathered up a few songs that said it just right, (To Build a Home by The Cinematic Orchestra, So Close to Magic by Aquilo… ) but that felt like cheating.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with poetry to sort through my thoughts, and it’s something I’ve found both cathartic and rewarding. I wrote something about this strange sort of longing that I feel for the life I had in France last year.

Here it is…

Last Travel

Air falls from my lungs when that song hits just below the ribs–

The one I listened to on metro nights just shy of 299 times.

I ride the crescendo till I’m knocked off my feet.

 

Looks like longing found her way in.

 

She’s woven through September air,

stirred into my coffee,

bleeding through headphones,

reaching out from my camera roll and

lunging from a polaroid.

 

She settles down onto my chest.

 

She crawls out of my heart and winds down my spine.

She’s an ache that rests behind my eyes and casts 6:00 AM fog

so thick I choke on tendrils of molten music.

 

She taps at my head

like she smells the sweet, sticky memories I left on the counter

and wants a taste.

 

Six weeks of Russia and six months of France bundled beneath my eyebrows.

 

Warm memories freeze my fingertips.

Neurons trapped under frost

fire slow signals that lull across glass tipped grass and

are broken by stumbling feet who seek to save a lick of dexterity

so I may write my way away.

 

Today’s plans cease into long winter slumbers with the ring of Fall outside the window,

of a home I once longed for

plagued tonight by this evening’s treasured guest,

the friend who settles over my shoulders,

at the ring of a piano’s first key.

 

She, who thrives on memory, lives in past tense

eager for the future where I return to far away–

far away across an ocean,

 a few hundred miles of sea churning with demons

that once lunged for my wrists.

 

I lay on my mattress, lulled by piano strokes

that grab at wanderlust with greedy fingers

and choke my new today,

too busy missing yesterday to remind me to breathe.

 

I remember the last sidewalk café,

last bus ride through Theater Square,

last croque monsieur and bowl of borscht,

last “Oui, madame” and “Non, merci”,

last sunrise trek and morning bises,

last click of black boots on cobblestone streets,

last embrace with a foreign friend.

Last month,

last year,

last travel.

Why?

Just Because

There have been many moments at Project Just Because that could be considered “life-changing”. Considering the organization has been operating for around two decades and I’ve only volunteered for 2 of these years, this means there have been so many more that I have never witnessed. And it’s interesting because these moments of realization don’t change your entire outlook on life, but they make you realize how important what you are doing is.

I very distinctly remember my “life-changing” moment. I began volunteering in September 2015 and this moment occurred in January 2016. In between the beginning of my life at Project Just Because I was volunteering because I wanted to volunteer and PJB was the closest option I had. By January I had built better relationships with the other regular volunteers once they realized I was actually coming in on a regular schedule. I had been promoted from sorting clothes to distributing them, and let me tell you, I’ve never been happier. Now this is going to sound kind of weird, but I remember vividly what this woman looked like. I had just walked out of the backroom after completing the children’s portion of the order and I looked up and saw this woman just standing there wearing a tank top and leggings in the middle of winter. And since PJB is really sensitive about keeping client’s identities private I don’t want to say what she looks like beyond that. The other volunteers and office manager are kind of frantically rushing around and talking to this woman trying to figure out what they can do. Routine is that a request form is sent in and then a week or so later you come in and pick up your order, but this woman had never submitted an online form and she just came in hoping we could get warm for her children.

She kept repeating that she only needed stuff for her children and she didn’t need anything if her children weren’t going to get something because she did. I was instructed to go get some winter coats and clothes and eventually we got her clothes for herself and her children. I came back into the main room and I caught onto tidbits of the conversation as she explained her really troubling situation that I won’t go into detail about (again for privacy issues). And it wasn’t until later when I got home and I could not stop thinking about it that I realized how important my work is at PJB. So many of the orders that I fill everyday are changing someone’s life somehow and it’s an easy thing to forget. There are occasionally times when I don’t want to sort through 6 bins hoping to find 32×34 pants for Adult Male #2 that I’ve never met. But then I think of how important it is for these people to have size 32×34 pants because they can’t just go out and buy them. These kinds of moments when people come in with their heartbreaking stories are the ones that remind me to keep pushing. And for those 4 hours a week I’m able to be a part of something bigger than myself.

It may sound silly, but the best parts of my days are the ones where I get to go to Project Just Because. It’s such a loving, calming, healthy environment. The other volunteers who are all retired act as my mentors and treat me as one of their own. I owe so much of my growth to this small, local charity. Sometimes I forget how integral volunteering is to my existence. It makes me so much happier and excited about my future of changing lives. I believe that for the rest of my life I’ll try to find some place as wonderful as Project Just Because.

Project Just Because is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that serves as both the Hopkinton Food Bank and a donation driven clothing redistribution service for all of Massachusetts. There are also seasonal programs such as Back-to-School and Christmas. If you or a friend are in need of services from Project Just Because or would like to donate please visit their website. 

Week One Host Family Recap

Russian Barbecues and Minty Tea

This past Sunday, I packed up my bags and said goodbye to the hostel where my fellow Americans and I spent our first month in Russia. Though it still hadn’t dawned on me that I would no longer be spending 24 hours with all of my amazing roommates, I still felt quite a depressing pang in my chest when I closed the door to room 304 for the final time. Within the span of two flights of stairs, I left my comfortable American-tourist bubble and ventured out into the “Real Russia” – my very own бабушка by my side.

Now, I knew that I would spend most of my first few days with my host family in a constant state of confusion, but I didn’t expect to meet a random Russian uncle that would guide me into the back of a van and drive me down a pot-hole ridden dirt road to a lake 30 min outside the city. At this point, it was 90 degrees outside, the van had no windows, and I hadn’t had any breakfast, so needless to say, I was a bit grumpy and would have rather taken a nap than swim in the lake. By the time we finally pulled over at our destination, I was ready to fall asleep on the sand, but my eager grandma and her friends pulled me onto my feet and lead me to the water.

I cautiously waded up to my ankles, the frigid water nipping at the 800 mosquito bites I’ve acquired throughout the last few weeks. When my friend’s uncle dove head first into the water, I gaped and made sure that everyone knew that I was deep enough already. Mr. Russian Uncle either didn’t understand or didn’t care, and he sent a wave crashing into my chest with the slap of his hand. Basically soaked at this point, I dunked and the headache I’d been building all day fell away.

After a few more minutes floating around in the water, the grandmas called us all to lunch– an perfect barbecue spread with fresh vegetables, sausages, and even a watermelon!

My host family helped me name everything on the table, and I promptly added those words to my notebook. After we packed up our picnic, we were back in the van and driving to my friend’s host family’s dacha.

Walking around the dacha was like a tour through an early 20th century country home. The house was small and colorful and smelled like fresh wood with only a few rooms but plenty of places to rest and relax. After the grandma’s led us through their gardens and let us taste everything they grew there, we sat down for tea, and if there’s one tradition from Russia that I’ll be packing in my suitcase, it’s mid-day tea.

I’ve never been much of a tea fan, but the minute you put fresh mint leaves and lemon wedges into your cup, English Breakfast becomes a lot less boring.

Coupled with a bowl of fresh strawberries and some sugar cookies… Mmm! Delicious.

That night, back at our apartment, I had my first nightly tea-time conversation with my host sister, half in Russian, half in English. This would become a part of our nightly routine, and probably the time my Russian improves the most every day.

The following morning, on Monday, we took the bus to class where I spent my typical five hours drilling grammar concepts, frantically writing vocab words into my notebooks, and receiving lists upon lists of homework assignments that I would later rant about in our LC meeting. After class, I got my first opportunity to roam Kirov with my host sister and a few other friends– something that I had been hoping to do since we arrived. We walked along the riverside, bought giant bottles of soda at the grocery store and went on a pancake hunt that brought us all the way across the city to a 24 hour cafeteria and a chocolate museum.

On Tuesday I was told that we were going on a “Quest” which ended up being an abandoned orphanage-themed escape room where I was reminded with every note of creepy, suspenseful music why I don’t watch horror movies. Fortunately, an intense rainstorm (which my teacher referred to as a “hurricane”) forced us to take shelter in a Vietnamese restaurant where I ate my weight in egg rolls and beef with broccoli.

Wednesday, our group wrote our dialogues in the park and toured an ice cream museum, and Thursday the van was back, this time driving my friend and I into the woods to a state park to ride horses. While we waited for our scheduled horse riding time, we took paddle boats onto the lake.

At that moment– paddling around and scaring мама утка and her ducklings with some country music– it felt like summer; the summer that I would be having if I were in the US right now.

Summer is stereotypically lazy; the time when we’re supposed to kick back and relax, but my experiences with the season have always been quite the opposite. I’m always busy, whether it be running around from rink to rink when I was younger, to pre-college programs these last few years. Although I’m happy that my Summer has always had a purpose, sometimes I wish that there was nothing on my schedule. It’s hard spending the 4th of July abroad every year and having no control over what food you eat or what activities you do. Sometimes, though, you’re just pedaling along in a lake at some state park in Kirov, listening to your favorite song on a cloudy day, and you think to yourself that at this moment, you could be anywhere in the world. No matter where you’re being dragged by your family, program coordinator, or strange Russian Host Uncle, you’ll wind up somewhere that feels remotely like home, and that can be just what you need.

The Effects of Brute Memorization: Navigating Around a Mental Block

How to Train Your Dragon : Making sleepy NSLI-Y students confident in how to say “But I don’t want to kill dragons!”

18, 23, 28, 53 –  these are the amounts of Russian vocabulary words I’ve been told to memorize each night over the last few days.  Granted, some words were repeats, some days our dictation quizzes were cancelled, but that doesn’t change the fact that in the last three weeks, I’ve added 308 flashcards to my “New Russian Words” Anki deck and every term was added with the intention of being memorized within 24 hours. I’ve often criticized language courses for their slow pace when it comes to introducing new vocabulary, but having now experienced a class with an opposite  approach, I miss the lazy days of writing out pages worth of sentences and Quizlet Live. 

I’ve never had too many problems with memorization, however, in the last few days, I’ve been struggling to cram even one more word into my brain. I spent an hour on the bus glaring at my phone as my mind completely erased everything I had learned the night before. I could repeat a word six times, turn my gaze to the window, then completely forget what I was saying. Carrot, Cucumber, Beetroot… all of these words are must-know, basic Russian words, but for some reason, they refuse to stick. Being the lazy, easily-frustrated, slacker I am, I gave up that day on the bus and grudgingly accepted that the day’s vocab quiz was going to be more red X’s than smily faces. When we were assigned a poem to memorize that afternoon, I began to panic.

I assumed that if my brain couldn’t even remember the word for tomato, there was no way that she would agree to letting a nine stanza poem into her memory.

That night, however, as I sat down at my desk, tea and cookies in hand, I found myself reciting lines by heart after only a few minutes. Confused but pleased, I considered myself cured– maybe my brain just works better between midnight and 2:00 AM. Naturally, I took another look at my vocab list from the day before, but once again, not a single word could get past the double-locked doors to wherever Russian food vocabulary gets stored. That magical memorization of the poem I’d done moments earlier seemed to be nothing but a fluke.

This time though, instead of giving up, I thought about why it was that I could learn poetry but not name the ingredients in borsht. I reminded myself that:

A. Nobody is meant to learn 30 foreign vocab words a night,

B. I’d been using the same method of memorization for the last three weeks, and

C. Flipping through a virtual flashcard deck is one of the most un-interesting and mindless things that a person can do.

And so, with these three things in mind, I grabbed my computer and headed off to Youtube Land where I searched “Learn Russian!” (Yes, exclamation mark included). I started watching videos that tested my listening skills and listened to various explanations of the prepositional case. When I logged onto Fluent-U, I considered myself advanced enough for the “Elementary” category, and watched a Russian Nespresso commercial staring George Clooney, where I finally figured out the meaning of “правда” and for the first time that week, felt myself improve.

There’s nothing wrong with learning new words, it’s necessary to speak in another language,  but the way you learn new words is important. My teacher here in Russia says “quantity grows into quality’, but I think I may need a new motto for my personal learning style.

I need a stimulus more active than a virtual flashcard to improve my Russian.

I need to generate my own language and focus on identifying familiar words in a dialogue or video before I sit down and flip through Anki. For me, I’ve found that recapping my day in Russian– what I wore, what I did, how I’m feeling– and watching videos online with Fluent-U to be the most useful learning methods.

Every few days or so, I switch it up. If I’m feeling like a blob, I’ll watch a movie I’m familiar with in Russian with English subtitles, or listen to a language learning podcast (Actual Fluency is my favorite) to gather inspiration. 

Sure, my grades on Dictation have taken a bit of a blow, but I’m able to stumble my way through a paragraph or two describing my daily routine in front of my teacher, so I think she knows that I’m doing okay.