It has been almost a year since I met my good friend Felicia Kenney from Eugene, Oregon. Over this year, Felicia’s become one of my close friends. Right now, Felicia and her husband Joel are in St. Petersburg. They’re going to start learning Russian at St. Petersburg State Polytechnical University. This is an interview about how they got involved in studying Russian, how they have decided to go here, about the past and the future of one American family in Russia.
Felicia, how did you persuade your husband to go to St. Petersburg?
Oh! Is this for the blog? Do I have to be honest?
For the blog. Yes, you do.
Well, okay. First we visited here last September. We were looking for some place to live in Eastern Europe, because it is not too expensive, the atmosphere is very relaxed, I really like the music and science fiction from here, and there is no malaria here. So, we traveled and discovered that Budapest is really cool, but the language is very hard. Prague was too close to Western Europe and not quite to my tastes. Poland seems kind of sad still. So, we thought of our friends in Russia and how much I love the Russian language... and how much I love DDT. I said, “What about St. Petersburg?” and he thought about it and said, “Okay!” It was logical.
Do you miss America?
No. Not at all. I’m so glad to not be there. I really don’t want to go back.
Do you believe that you are not home?
No. Or rather, I hope that this is home. It feels “right”. Ah! I feel like I belong here now. (Smiles.)
The difference in time is 12 hours. How do you feel after you moved there?
It was 12 from Oregon and only 9 from New Jersey. We feel tired. It is surprising for us to see the sun come up so late in the morning. However, our friends stay up late, so it is okay if we sleep until 10am. We have had some trouble sleeping at the right time, but it gets better every day. My husband has been so tired that he often takes naps in the middle of the day.
What scares you? I know your friends or relatives were afraid of something.
Well, I am scared about problems with money. If something goes wrong, I am very far from my bank. (Although, we will work it out if this happens.) However, my friends are afraid we will be arrested or terrorists will get us or people will try to kidnap us and steal our kidneys... Americans are told all the time that they should be afraid, so they are afraid of everything.
Why and when have you decided to study Russian?
About two and a half years ago, I met a Russian musician through my podcast. He was very cool. We decided to do a show together. He sent me music, but I couldn’t read any of the file names. It was frustrating to not be able to even know the letters, so I learned the alphabet. I found that I wanted to be able to speak to him in Russian, because we became good friends. So, I started to learn.
What’s the name of the guy?
As a musician, he is Alexander Piterskiy. He speaks very good English, but I still wanted to learn Russian.
Russia is not the first country to which you have moved. I know that you lived in Africa. Tell about that experience.
In 2003, I quit my job as a UNIX programmer for an ISP in New York City and joined the Peace Corps. (We weren’t spies, by the way. I know that many people think we are spies, but we don’t get paid enough to be spies, plus we have no training for that. We really do just go to help. I don’t know if Peace Corps people were spies in the past, but not now.) I went to Benin in West Africa. It was very hot there, as it was almost on the equator. It had been a very long time since I had learned French, so the language was very hard for me to remember at first. Also, I was given medication to prevent malaria that made me very confused and nervous. It turns out that the medication caused brain damage, but no one told us this could happen.
Anyway, I stayed there for a year. It was a very interesting place, but the culture was soooooo different. There were almost no computer geeks there, even among the Peace Corps volunteers. I liked it, but I also felt very isolated. However, I met many cool people and saw a lot of cool stuff. After a while, though, the problems from the medication were too much for me. I was so nervous that I couldn’t work, and I couldn’t do my job because I couldn’t remember things (I worked for a bank doing database work for a loan management system, but I couldn’t remember how loans worked because of the medication. I didn’t remember for three years after I left.).
So, I finally left and returned to the US. Joel, my husband now, and I had started dating before I left. I had written him letters and e-mails a lot. However, it was very nice to see him again.
Which countries have you been to?
I’ve been to Mexico, Canada, Benin, Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and England. I have passed through or been in airports in others, but they don’t count. (Smiles.)
Which country you wouldn’t like to go?
Hmm, I don’t think there are countries I would not like to see. There is always something to learn from a new country. Sometimes you think you won’t like it, but then you are surprised. I would very much like to see the Mayan ruins in Mexico and Guatemala, plus Egypt and China. Joel and I have talked about going on the pilgrimage routes in India and Japan, because I’m a Buddhist. (I’m not very religious, though.)
I know that I don’t want to go to London again. Too crowded and expensive.
Here are some questions from my friend Neonila.
Where would you like to go again?
Where are the most friendly people?
Most friendly... maybe Budapest. It is hard to say. It seems that people everywhere are pretty nice most of the time.
Where is the best food?
The best food... well, at the bus station in Riga, the food was very good. They had a cafeteria with very tasty food, then there was a little store downstairs with pastries. Also, in St. Petersburg, we had little cakes soaked in rum. Very very good! And there were blini (I think) at stands by the bus station. Also delicious. (Smiles.)
Where have you seen the most beautiful sunset?
Most beautiful sunset... Arizona is famous for beautiful sunsets. The sun goes down behind the mountains, and it is lovely. I’ve seen the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, which is also very nice. When we arrived in St. Petersburg on Monday, the sun was setting and the whole sky was full of colors. I can tell you that one of the most lovely things I’ve seen in a city was yesterday. It was snowing just a little, but the sun was out. The sun hit the snow in the air and on the ground and it all sparkled. It was beautiful!
What will you (and your husband) do after you finish your classes?
Well, Joel would like to play music here. I would like to take more classes. There is so much to learn about Russia and the language. We have only been here a few days, so we cannot say for sure that we want to stay. However, so far, I love being here. I love our friends, the people from the school, the snow, the metro—all of it. So, if we want to stay, we may have to work on getting permission to live here. That can be a lot of work. Of course, I can’t do that until we are sure and also we speak better Russian.
How did you learn Russian before that?
I used books, Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, recordings that I found online, pronunciations from Forvo.com. For teaching myself, I’m doing okay, I think. And, of course, I was lucky enough to have Russian friends to help me.
You’re always welcome.
Thank you very much for your answers.