If there’s one thing I hope I can always say about myself, it’s that I have always taken the road less traveled. This has been something that I’ve tried to live by, and this past year was no exception. At the very least, I took a road not traveled by many Americans, which ended in a small city in western Russia, teaching English at a local university.
To back up a little, about a month before I graduated from Trinity in May 2012, I found out I had received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship grant to Russia for the 2012-2013 academic year. (Fun fact: I was sitting in the newsroom of the Trinitonian working on the last issue of the semester when I found out!) I was beyond excited and spent my summer preparing and dreaming of what life would be like in Russia, a country whose language, culture and history I had studied for years.
At the end of September, I left the U.S. for my new life in Russia. I landed in Moscow on Sept. 22 and was instantly enamored. After spending six days in Moscow, learning the tricks of teaching English and running around the city in wide-eyed wonder, I nervously boarded the train for the city of Oryol, where I would spend the next nine months teaching English at the Oryol branch of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.
It was an equally wonderful and frustrating experience-frustrating in the sense that I did not achieve all that I set out to do, and wonderful in the sense that I got to experience life in provincial Russia and do so many things I never thought I would have the opportunity to do. I went ice fishing in the country, ice skated (very badly) on Red Square, experienced the White Nights of St. Petersburg, traveled part of the Golden Ring and hopped the border to spend a few days in Kiev, Ukraine, among other amazing adventures.
If you’ve never spent a year being the only person of your nationality in a town of about 300,000, let me tell you it’s a really weird and sometimes lonely experience, one that cannot be adequately summed up in this short column. Russia is a crazy place where exceptions become rules, plans always go awry and nothing runs on time except the trains. After a while, you learn to just throw up your hands and exclaim, “That’s Russia!” every time something unplanned or unexplainable happens. It was an unforgettable time in my life, despite the frustrations of living in a country so vastly different frommy own. In the end, I hope I taught my students as much as I learned during those months.
I returned to my home state of Pennsylvania in July, and I have to say that transitioning back to life in the U.S. has been unexpectedly hard, especially in the job search department. I am happy to report, though, that after months of searching, I will start my first day on the job as a page designer for the Reading Eagle newspaper on Oct. 14! I am excited to return to journalism, a field I’ve always loved and been passionate about.
And I am already planning my next adventure ““ traveling to Sochi, Russia, in February for the 2014 Winter Olympics as a volunteer for the Olympics News Service! I am looking forward to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of something as amazing as the Olympics and to return to a country that I was once able to call “home.” It is the only the next stop on a grand journey that has already taken me to so many incredible places.
Kellie Benn graduated in 2012 with a degree in communication and russian. She now works for the Reading Eagle as a page in Pennsylvania.