I was born in Nizhnekamsk, Russia in 1989. It’s a tiny town with a population of about 200,000 and it’s about 1.5 days by train away from Moscow.
When I think about it, I see birch trees swaying slowly in the wind, I feel a faint taste of dust in the summer, I hear boots walking in the snow in the winter and I smell a rubbery smell of an indoor track stadium.
A Busy Russian Routine
From the time I was 10, my life in Russia consisted of obsessing over my hair, rushing to school, quickly eating my lunch while watching “Friends” (dubbed in Russian), rushing to track and field practice and “doing homework” (aka sneaking off to gobble up a new book). That schedule was on repeat for six days a week. On the weekends and during the holidays, we used to go to a country cottage “dacha,” to tend to our garden and go to banya:).
I Had Athletic Talent!
I was very lucky that my amazing coach-to-be noticed my athletic talent at one summer camp. After a few years of hard and consistent work, I won some championships across Russia and was on track to be a track star (pun intended).
A Change to Law School Plans
One day, in the spring of 2006, I was looking through a track and field magazine, and I saw an ad mentioning athletic scholarships for International students in the USA. Up until that point, I was planning to go to a university in a nearby big Russian city to study to be a lawyer.
At that time, The USA was like an impossible TV world dream. But somehow, I still thought “why not” and brought it to my mom’s attention. Lucky for me, my mom has an open mind and generally is a woman of action, so a very short time later, with her help, I signed up with a college in Texas and got a full athletic scholarship. My poor coach was shocked but I was so very excited and the rebel in me was oh so pleased!
The Junior Olympics
That summer, I graduated high school, skipped prom to compete in Junior Olympics in Athens for the Russian team and as soon as I arrived back home I packed my bags to depart for the U.S. of A!
I was 16 at that time, when I set off to the unknown land of America, barely speaking English, completely alone and also free! It was incredibly courageous of my mom to let me go and very adventurous (or stupid?) of me.
Arriving in the States
I remember my first impression of America like yesterday. Neatness and geniality, it was striking. Sleek vending machines, the pleasantly cold air of the A/C, organized flow of human and non-human traffic and mmm that delicious smell of fresh cut lawns, still one of my favorite smells!
A Language Barrier
My first semester as a 16 year old freshman was probably the most challenging year of my life. People around sounded just like the waves of an ocean, without a tiny resemblance to the English language I thought (!) I knew. I had to spend hours every day to go over my books, underline everything, translate it all with my thick Oxford dictionary, so that I could do the actual homework. Everyone was extremely nice, but nothing is so isolating like the inability to speak the language! Also, I just felt so out of place. The culture was so drastically different and this was the first time that I had been away from my family, by myself. It was challenging.
However, perseverance had paid off, and by the end of my freshman year, I spoke almost fluent English, had 3.7 GPA, made friends, and got the MVP for female athlete of the year!
Some photos of my athletic days:) .
So that is how I made it to America, the land of the free, and the home of the brave :) Continued here...
Have a fantastic day XO
PS, have you ever lived anywhere else or faced a language barrier? I’d love to hear about it.