Faith Harron

Faith Harron
Skoltech University

Above the simple iron gates, the painted towers rise: yellow and orange, green and blue. An icy wind chills my fingers, but the cold and consistently damp rain of this Saturday morning hasn’t discouraged me—or any of my fellow students—from venturing outside. We’re at the Ismailovskii Kremlin in Moscow, the home of a famous market (here, kremlin refers to a walled city or fortress, and is a fairly common architectural layout in Russian historic cities). This kremlin’s courtyard has two decorative cannons, covered in spiraling pastel flowers and tourists with selfie-sticks. After perusing the market and watching my friends haggle over the price of a traditional Russian fur hat, we head back to the main courtyard, where a group of traditionally-attired Russian folk-singers has been replaced by a four-foot stage surrounded by a group of people, tourists and locals alike. On the stage stand two men—two men who will fight for the honor of winning a prize. The announcer speaks solely in Russian; I understand enough to get the gist, but I’m not sure of the word they use to refer to the prize. However, there is a horse standing just to the right of the stage, so I turn to my fellow group of students and translate the unknown word as ‘stallion.’ After the announcements and general cheering of the crowd, both men strap cloth belts around their waists and then begin to grapple. Three bouts later, one is declared the winner, and the prize is handed to him: a live black-furred goat, legs tied together. He swings it across his shoulders easily and parades around the square to the amusement of the crowd. The horse that I thought was the prize simply watches the match. I apologize for my mistake in translation and laugh with my new friends as I snap a photo I call ‘Man with Goat.’ My Russian language skills have been improving through many such experiences; however, not all incidences have been quite as dramatic as a fight for the grand prize of glory and a goat.  

Each week I am here contains twelve hours of Russian language instruction, and homework for these classes as well. I have already memorized two poems, and I’m sure I will learn several more before the end of my program. Along with language classes, this program—held at Skoltech University—also includes the unique opportunity for me to conduct a STEM internship through the institute’s Energy Lab. This is a perfect opportunity for me to mesh my two seemingly disparate majors, and so far my experiences have exceeded my expectations. I’ve learned about how the Russian electricity grid works and discussed demand-response systems for efficiency with my supervisor; met with Russian peers my age and practiced my language skills with them; as well as been getting to know my fellow students in the program, most of whom are from international countries other than the US as well. I’m looking forward to more chances to practice language, more moments of culture and more places I get to explore with people I enjoy spending time with—as well as making memories I’ll one day incorporate into job interviews and storytelling with friends back in the US. 

Photo: From left to right: Vova, Faith (me), Max, Ilya - As a day trip from Moscow, Faith and friends visited Tula, the home of gingerbread-like sweets called pryaniki (pictured here is the monument to them), as well as the Tula Arms Plant and samovars.