I’m Just Not That Into Russian!

You know what annoys me? OK, yes, many things. One of such things is being constantly asked to teach Russian, organize a Russian Club, or start a Department of Russian at our university. I keep explaining to people that I’m a Hispanist but they remain stuck on this Russian obsession.

The only engagement with Russian that I speak it. If you think that this must qualify me to do any of the things I listed here, you must probably believe that every single English-speaker you have met is prepared to start English Departments at universities.

I read a lot less in Russian than I do in Spanish and English. I have very little interest in the Russian-speaking culture (or what’s left of it.) As for the language, I’m completely unfamiliar with the grammar, so teaching is out of the question. It just annoys me that while nobody would consider that the profession of an English-speaking mathematician or biologist is interchangeable with that of a teacher of English, it isn’t as easy to convince people that a Russian-speaking Hispanist is still a Hispanist.

Another thing that gets to me (I said there were many, didn’t I?) is the endless questioning about when I plan to travel to Ukraine. People seem to be convinced that all immigrants experience a profound need to visit on a regular basis the countries they emigrated from. I’m in no way being critical of immigrants who do go back regularly but I’m not one of them. I didn’t leave Ukraine because I couldn’t make a living there or experienced bad economic conditions. I wasn’t escaping from an oppressive political system. None of that was true for me.

I left because I disliked living in the place intensely. So why would I want to go back? I haven’t been back once since I left almost 14 years ago and I’m definitely not planning on going. I know what would happen if I went. People would be extremely mean to me, I’d be exposed to the level of aggression that I don’t know how to deal with any more, I’d rediscover how alien I am to the culture where I grew up and how obnoxious the reigning materialism and cynicism are. Yeah, that would be one lousy trip.

I guess it would help if people realized that some immigrants are not forced to leave their countries of origin but choose to do so because they dislike their cultures and really admire and love the culture of the country where they move. Seriously, what are the chances that you would accidentally be born into the culture that suits you best? I wasn’t lucky in that respect, so I made an effort to correct the situation.

15 thoughts on “I’m Just Not That Into Russian!

  1. I agree with your sentiments exactly. Russia under Putin is in decline morally, culturally and economically. Ukraine is showing dangerous tendencies towards outright, murderous dictatorship. In contrast, South America is advancing in all dimensions towards freedom and wealth. You are very wise to go with the comparative advantage and not to lock yourself into long-past geographical and language links.


    1. ” Russia under Putin is in decline morally, culturally and economically. Ukraine is showing dangerous tendencies towards outright, murderous dictatorship.”

      – This is 100% true. What is really sad, though, is that most people there want precisely this kind of existence. Well, that’s their right, I guess.


  2. If your University wants you to teach Russian tell them to hire a TT professor in Russian.

    You know I will be teaching French 101 next semester, right? I have never never ever wanted to teach my first language but for the first time in my life I feel like I may contribute to the development of the French section of my department. This will be quite a challenge, however.

    My point is: if one day you feel like you want to teach Russian language or literature go for it. Although I cannot judge your skills, I suspect that you are being modest about your supposed lack of knowledge of Russian grammar and culture. Your post on Russia are my favourites!


  3. I take it you have no family there you care to see in person. You mention your sister but she lives in Canada.


  4. Welcome to Anglophonia, where the only “real” language is English, and all other languages are special skills that only smart people can conquer, so of course anyone who speaks something like Russian can just jump right into being an expert teacher of said language.


  5. Actually, there is the same problem with English, just not so much in the U.S.. English speakers in non-English speaking countries are often viewed as potential English teachers, regardless of their teaching ability, experience, or area of expertise.


    1. This is precisely the attitude that led an administrator I’ve met say, “Who needs to waste money on a TT person to teach Arabic when we can go outside, catch an Arab, and get him to teach the language for $7.50 an hour?” Years after I heard this, my blood pressure still goes up whenever I remember this horrible event.

      After that, it was suggested that we go “catch a Chinese person” to teach Chinese.


      1. Horrible, but unfortunately not surprising–this is an all too common attitude towards “critical” languages in the US, which also helps explain why few people ever learn them.


  6. One can take this to a totally new and disturbing level…
    When I was still a postdoc, we had an African-American professor of some kind of engineering. He complained that due to the absence of any other African-American professors, he was asked to start the African-American studies program.


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