So this will be my last post from Russia as I head home about a week earlier than planned due to a family emergency. This was decided last Friday, where I would finish my work for this Fulbright but cancel the “holiday” planned for St. Petersburg.

The last few days have been tremendously challenging. It is amazing how we have bonded and built new friendships, with students, new colleagues, heck even the wait staff at a little restaurant around the block recognized me (and think I’d only been in there twice before) as the American who sat over there with some friends. Guess lively conversations in English can be noteworthy in a city where few Americans have visited.

On Tuesday, my last meeting with my students was a celebration and also a little tearful. They are really sweet and kind and I truly have enjoyed getting to know each of their quirky personalities and a glimpse into their very bright minds. Each presenter was awarded with a Mott drawstring backpack. Most had already received t-shirts on the second day as a reward for meeting the first big deadline.

[note: any errors in identifying the students is all mine… my notes are packed and I’m working with a sleep-deprived brain. izvinyete]

Natalia Deryabina (I called “the happy one” but who is also a very talented writer)

Elena Filinkova (the “shy” one for her English was not as good as most of her classmates, but she made up for it with persistence!)

Sofia Nasyrova (my “intellectual” young lady, quiet but intense, great writing and a lovely smile)

Yana Yaskevich (my tall, shy late bloomer)

Alex Demyanenko (the only male, and my emcee for the reception entertainment)

Aleka Molokova (a very intelligent and gregarious young lady whose educator parents work in Boston)

Maria Kozlachkova (one of the youngest but very brave, talented and promising, she also sang for the reception)

Elena Mikryukova (a lovely young lady who shows a lot of promise)

Dasha Malova (a very talented writer and hardworking young woman who also helped translate and became the official photographer)

Olga Obvintseva (a mature and sophisticated writer who was a leader among my hardworking students)

The students also presented me with some special gifts… a two-volume set of Russian poetry passed on by the wife of the author, and some additional goodies that came straight from their heart to mine. I’ve asked the students to post their writings to their blogs. Some already have. You can find links to their blogs by visiting the new page I’ve added here.

A Papparazzi kind of day

Today, I finished my meetings with faculty and the department head and have promised to forward more curriculum resources… But my tired brain was fading after two hours of meetings and no sleep. So I turned in my grades, signed letters and headed back to the hotel for a rest, chauffered by Olga and also Julia (from my Ganina Yama and fireworks experiences). After a little rest, I enjoyed a lovely dinner with Natasha Chernyaeva, Sergey Krepotov (her husband), and their son Maxim, a lovely young man who was also a pleasure to meet. We ate in one of Ekaterinburg’s more upscale restaurants called, appropriately enough, Papparazzi.

I have many more stories to share than I have hours left before my flight. And it might be good to catch at least a little shut-eye before facing the clerks at the Aeroflot check-in. I will add more to this blog as time allows over the coming weeks, more as reflections upon my experience here.

In the meantime, as Ekaterinburg is still energized by the Russian hockey team’s tied game against Sweden tonight with cars driving round and round Lenin Prospekt with flags waving to drunken shouts, I leave you with a photo in the same spirit as I started.

This morning I had my first cultural experience attempting to exchange a few dollars for Roubles at the bank next to the hotel, you know the one featuring Bruce Willis on their posters out front. After negotiating their system whereby they rejected bills that showed any kind of mild wear (I was told that Russians returning from abroad will often iron their bills before exchanging them because the banks prefer “new”), we stepped out of the tiny secure room into the lobby where a nearly life size cut out of dear Bruce stood watch.

So here I am, saying goodbye to Bruce, and Dasvidanya (until we meet again) to Ekaterinburg.