Digital Communications


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]

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

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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!)

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

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Yana Yaskevich (my tall, shy late bloomer)

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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There was a wonderful reception on Monday night (5/14/12) hosted at the Ekaterinburg History Museum in honor of the two Americans visiting the Ekaterinburg Academy of Contemporary Arts. In addition to myself teaching in Cultural Journalism, another American scholar, Constance DeVereaux arrived here last weekend from Northern Arizona University and who will teach cultural management.

It was a very exciting event as Constance and I were feted as guests of honor. The US Consul General, Michael Reinert, who gave a speech on the importance of this cultural exchange, and two of his staff, including the Deputy Press Attaché Zsofia Budai, were in attendance.

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D. Michael Reinert, US Consul General (left) and Professor Sergey Krepotov, EACA Rector (head of the institution) give presentations at the reception.

Also scheduled to be there, but absent, was the city mayor for Ekaterinburg. It was explained – and any inaccuracies are mine alone – that there had been an emergency in the mayor’s office due to the apparent firing of the governor of the Sverdlovsk Oblast (state/region) by the newly sworn in president Putin. A certificate of welcome was presented on behalf of the mayor by the academy recot, Professor Sergey Krepotov. So I can honestly say that Putin has had a direct impact on my experience here in Ekaterinburg.

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While I’m not entirely certain of everything it says, I can definitely see that it says my name in Cyrillic, and under that it says “professor Mott College” in Russian. In addition to the certificate, we received several books and also a few EACA souvenirs.

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But probably the best part of the reception for me was seeing nearly all of my students there and seeing how enthusiastically they put together their own presentation. One of my students, Aleksy, served as a very competent Master of Ceremonies, and another of my students, Maria Kozlachkova did her own fearless rendition of Chuck Berry’s hit “I Feel Good”. When I asked if she’d heard of Motown and Aretha Franklin, she shook her head. So I returned the treat the next day in class by playing Aretha’s classic “RESPECT”.

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Two other students, not from my class, also gave wonderful performances one playing the saxophone, and another young lady sang a lovely ballad. All in all, I think they were the highlight of the evening’s reception.

Here is a group photo with all of the students, me, and Constance.

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Pipe Organs in Grecian Concert Hall

So… As if the evening were not already full, I continued the night with another concert at the Ekaterinburg Philharmonic Hall for an organ concert featuring Bach on a pipe organ. Unfortunately I couldn’t make out the other composer.

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The concern hall was just gorgeous, an interesting mix of ornate Grecian columns and ornamentation and Soviet era images and symbolism. My host for the evening was Olga Balueva, an English faculty at the academy and the same lovely lady who hosted me at her sister-in-law’s dacha on Victory Day the week before. It was wonderful to share this with her this evening and I prayed for forgiveness when the occasional coughing fit left me scrambling for a cough drop from a mild cold I’d developed over the weekend.

A few photos of the hall are shared here.

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All in all, the evening was a good one and took my mind off things back home. But the next day would be my last class, and I had grading to do before heading to bed. This cinderella would soon be turning into a pumpkin for the night.

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Okay… It’s early on my post-public talk day 2 and I hit the refresh on my Google search for my name in Cyrillic. Lo and behold there was something knew at the top of the search results… a YouTube video. Oh dear. Now I would see for myself how it went.

Overall, I could pronounce it not too bad, at least as far as the English language part. Since it was edited for a Russian audience, there are no English subtitles or translations offered for the Russian… And I have no idea how bad it was interpreted. But I have some people back in the USA who I will ask for their perspective on this since I already have a notion that what I or the other said wasn’t always directly translated. And, apart from my failure to look up enough (I was listening so intently to the interpreter that I failed to realize this), I had to stifle a laugh at how my hair had gone back to its natural but still damp curls from the rain. As an aside, today it is apparent that my sore throat is a consequence of this.

Back to the video, they played most of the lecture editing out three main areas: large portion of the “brief history” part, then cut out the section on the challenges, benefits, and responsibilities that came with access and authorship online, and the closing section (my favorite) which also addressed responsibility of the cultural journalist (i.e. the subtitle of the talk – “Journalism in the global age of cultural responsibility“). And honestly, I have no idea if this was simply edited out for time, or if there was a mistranslation, or a cultural resistance to this aspect of the talk. And I currently have no idea how it went in the little mini interviews that are at the end since it is only in Russian.

So, taking the chance that someone out there may be kind enough (and gentle) to share with me their translation or at least impressions, I offer you this link to the YouTube video… Risking potential humiliation, I guess I’ll just have to smile and laugh… Can’t help it! The theme music they used was “New York, New York!”

Мара Фулмер. Круглый стол
Me on YouTube

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People mill around outside the library after the event and the sun-cleared skies. The American Information Office was a sponsor for the event. Translation issues aside, I hope that the dialogue that we started will continue!

Meeting the Ekaterinburg Public

Having just performed the latest great milestone in terms of my duties here as a Fulbright, I wanted to share some quick impressions since my time is short.

Yesterday evening I gave a public talk at the local library and which was sponsored by the American Information office which is in the same building. Titled: “Rock, Wood, Paper, Pixels: Journalism in the global age of cultural responsibility”, it was more about the role of journalism in promoting cultural understanding and creating an informed public, rather than writing about the arts. This distinction is an issue since in Russia, cultural journalism is seen as purely about coverage of Arts and Entertainment. But, while there is some connection in the American media to this, cultural journalism is also recognized as a deeper sort of writing that goes beyond the isolation of arts coverage and can also provide a more meaningful context for a subject, even (and especially) if the subject is not necessarily rooted in the traditional arts. My focus was on the democratization of media, challenges, benefits and responsibilities of both the author/creator and the consuming public.

The presentation itself was not without its challenges, sometimes humorous, sometimes just frustrating. First, writing it. I found myself dissatisfied with my original direction and its length, especially after coming to understand that a translator would have to interpret everything I said, sentence by sentence. But, after this past week of reading student assignments, watching the news, and talking with my new colleagues, I finally felt I could give this a more complete voice. But I had run out of time after other unrelated issues pulled my attention away. Sleep deprivation didn’t help either. But enough excuses. It came together on time and I felt good about going to the presentation with a reasonable product that could be both sensitive and thought-provoking at the same time.

Heading to the event

I rushed to get dressed now to meet the public, getting down to the hotel lobby a few minutes late. But, then it rained. Not just a light rain. Thunder and lightening, downpours, almost blinding rain. And then there’s me, dressed up for a public talk, hair, makeup, dressy shoes… Just running to and from the car, even with an umbrella held over my head, I was soaked. A trip to the bathroom toilet was only mildly helpful. I’d brought my own roll of TP because I’d noticed it wasn’t common in public bathrooms. But without paper towels or a hand dryer, I just tried to make the best of it. My once dry smoothed hair was now damp, and as curly as ever. A light hair brush didn’t help either. Breath deep, I told myself, and I headed out and back up the stairs to the room.

A bottle of water sat at my designated spot, and as I waited for our hosts to move a large screen television where my presentation would be seen, I opened the bottle…only to be soaked again since it was warm sparkling mineral water. Who knew? I thought to myself as my host desperately tried to find something to dry the table, as I tried to swallow my exasperation by wiping down the cover of my iPad.

We waited a bit until the rain subsided as I chatted with the interpreter and fine tuned a few things on the presentation. Then, suddenly before I realized it, the event had begun, and I realized we were no longer chatting. He was interpreting what the moderator was saying to the entire room. The event was set up as a round table which must have seated 20-25 people and more sat around the walls. Oh dear, I thought. Time to shut up and try and listen to two voices speak at the same time. I had developed the technique of trying to listen carefully to the Russian for familiar words in Russian, or some that sounded similar in English.

As my turn came, I had to overcome my more comfortable style of speaking, and instead I read and then waited. The interpreter had to translate, and I wasn’t always sure when he was done, or if he was just at a loss for the right word. But after awhile, we seemed to find a rhythm. I tried to remind myself to look around. And when I did, I saw many interested faces. As I took a break during the translation, I tried to gauge their reactions, but also to listen to see if I detected anything wrong.

As it turned out, he was oversimplifying what I said, sometimes severely, and thus changing the meanings at times. This proved particularly frustrating for my host who, during the round-table discussion that followed, was actually upset enough to tell the interpreter how his translations were “atrocious”. At one point she tried to help. Instead, we went back to the old pattern and I took some comfort in knowing that at least half the people in the room understood most of what I said in English, without the incompetent interpretation.

If I could use any measure of success, it was this. The talk provoked much discussion and numerous direct questions, the nuances of which were a true challenge for me to understand. Although most of those asking questions were extremely friendly and engaged, at one point a rather arrogant fellow began asking about whether people in the USA would actually want to read “truth” versus “culture”. This was a bad interpretation and I indicated I didn’t understand the question and asked another in return. Later, it became clear that he was asking two separate questions. And “truth” was really “objectivity”, while “culture” was really arts coverage. I think my answer sufficed regardless…saying that although there were some consumers of information were lazy or ignorant of the relative credibility of a source, Americans, in general, craved information of all sorts.

So now the scary part…

Having access to my name in Cyrillic, I decided to Google it to see what had been written about the event. Using Google’s translate function, my heart sank a little bit.

Although I’m not sure how much the bad translations can be blamed on Google, my interpreter, or how the writer further interpreted what they heard, but a few basic facts that were reported would cause credibility issues back home. So I’m here to set the record straight:

1) My MFA in Studio Art/Graphic Design is from Michigan State University, not University of Michigan.

2) I teach Graphic Design and Visual communications, not journalism, at Mott College.

3) Although I have been a writer, designer, and educator for many years, I do not consider myself a “guru”, simply someone who has a passionate interest in the role of arts, media and communications in society.

In the meantime, I enjoyed a lovely dinner afterwards with my extremely gracious host who patiently answered my prodding questions about the event and shared stories of other more or less successful translation events. It was educational to me to hear how my Russian audience expressed their questions about American media and I was curious how well my replies addressed their questions. At one point during dinner, I expressed my sudden horror at the realization during the earlier event that these people in attendance were looking at me as if I could answer for the entire American media culture. Oi vey.

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I fed my still rattled nerves with two variety of pismeni (a sort of Russian tortellini) and some blintske with butter and caviar. Later that night, I cracked open the Armenian Cognac I’d picked up at the grocery store and nibbled away at the Obama pie which I’d broken down and bought, mostly out of curiosity rather than any desire for pie. Overall I’d say it was right on… full of promise but with room for improvement. 🙂

Earlier, on my walk after dinner to the car which was parked a block or two away, the sun hit the clouds just right over the city administration building. Two rainbows appeared and I made my wish figuring it was a good omen. Here’s hoping this is true.

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Note to my readers: This post is a little out of order. I intend to also write about Victory Day and other activities that have occurred through the week. But I have been kept busy between the cultural activities, grading, teaching (yes… all part of being here!) and some news from home that has lead me to change my extended travel plans, and instead go home earlier. I’ll get back to some of this later in this blog website, or another one entirely if that is deemed more appropriate.

I met some of the most wonderful people today, including my students attending my course. Ironically they are all women, as cultural journalism is seen as a “soft” occupation good for women, though some men are involved. The only male student did not attend today, though I hope he is able to join us in the next class.

Here is a photo of most of the students; two had left before I remembered to take a photo.

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Today we did introductions, covered the basics of journalism, and discussed what cultural journalism is not, what it is, and what it could be. We also watched some segments from the PBS series Craft in America which the students would base their first writing assignment about.

Tomorrow is Saturday here and it already is looking like it will be a busy day. Two of the faculty/staff are taking me around town on back to back tours, first to the Art Museum, next on a driving tour of constructivist architecture. The original plan was to go to a monastery. But my intended guide for that trip had a serious illness and is in the hospital. I wish her a speedy recovery since I know that my coming here was important to her.

In the meantime, here is that Bruce Willis photo that I promised of his ad poster for a Russian bank. So what’s the message here?

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And here is a photo of a car model called Life! with a sticker warning others to beware of inexperienced driver

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A little Russian engineering here, too….

Urals motorcycle…

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Good night for now!

Trying out WiFi only for 24-hrs. Skype, iMessage and Email only... As long as I'm connected to a WiFi network!

In anticipation of heading off to Russia in only a little more than a week, I’m conducting a 24-hr experiment using WiFi only. My iPhone is set to airplane mode and I’ve updated settings for iMessage and Skype as available. So for those who want to reach me by either of those methods, you’ll have to skip my telephone number and just go for one of those other methods.

How ironic it is to realize that I’m feeling so “disconnected” already without regular cell-phone access and “limited” by my access to WiFi. Think about all those years when we lived without cellphones, let alone email. Now, with all the alternatives, I still have that slightly anxious feeling creeping inside about not being “connected” by instant access — no matter WHERE I am! But at “discounted” prices of $2.99/minute from Russia (if I pay the $5.99/mo Int’l call plan), and a similarly unpleasant price for text-messaging, I’m going to try the alternative – WiFi only delivery of calls and messages via iMessage or Skype. Of course FaceTime is also a possibility. So many choices! But they’re dependent upon others to know how to set up their phones, too. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how many are willing to do this.

As for the experiment? It’s a bit weird being out of contact except when there’s WiFi. Riding down the road with hubby, I couldn’t resist the urge to pick up the iPhone and start checking my email or messages. But, alas, no WiFi. At least not until I got home. I suppose I could have ducked into a McDonalds or Starbucks. I wonder what the Russian equivalent will be? I’m told I’ll have WiFi access at EACA and at the hotels where I’ll be staying. And, of course, security may be an issue. No logging into bank accounts while overseas. Apart from that, I don’t think I have access to any major secrets that someone would want to steal. But who knows?

Are you one who doesn’t know my Skype ID but want to get in touch? For colleagues, close friends and family, just send me a note with your Skype name and/or preferred iMessage email contact via this blog or my email and I’ll add you to my various App contacts.

To everyone else, you’ll just have to keep watching this blog to keep in touch!

I’ll post a comment below once the experiment is over to let you know how it went. Less than 12 hours to go for round 1.