Learning Russian in New York City

It hit me on the train today- it’s September and I’ve accomplished my three main goals for the year. For those of you that know me, I have a tendency to dive into my interests and run away with them (for better or worse). One of my big weak spots in life is that I struggle to really reflect about how far I’ve come. I get caught up in adjusting my goals for where I want to be next, that these moments of self-appreciation are a bit rare. Looking out at the Brooklyn Bridge with an overcast sky this morning, it hit me that my life is completely different from where I was a year ago.

My big goals for 2018 were to get a new job, start learning Russian, and to start my blog. It’s September, and I can say that each of those have been completed and are proving to be much better than I ever expected. This year I started working at a translation company and have really enjoyed being back in my field. My job has even allowed me to lean in further with my Russian goals, being that I’m surrounded by foreign languages all day. When I first started, my boss even paired me up with the Russian speakers in the New York office for training – so I’ve got a few good Soviet connections at this point.

It’s been ages since I’ve started learning a language from scratch, and I’m glad I’ve finally given into my Russia-love. Learning Russian has been a completely different experience from learning French. Overall, I feel like Russians are much more helpful towards people learning the language. Every Russian who I’ve told I’m learning the language immediately switches to Russian and offers their help should I ever need it. New York is an absolutely wonderful city to learn Russian in, too, with the extensive Russian community here. I’m lucky enough to live on the same train line to Brighton Beach, so I frequently overhear conversations in Russian or see people reading Russian books or newspapers on the train. It’s been said that everyone in Moscow knows Brighton Beach, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if that was true. It’s certainly nice to feel like you are so physically close to the community your trying to learn about. The first time I understood that a woman told her husband her tooth hurt on the train, I was SO excited (I’m sure she wasn’t but hey- I’ll take the win).

I always figured New York would be a good place to learn the language and I was able to find an after-work class fairly easily via Fluent City I do quite a lot of self-study via a number of apps, but I’m currently in Russian 2 with Fluent City after successfully completing level one with them. The biggest treat to level 2 so far, has been that it is located within the Empire State Building. For 10 weeks, I have access to the 63rd floor within the Empire State Building. I’m halfway through the course and I still get excited about getting to go inside each Monday night. The interior is absolutely gorgeous in an antique, art-deco style. The halls are all quite dark due to the granite flooring and walls, however, the staff inside are all incredibly helpful and kind. I’ve forgotten my badge twice now and they’ve been super nice about it, despite me feeling like a complete idiot each time. I’m usually the early one in my class of three people, so I do have a few minutes to enjoy the view to myself each week.

However, the best part about learning a language is getting to explore the culture. My current teacher is super into Russian cartoons, which are absolutely adorable. But this is where I’m really glad I’m in New York. I’ve been able to reconnect with an old coworker who spoke Russian and explore some of the Soviet gems throughout the city. Early on in my Russian adventures, we did a lunch in Sheepshead Bay (not too far from Brighton Beach) at Tsob Tsobe – a Turkish restaurant where our waitress spoke to us in Russian the whole time. The food was amazing and I was in awe of the fact that this could happen just a few train stops over from me. It really showed me how easy it is to dial into the Russian scene in New York. Later on, we went to one of my absolute favorite spots I’ve been to so far, Oda House in the East Village. It’s a Georgian restaurant run by a woman who was a practiced plastic surgeon in Georgia who focused on becoming a chef after moving to the US. It seriously has to be one of the best hidden gems I’ve found in the city so far and I can not wait to go back.

I went into this experience not really knowing what to expect – what in the world is Georgian cuisine even? Turns out the adjaruli is essentially a bread boat filled with melted Georgian cheese, butter, and a poached egg- aka amazing. I also made a point to try the Georgian wine. I’m a bit of a wine nerd too (on top of everything else) and knew vaguely of Georgian wines but never had the chance to try one. I ordered a glass of the sparkling qvevri (or kvevri) wine. What is qvevri wine? It’s essentially wine that is fermented in large earthenware vats, instead of the typical wooden barrel method. This is definitely up there when it comes to unique dining opportunities in New York City, and I absolutely loved it. This experience really showed me the intricacies within Russian culture. There’s so many smaller cultures within Russia, that I think really get glossed over in the American understanding of that part of the world.

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There’s so much more on my Russian-NYC bucket list at this point, and it honestly just keeps growing. There’s a Russian vodka room in Midtown Manhattan I’ve been dying to check out. I keep seeing the Russian-Turkish bathhouses in the East Village get recommended as well, however, I’m not sure I’m up for that (definitely not solo). I’m thinking once I finish my level 2 class, I will need to get a Russian tutor down in Brighton Beach. The attendance levels certainly drop off after level 1, so it seems like it might be easier to find a Russian willing to hang out with me on the weekends and review vocabulary at this point.

My other big goal for this year was to start my blog. It took me a good long while to settle on an idea for it and to get it going, but it’s been worth all the work so far. This week I hit over 200 followers on Instagram and it just boggles my mind that happened so quickly. I feel like I’m seeing some real success with this too and getting overall positive feedback from my friends and family (and even the occasional stranger!). I never really thought I’d be the type of person to start a blog, but I’m so glad I have at this point. It’s serving as a terrific accountability method for me and is allowing me to explore several different interests at the same time. I’m still a bit surprised that I’ve managed to accomplish so much and the year it’s only just September. I’m really excited to see where this all takes me and am just generally pleased with how this has all gone so far.