• Belarus,  Personal,  Travel

    Alana’s (Very Unofficial) Guide to Traveling Around Belarus as a Foreigner (Part 1)

    A few weeks ago, my dad, Steve, and brother, Luke, embarked on the adventure of a lifetime – visiting me in Belarus. What made their visit so special was not only that it was their first time in Belarus, but that it was also their first time in Europe and Luke’s first international flight. I was ecstatic about their visit and began planning it two months prior to their arrival. My type-A, planner personality flourished (one could also say went wild) in this capacity, and I briefly considered switching my post-Fulbright career from getting a Ph.D. to becoming a travel agent. Alas, this is not to be. But, because I…

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    “London is the Capital of Great Britain”

    “London is the capital of Great Britain,” said a professor with a wry grin. I looked at him with an awkward smile to mask my confusion.  My mind was abuzz: “Why would he be telling me this? We weren’t talking about Great Britain… Does he think I don’t know this? Did something get lost in translation???” Unsure how to respond, I abruptly changed the conversation. An outdoor market in Minsk Recently I have been thinking about the “lost in translation” moments I encounter on a daily basis. Sometimes I forget that humor is difficult to understand and I make sarcastic jokes, which I am sure come across as incomprehensible at…

  • Belarus,  Education,  Fulbright,  Personal,  Vitebsk

    Seeing Myself Through a Child’s Eyes

    “You know what, Alana?” I turned away from the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I was preparing to see the eight-year-old boy I was babysitting studying me with a thoughtful look. “You’re like the Mona Lisa. You don’t laugh a lot, but you smile all the time.” An amusement park in Polotsk I had no words in response, which for those of you who know me, is a truly rare occurrence. “Is that a compliment?” I wondered to myself. Seeing his sincere smile and strangely mature, thoughtful expression, I decided to accept it as one. I thanked him and said, “At least I have eyebrows.” He giggled at my silly…

  • Belarus,  Personal

    So, Cheerleaders? And Other Fun Questions

    I stood in front of a classroom of first-year students about a month ago and asked, “Does anyone have any questions?” I ask this question a lot at the end of my classes. I want to give students the chance to get to know me better on their terms. One of the three male students in the classroom of nearly 25 raised his hand and asked: “What about cheerleaders?” I looked at him for a second with surprise. My mind was racing as I sifted through possible responses and all of my associations with cheerleaders: mean high school girls (not all, of course)…. Riverdale… short skirts … how the cheerleaders…

  • Education,  Fulbright,  Vitebsk

    The First Lecture (and Random Screaming Men)

    In a dream on Sunday night, I heard a man screaming. It was a loud, long scream that awakened goosebumps on my arms. The scream had started in my dream, but I quickly realized that I was quite awake. I found myself sitting up in my bed squinting at my curtained windows. There was indeed a man screaming somewhere outside my apartment, and I heard the sound of running footsteps and then police sirens. Exhausted from a long day of travelling to Minsk and a late evening of lesson planning for my first lecture, I quickly fell back asleep. Monday morning my alarm and the impending reality of my lecture…

  • Belarus,  Fulbright,  Vitebsk

    Pigeons and Publicity

    (Or Alana is no longer anonymous and has held pigeons IN HER HANDS) My presence in Vitebsk cannot be described as one of the city’s best kept secrets. From the moment that I stepped foot in the university building, I was photographed, and my work was described at length on the University’s website. Little did I know, but that was just the first step in an extensive list of publicity garnering experiences. During one of many conversations I had on my first day at the university, someone mentioned that a Belarusian newspaper would want to write an article about me and what I will be doing. This made sense. I…

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    First Day, Flowers, and a Film (September 1st & 2nd)

    None of my first days of school can compare to the first day of school for the philological department at Vitebsk State University. During our meeting the day before, the dean had asked me to say a little something at the first day of school opening ceremony. I nodded my head in agreement with a smile. He then suggested that I speak not only in my native English but also in Russian. Hiding my nerves, I smiled broadly and agreed all the while trying to convince myself that I do indeed speak Russian and wasn’t just making it up. Before having left the U.S., I had promised myself that I…

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    The First Five Days (Part III)

    It is hard to believe that I have been in Belarus for 12 days! My blog posts are running a bit behind, but it is my goal this week to catch you all up on what I am doing. Thank you to all who are following my adventures! Every time I get a notification that someone is following my blog or see that several people have read my post it makes me smile. All of the kind messages from people at home have made me realize how blessed I am to have such a large support system.       Picking up where I left off in the last post…

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    The First Five Days (Part II)

    August 29 – 30 On my first full day in Belarus (August 29), I awoke in a confused state. The sight of the Minsk railway station outside of my hotel room window reminded me where I was. I began my day by eating a breakfast of draniki and smetana (it seems that potato pancakes can be eaten at any time of day here). Most of the day consisted of orientations and meetings with the Public Affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in Belarus. I was so excited to meet everyone and felt very supported. Although it is the U.S. Embassy, much of the staff is from Belarus which is an incredible asset…

  • Belarus,  Fulbright,  Travel,  Uncategorized

    The First Five Days (Part I)

    Five days have passed since the plane taking me from Pennsylvania took flight at 7:30 pm on August 27. After a tearful goodbye to my parents and pets, I set off on the most daunting and exciting adventure of my life – 9 months in Belarus, 5,000 miles from home. Much has happened in those five days – I turned 23 years old, moved to a new city, encountered a new language – and my brain has been hyper-actively trying to piece together and remember the new names, faces, places, and words I have encountered. For the sake of my readers (and my own sanity), I will write about my…