Here is my final project where you get to meet my family and learn what a Russian Thanksgiving is like!
I hope you enjoy watching it!
Here is my final project where you get to meet my family and learn what a Russian Thanksgiving is like!
I hope you enjoy watching it!
Unlike my previous posts, this one is a bit more serious and gives more background of some of the struggles and experiences my family has been through while immigrating to America and making this life for themselves and our family.
I decided to interview my mom to ask her a few questions about her immigration process and how it has shaped the person she is today. While interviewing her, I learned so much about her and how much she has sacrificed and had to push through to become the successful woman she is today. I am forever grateful for my parents’ hardships of coming to America and and inspired by them everyday.
I hope you enjoy this post and are inspired to ask your relatives similar questions to learn more about your families past.
What was your immigration process like?
“Well, first my parents and I left Ukraine and went to Vienna, Austria. Instead of staying in beautiful castles like everyone else,we were put in army barracks because of the yon kippur war. Then we lived in Belgium for a few months. After that we lived in Israel for 10 months and then Germany, where we were seeking political asylum. This entire process took 2 years; we left Ukraine in ’74 and got to America is ’76.
When we finally got to America, it was extremely difficult… Well actually, the entire process was difficult, scary, overwhelming and extremely unexpected. The process took a toll on the family for sure. I felt like I was robbed of a childhood. I had to mature quickly, man up, and face harsh reality at an extremely young age. I was constantly worried and never knew when I would eat next, where I would sleep next or if a bomb would explode at any moment. I remember when I lived in Israel, I wasn’t allowed to cut a loaf of bread or open an envelope because there were bombs in them sometimes.
Once in America, we were the only Caucasian family in the agency that adopted the project we were in. It was scary and we had to develop tough skin very quickly… and if we didn’t… we would be killed. The only way to survive was to toughen up, so we did. I had to study and work hard to get out of that environment; and I did. I learned English and went to school and my parents got jobs. Slowly we were able to get minimal basic pay and finally were able to move out of the neighborhood and assimilate with society.”
How has your view of America changed from when you were immigrating to now?
“Some things have become more difficult and some more simple. Speaking the language, assimilating, learning, and affording things enable me a certain freedom and I feel like I belong. But, material things complicate things. There was a sense of simplicity and wonder when I first came here and now, there is a sense of entitlement because I belong. Over the 40 years that I’ve been here, I can call it home. Struggle and achievement led me here. It’s who I am and where I belong. Before I would never imagine saying that “I’m American.” But now, I identify as an American along with Russian and Jewish. I have earned my place.”
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as being an expatriate?
“The English language and not having ancestors that came here to make a name for themselves/our family/money. It’s hard seeing my kids’ friends families have alumni at great schools, or have advantages of having a family history or name in America. From a discriminatory perspective, people still perceive me as not good enough because of being first generation.”
How do you balance your two cultures?
“Because the assimilation process has been slow and natural, I feel like I’ve always tried to balance them. For example, on Thanksgiving, we have turkey (American) but the table is full of Russians and food. It;s who we are. My DNA is a mix of everything : Jewish, American, Russian. The balance is automatic and comes naturally.”
My interview with my mom was really eye opening for me. She is not only a role model for me as a parent but also as a hard worker. Her story inspires me to never give up, and always to make her and my family proud after making sacrifices for me to live the life I have here in America. Thank you for everything that you have done and do for me, Vicky (sister) and our family!
Before coming to Dickinson, I couldn’t read or write in Russian; I was soley conversational. I’ve always gotten away with slurring endings and mixing and matching them to my nouns and adjectives with my family and native speakers. (I never really thought much about grammar, I just spoke the way I heard words and phrases my whole life)
When I came to Dickinson and declared my International Business and Management major, I learned that I had to complete three courses beyond intermediate in a foreign language. First, I thought Spanish. I’ve always loved Spanish, and not going to lie, I’ve always been really good at it since learning the language in 1st grade. But as I thought more about it, I started drifting away from the idea of sitting through more Spanish classes. I’ve already taken them for 10 plus years and seem to be comfortable enough with the language. So, next on my list was Russian. At first I thought, “Man, that’s going to be so easy, I’ll probably place out of the language requirement after taking the test.” I was totally wrong. When I signed in to take the exam I realized I couldn’t read anything on the screen. I emailed my professor and told her the situation and instead of taking a written exam, I had a phone interview (which I nailed). Unfortunately, she told me that I would struggle starting in anything above 101 because I couldn’t read or write. After thinking about it, I decided taking Russian would be the best decision for me. I realized that I wanted to learn more about the language, how to use proper grammar, and learn traditional things like movies/songs/poems/books that I could talk to my grandparents about.
My first day of Russian class at Dickinson is something I will never forget. I remember trying to get away with being just like everyone else and learning Russian for the first time. But, that ship sailed as soon as I said “Hello, my name is Alexa” in Russian; the professor immediately knew through my accent and pronunciation that I was a native speaker. (My cover was blown.) Throughout the semester my class started to get really annoyed with me because in class I would usually be the only one who really knew what the professor was saying, volunteered when no one else would, and would always be called on for demonstrations. They also would get annoyed with me when I would study for Russian exams. They would always say, “Alexa, are you seriously studying for Russian? Isn’t this your first langauge? Why are you in 101, thats so not fair.” It’s always been hard to explain to my classmates that I also have to study for Russian exams. To this day, I still have to put in as much work as them; but in a different way. Yes, in class, I would always be on the ball and know what to say and how to say it. But when it came to grammar and understanding how to read and write the language with proper endings and conjugations, I was totally lost. Overtime, my classmates understood that even though I was fluent in Russian, that didn’t mean that I knew grammar and knew why words are conjugated the way they are.
I’m really happy that I decided to go with Russian at Dickinson because I now am able to read and write letters to my grandparents, read my families favorite stories/poems, text my parents and family in Russian, and most of all, appreciate and learn more about my culture and language. I encourage you (whoever you may be) to take chances even if there’s a chance of failure. I was scared to take Russian in an academic setting because I was scared of failing in something I thought I was so comfortable in. But, by taking Russian and facing my fears and failing a couple times, it has been a great learning experience and has taught me more about myself than I ever thought I could.
I dedicate this post to a really catchy alphabet song that I learned in Russian 101. Give it a listen and maybe you’ll nail the Russian alphabet song 🙂
My family has instilled some superstitions to live by. These may seem a little crazy and out there, but I promise you, my family and many other Russians swear by them
1. Spitting or touching wood
Russians believe in the evil eye and fear it. If someone compliments someone else’s child, health, future, or vacations; their parents or family members will spit three times over their shoulder and touch wood. Doing so, they refrain from suffering misfortune.
2. Don’t put empty bottles/keys on the table
Putting keys or empty bottles on the table are examples of “bad omens” of financial loss and tears. Keys are usually put in a drawer or hung up, and bottles are put on the floor before throwing away.
3. Sit in silence before a trip
Before going on a trip, vacation, or any big travel plans; one must sit in silence and think positive thoughts to ensure safety, peace, and happiness for their time away from home. (My family does this before leaving for vacations and my best friend joined me on a ski trip and she did this ritual and was extremely confused and called it “family kumbayah session.”)
4. Don’t come back into the house once you’ve already left
It is believed to be bad luck to enter your home after already leaving it. The idea of going back means trouble or misfortune in the journey ahead of you. (This ones super annoying … I find myself questioning going back home if I left my phone or computer or something I really need)
5. ….If you do come back, look at yourself in the mirror
If you do come back inside, you have to make will a point of looking at yourself in the eye in a mirror. This is known to be another trick of the trade to deceive an evil omen.
6. Never give anyone an empty wallet
Giving someone a wallet is always a nice gift, but in Russian culture, it is believed to always put money in a wallet when you give it to someone. This shows they will never have an empty wallet and face financial troubles. It puts them on the right track to success.
7. Never give scarves, knives, or clocks as a present
Unfortunately a these things are not considered the best present for a Russian. Scarves, for example, are an omen of tears, knives an omen of enemies, and clocks an omen of parting. If one was to give someone a knife, scarf or clock, the person receiving the gift sometimes would give the other person a coin or small amount of money to pretend they “bought” the item.
8. Don’t sit at the corner of a table
Sitting at the corner of a table means that you will never get married. So, I’ve always tried to avoid sitting at the edge of a table 🙂
9. Stepping back on someones toes after being stepped on
Whenever you step on a Russians toes, they will most likely step back lightly to avoid any fights, bad luck, or evils between the two of you. If they don’t, then there is a chance there will be turmoil between the two of you.
10. And my grandpa’s favorite, always take an extra shot of vodka for good luck!
These superstitions are part of my everyday life and are always in the back of my mind. I’m glad I could share some of these superstitions with you, and hopefully you’ve learned some tricks and cultural beliefs of the Russian culture.
Let’s face it, growing up in a Russian family and household is a great time; but there are some challenges that go along with good. Here’s a list of some of the challenges I’ve faced growing up Russian in America
1. Learning English for the first time in kindergarten
The first day of kindergarten will always be a vivid memory of mine. I remember opening the door with my mom by my side and hearing a language that I never heard before. Not really sure how I made it without getting an accent while learning English but I did it. I had a translator come with me to class and help me with communicating with my teachers and my friends. Fortunately, I learned quickly and was no longer scared of the English language. Also, I am still to this day best friends with my best friend from kindergarten who accepted me for who I was and helped me adjust and make friends during recess and lunch. This was definitely a hard stage in my life but I appreciate that my parents allowed me to grow up speaking Russian at home because now I still remember the language and am able to use it rather than forgetting it.
2. Always being the kid with a questionable meal at the lunch table
It’s stressful enough finding a group of kids who you can sit with in middle/elementary school during lunch. Try adding the pressure of knowing that your lunch will most likely stir up a couple of looks and strange faces when they see or smell what’s in your lunch box. My typical lunch would be a sandwich with lots of Russian cold-cuts, sometimes potatoes, a couple Russian pastries, and some days I would have a can of borsht. (ew)
3. Having friends over (translating everything)
It would always be a big step in a friendship for me to bring over friends to have play dates at my house. This was because I’d be embarrassed of having them feel awkward or uncomfortable not understanding my parents when they spoke to me in Russian. I was always worried they would think we would be talking about them. I would always translate for them to make them feel more comfortable if there was any Russian being spoken in the house. But still, this was super stressful and made me feel really self conscious and anxious to bring home friends. (Shout out to my friends who survived their visits at the Balonik residence.)
4. Always reminded of my family’s immigration hardships
To this day, whenever I complain about something being too hard or me being stressed about work or anything really, I am always reminded of my family’s immigration hardships and the struggles they faced. OK, I get it. I understand and appreciate greatly how much they sacrificed and the struggles they faced starting a life in a new country; but come on, I can be stressed and overwhelmed sometimes too! Give me a break! I hope after reading this post, I can get a pat on the back instead of a response like “Come on Alexa, when I came here I had to … ”
5. Having to balance two cultures
Last but not least, a struggle that I face daily is having to balance my two cultures. This is something that I am still learning how to do, but am appreciating every second of it. For example, when I go home during breaks at school, I speak Russian at home, eat Russian food, and go to Russian restaurants or events with my family. But when I go back to school it’s a whole different world. But, I enjoy both of these worlds and appreciate the fact that I can combine them.
This post is dedicated to one of my inspirations for this blog, “Garik Suharik,” you may know him from his well known “Baba Fira” youtube videos. Follow along with the English subtitles as you’ll learn some typical Russian Grandma phrases that I, and all Russian kids growing up in America, hear on a daily basis.
Welcome to my very Russian, yet very American life, that to me, seems completely normal. Recently I discovered that the blurred line between my cultures isn’t considered “normal” to most people. Thanks to my boyfriend’s shocked face in the middle of the dance floor at my cousins super-Russian wedding a few weekends ago, I knew I had to make a blog about my “Russian-ness” that not many people know about.
This blog is going to be my outlet where I can be honest, expressive, and passionate about my Russian culture and how it has shaped the person I am today. It’s intended to make my readers laugh, learn, and relate to my stories and posts about my family and unique experiences. My goal is that together, we can relate to one another no matter our cultures, and appreciate each other and where we come from. I hope to not only inform people about myself and my heritage, but also engage my readers to share their own experiences and how they relate to mine. Together we will learn that our cultures aren’t as “different” or “strange” as we think.
Have you ever been to a night club with your family in Brooklyn?
Have you eaten Kholodets .. aka MEAT JELLO ?
Do your friends think your dad is Gru from Despicable Me?
Well, the answer to all of the above is HELL YEA for me. That’s just a preview about what some of my blog posts will be about. Although many things about my Russian culture may seem a bit weird or odd, and I tend to make fun of a lot of it, I still love and appreciate where my family is from and my heritage. I’m basically going to be making fun of myself and my family in most of the blog. If you find any of my posts offensive, then don’t stay. But know that I am not intending to hurt anyones feelings or look down upon the Russian culture. It’s mine. I’ve lived these stories and experiences too. So don’t hate, and join me on my life journey of integrating my Russian-ness with my American-ness.
Along with funny and absurd posts about my culture, I also will be including some more serious posts like:
My First Day of Kindergarten, AKA: The first time I heard English
Having Russian phone calls with family at school when everyones staring at me
So, welcome, “Здравствуйте.” I hope you enjoy following me and learning more about who I am, and my heritage. Each post will be dedicated to a Russian artist or someone that has influenced my “Russian-ness” at some point in my life.
I’m dedicating my first post to my girl, Alla Pugacheva, the most famous female Russian singer of all time. She is basically the queen of Russian music and has been for the past 50 years. My parents and grandparents know every word to every song of hers and I’m starting to realize that hearing it in the background of parties or long drives with my family, I’m learning most of the words too. If you learn this song, you’ll be golden at the clubs or any Russian event! … You’re welcome.