The law office was very clean—and by this I don’t mean that it was simply sanitary. It was that, of course, but what I mean is that it was designed with very clean lines and European practicality. Like Ikea, but not cheap. Just…Clean with a Capital C. This is very different from American law offices where, generally, attorneys try to show off how important they are with ornately impractical furniture, pointless and wasted square footage, and bookshelves full of obsolete legal texts. This Russian office is definitely more my style.
While my colleague went to prepare tea, I snuck my laptop out of my plastic bag and set it up, realizing that I had forgotten my electrical plug adapter. Thank you again, Apple, for my hours of battery power. It was enough to see my through our two-hour meeting, which was conducted over the very Russian bottomless cup of tea. I explained all the intricacies and irrationalities of American immigration law so that the lawyer knew what he was getting into. We made an agreement to talk again and I sauntered off to the metro.
Well, I sauntered until I was out of sight, and then I sprinted; I needed to grab a quick lunch somewhere before I headed across town to teach a class at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. I stopped off at a midway point and looked for a calming atmosphere—given that crowds of Muscovites were out on their lunch breaks I needed to look hard to find somewhere quiet. I settled upon Vinigret, a small chain of cafés. Vinigret is not popular at lunchtime. It’s not expensive enough for a fancy-pants impress-the-client lunch, but it’s a little slower and more expensive than a typical office worker can manage. Interestingly, they were running “anti-crisis” specials: lunch combinations for a set charge. I was served a gorgeous vegetable salad, some tasty beef with buckwheat, and a generous glass of blackberry-ade for less than five dollars. The exchange rate is really helping me here. I hate that it’s hurting so many of my friends, but it is indeed making this trip fire-sale cheap for me.
The quiet calm of the restaurant combined with the restorative properties of fresh vegetables and blackberries gave me the jolt of energy I needed to make my next stop. The Institute is at the far southern end of the city and is a good twenty-minute walk from the metro. A thirty-minute walk if you are constantly checking your iPhone to make sure you’re going the right way.
My lecture was going to be held in what’s called the New Corpus, a recently-built structure that houses the school’s management program. Some students were exceptionally helpful—and proud—in showing me the way. “The New Corpus is that big, beautiful building over there,” bubbled an excited girl as she walked me partway down the path. “You will love the atrium, it really makes an impression,” she added.
It’s difficult to tell from this photo, taken as it was with my phone on a grey afternoon right before it started to snow, but the building really is spectacular. And here’s a link that will give you a virtual tour (with a special link devoted to the now-famous atrium).
I really had no idea what to expect at this lecture. I had no guidelines and no information on the students, other than the fact that they were masters-level students. My contact had simply told me that Russian classrooms were “more formal” than American ones. So I entered with my laptop and flash drive, prepared to give a powerpoint, if needed.
But it turns out that these students are much more like American college students than I expected. Yes, there were a couple of guys in suits, but I got the impression that this was because they had internships either before or after the lecture. Most of the students were dressed very casually. From my own experience of Russian teachers—language teachers—I expected the students to be very rigid and accustomed to conforming to strict protocols of behavior in the classroom. NOT AT ALL. Just as U.S. classrooms have become more interactive, so have Russian ones. Students were not afraid to ask questions, voice opinions, or disagree with one another. As in any class there were a couple of students who dominated the discussion at first, so I remembered back to my grad school bag of teachers’ tricks to get other students to pipe up. They worked as well in Russia as they did in the United States.
After the class, the head of the graduate program treated me to tea and cake. We discussed Russian education for a bit and even touched on the Ukrainian situation. Gingerly, of course. I always enjoy the company of nerdy types, regardless of the topic.
I excused myself and again sprinted to the metro…I had a dinner to host at my apartment in an hour.