Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Travel Log, Day Two

Vladimir, Russia, 5/17/2016

Assumption Cathedral
             We went out to the famous Assumption Cathedral today, Russia's oldest functioning Orthodox church. There is a lovely park right next to it that we sat in and sketched for a while before the tour, and the sights from that park were like you wouldn't believe. The cathedral sits on a steep hill and one can see the whole countryside from the edge of the park. The building itself is one of the most beautiful in the whole city, with white stone walls, gold-capped domes, and ornate carvings on all sides. The tour itself was fascinating; our guide knew an impressive amount about architecture, and had a lot of insight on the history of art and architecture in Russia and its relationship to the rest of Europe. For example, at the time the cathedral was built, asymmetry was considered beautiful in Russia, and as the architects of the cathedral were Russian and had not yet been touched by the European love for symmetry, each of the five domes built atop the main part of the cathedral is a slightly different length. The inside was even more breathtaking, in that the multitude of colors that made up all the frescoes and paintings inside were a stark contrast from the mostly white, black, and gold exterior. Every painting had a biblical context, and our guide knew all of them, which was fascinating, and a lot of the art was from different time periods and styles. Additionally, we learned how Russia's history is divided into pre-Mongol-horde and post-Mongol-horde, and about some of the political issues that involved the cathedral from time to time. It was certainly one of the most beautiful churches I've visited in Europe. 

The view of the Vladimir countryside
One of today's themes was the Russian school system, and it cleared up some confusion I had speaking with Russian students yesterday. Almost all of the university students we've been introduced to in our time here are in the English department, the curriculum of which is focused on creating competent foreign language teachers; however, when asked the question, "So, are you excited to be a teacher?" nearly all of the students explained that that was not the end goal. Obviously, this thoroughly confused us (and frankly was pretty awkward). However, today we were given a lecture on the state of the Russian school system that provided some context to the situation. The short version is that the schools in Russia aren't generally funded very well, and as a result, primary and secondary school teachers are paid pitifully, and university professors aren't much better. According to today's lecture, the average professor at a Russian university is paid 30,000 rubles a month, which sounds like a lot until you convert it: 30,000 rubles is about $917, which makes around $11,000 per year. It was rather sad today when we saw presentations by Russian student teachers all talking about how much they loved their students, and then all saying that they did not plan on actually entering a profession that is all work and no pay. 

We ended the day with a small 'get to know you' party with a bunch of the Russian students, in which all seven of us presented short slideshows about our lives at Vanderbilt and we all danced to traditional Russian music and played some games. It was a blast, and all the people around our age continue to be wonderfully friendly. I'm excited to see more of them.

Funny Moment of the Day: I got back late, around 9:00, and when Vera and Polina got home, Vera cooked us some chicken legs and noodles. Polina then went to the fridge and got the ketchup, proceeded to drown her pasta in it, and hand it to me with an expectant look. Needless to say, I can mark 'eat lukewarm noodles covered in ketchup' on my list of things I will do to remain polite.

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