The following gentleman who has contributed a post to “Life in Russia” spent several years living a working in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. I became very intrigued with what he was doing since he and I have a lot of common ground. It’s not an easy decision to make drastic changes in one’s life. He’s also an accomplished writer with two books under his belt. I hope you enjoy his story. I did! You can also find his blog here The First Madam President’ & ‘Life of a Double Agent’
Meet Ken Kerr – Gentleman Guest Blogger
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to live in Russia in 2000 and 2001. At the age of 57, I joined the Peace Corps and travelled to Russia with 79 other volunteers. Most Peace Corps volunteers are fresh out of college, but we had several ‘old timers’ in our group. If my memory is correct, we had four volunteers 60 or older and several others in their late twenties and early thirties.
Upon arrival in Moscow on a hot, humid August afternoon, we passed through immigration, collected our baggage, proceeded through customs, and climbed on buses for the trip to Zelenograd, a suburb of Moscow. We would spend ten weeks, living with host Russians while we attended Peace Corps training. Four to five hours a day, five days a week were devoted to Russian language training. We were divided into groups of six volunteers with a Russian teacher. A few volunteers already had some Russian skills, but the vast majority, including me, were beginners. It is truly amazing how much you can learn when placed in that environment, and knowing how important it would be to acquire the basic skills. The remainder of the training time was spent on Russian history, culture, and skill training for our future assignments. About 70 of the volunteers would teach English as their job assignment. The remaining 10, of which I was one, would be involved in business development (mostly teaching business courses).
After ten weeks in Zelenograd, I departed by train on a 48+ hour train ride to Krasnoyarsk. This is a city of approximately one million people in the middle of Siberia. It is roughly half way between Moscow and Vladivostok, the eastern most major city in Russia.
My job was to teach business courses at the Siberian Aerospace Academy. Interestingly, the Academy had an International Business School within its organization. For students to qualify for the business school, they needed to be bi-lingual. Almost all the students in the program were capable of speaking and understanding English. Luckily for me, I was able to teach my classes in English. There were some difficulty with comprehension at times, but generally, the students did quite well. I taught a basic business course, a marketing course, and a business planning course.
In addition to my primary job, I spend time doing business consulting with a few small businesses in Krasnoyarsk, and taught English classes with a variety of private organizations. Most of my English teaching was with adults from college age on up. These outside activities allowed me to develop friendships outside the Siberian Aerospace Academy.
I was provided an apartment within walking distance to the headquarters building of the Academy and a short bus ride to the building where I did most of my teaching.
Speaking of transportation, I walked a lot, and occasionally took a taxi, but most of my travel within the city was by bus. Krasnoyarsk, like most cities in Russia, has an extensive bus system. It was very inexpensive, and very efficient. All you had to do was learn which buses went the places you wanted to go. I never found a document that described which numbered buses went where, but eventually, with the help of a couple dear Russian friends; I learned how to get around the city.
Between semesters, in January, I had the opportunity to teach a class to young adults on Strategic Business Planning. A businessman from Krasnoyarsk and a businessman from Irkutsk sponsored the program, and there were fifteen students, all women. The venue was on the shore of Lake Baikal. This week long experience, including the train rides to and from was one of my most enjoyable experiences. Eight of us from Krasnoyarsk traveled together by train to Irkutsk, and then by van to the resort where we lived and worked. Prior to this trip, I had learned a little about Russians love of vodka, but this trip brought my knowledge to another level. We pretty much drank from the time we left Krasnoyarsk until we returned. We worked hard during the days, and partied hard every night. Many of my students in the program were teachers on their semester break, and attending this kind of class was an unusual experience for them. They enjoyed the opportunity to relax and have fun, plus learn a little during the days. The area around Lake Baikal is simply gorgeous. The lake was covered with ice more that three feet deep, and there was plenty of snow everywhere.
What can I say about the Russian people? I think it is important to separate the Russian government from the ordinary Russian people. All of the people I met in Krasnoyarsk were kind, friendly, mostly happy, and unbelievably generous. The level of income of the ordinary Russian living in Krasnoyarsk would shock most Americans. An example, though extreme, was a young lady who I knew at the Academy. She attended evening classes, and worked in the administration office during the day. I assume the Academy allowed her to attend her classes for free, but she was paid 28 rubles per day for a full time job at the Academy. At the time, 28 rubles were worth slightly more than 1 US dollar. I tried to do a small study on the cost of living in Krasnoyarsk and the general level of salaries, but I won’t bore you with those details. Suffice it to say, the cost of living is low compared to the U.S. and the levels of salaries are generally commensurate with the cost of living.
No article on living in Russia would be complete without a comment on the weather. My record was experiencing -50 degrees one day. There were two weeks in early January where the temperature did not get above -40 degrees. For those who wonder, is he talking F or C, -40 F and -40 C is where the two measurements cross. So, -40 F equals -40 C. The incredible thing is the Russian people go about their business when the temperature is at these ridiculous levels. And everyone seems to have a smile on his or her face when you see someone out walking along the sidewalk. One other surprise for me was the summer. The temperature reached 90 degrees. What an amazing swing in temperatures.
I could go on and on but that is probably more than you wanted to read on my experience of living in Russia. It was an amazingly positive experience for me. The language was challenging, but luckily many Russians speak some English, and somehow I survived. It was a one-year experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
An Introduction to his book
A few years ago I decided to write my first book. It is a fiction novel partially set in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. The title is ‘Life of a Double Agent’ and it is available through amazon.com or bn.com in hardcover, paperback or as an e-book. More recently, I published my second novel, this time a political suspense fictional story about the first woman President of the United States. ‘The First Madam President (and the dirty bombs)’ is available as an e-book on amazon.com, bn.com, iTunes, and Smashwords.com.
You can learn more about me and my books at http://www.facebook.com/thefirstmadampresident or on my blog, http://kkerr19963.wordpress.com