Rolling in Russian

Many students with a cosmopolitan bend tend to learn a second language in the course of higher education. There are plenty of great reasons that an American would want to learn a second language, and different motivations might move one toward different tongues. People who want to learn an elegant/trendy language seem to try their hand at French of German. Those who want something immediately applicable tend toward Spanish (a sensible choice). I am no exception to this, and since I have entered a more liberal arts focused school and program, I’ve had a chance to learn. What did I pick? As the title probably gives away, I have spent the last year learning Russian, the only Critical Language offered by my university and certainly the most difficult. My Slavic studying has not been easy, especially at the outset. Or the middle. Or recently as I try to maintain my linguistics over the summer. So, why am I putting so much effort into this? How about I start at the beginning. I have always been at least vaguely interested in Russia. Maybe it was the constant and cartoonish caricatures of Soviets and Russians that have persisted from my parents and grandparents childhoods into my own generation. Maybe it’s the interesting cultural niche that slavic identity fills as part of Europe that also resents the West. I don’t really know the exact root, but I can tell you that Russia was a point of interest when the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology helped me find a better path for my life (that didn’t involve Mines itself). While at Mines I was fortunate enough to have a class for International Security taught by Dr. John Dreyer, who himself has a background in Russian. The final project was an exercise wherein we role-played various international forces relevant to the Syrian crisis, and I lept at the chance to represent Russia. Okay, I wasn’t Putin here, but I had a lot of fun as Dmitri Medvedev and my typical compulsion toward learning threw me into way more information than necessary about the Russian Federation, and its history. So, while I realized the direction I wanted to take my life Russia was present. Being more specific, I realized I want to serve my country in the way my passions as an individual would work best, and right now I believe that will be representing American interests as either a diplomat or in the Intelligence Community. To get there it is extraordinarily advantageous to study abroad; however, I don’t come from a family background that can pay for my schooling, little loan studying in a different country. So, that got me looking straight toward an experience a friend of mine had, the Critical Language Scholarship. While she went to India for a year to study Hindi, a quick browsing of the scholarships available languages and their associated requirements sent me down a different rabbit hole. You guessed it, Russian. This is the part of the story that reveals the ambition in my nature, I took it because it seemed the best strategic choice to get a study abroad opportunity. By no means am I the only person from a working class background with high goals and good grades. So, if I want a shot at a competitive scholarship, I have to beat out a lot of people who are equally qualified. As I said, I was already interested in Russian history, but frankly I could say that about a lot of other countries and cultures; however, the Russian CLS requires at least two years of college study, the most of any language offered (along with Japanese and Chinese). Presumably, people without dedication will have been weeded out by that point (I know some from my own Russian class have done so already). I don’t hold this against anyone, Russian is really hard. They use a completely different alphabet. And grammar. And basically no Americans soak Russians so Preston is hard. Really, learning a new language is hard in general. Some research shows that learning a new language can literally change the physical condition of a child’s brain, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that long study sessions have led to extraordinary headaches like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Here’s the thing though, I’m not just working because I want a career in that direction. This struggle to thrive has led me into a true love of the Russian language. I won’t lie, part of my enjoyment that is the status of intelligence I feel is conveyed to me; I have yet to see someone who is not impressed to know I am learning Russian. Beyond that, there is something satisfying and beautiful about the sounds afforded by the language. Russian is considered an angry language, but it really has an elegance reserved for a trained ear. I like to joke about the fact that you can’t actually write “Jordan” in Russian, which lacks a direct equivalent of “J”, so I have so substitute a “D” noise and a character (Ж) that makes a noise like “Zh” so my name sounds more like Digiorno than Jordan. That’s just fine because that noise is divine. It is often said that we appreciate the things that require a lot of work more than the things easily gained. I think that extends to knowledge as well. If I’m being honest, my abilities with the language are much closer to a schoolchild than Leo Tolstoy, but that’s okay. I think my favorite thing about learning a language is that I cannot hope to be done. My Russian professor (who I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned yet because Prof. Dulyanova is the absolute best) has been learning English since she was much younger than me, and she still slips up on occasion. That’s because even if one is able to speak at a native level, there are always words one doesn’t know and language never stops changing. So, I have undertaken a project one cannon hope to completely finish. But I have learned to enjoy the struggle.


Moving up

If it isn’t obvious already, I really, really like Lin Manuel-Miranda’s musical Hamilton. I’m not the only one by a long shot, but I feel I am drawing more inspiration from the Treasury Secretary by the day. In particular, I really like The Hamilton Mixtape’s “Wrote My Way Out” by Nas, Dave East, and Lin. I’m certainly coming from a significantly better situation that a bastard orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman, but I feel the burn of ambition in me every day.

In the Midwest it can be easy to fall in line. Not in an obedience sense, the Libertarian streak will prevent that, but just to fall in the rut of day to daily life. There’s nothing wrong with that life. Many generations and even more people of my family have done that very happily.

My parents are wonderful role models, and I think they are really happy with the life they made for themselves, but I would go absolutely insane under the same circumstances. The only time the family travels is for sports. Once again, they love that, and that’s awesome for them. But there’s a lot of world out there, and I can’t see all of it from the bleachers.

There’s a reason you can’t find a town in South Dakota where we know no one. If you come to the heart of our family, Whitewood, then everyone knows us, it’s hard not to. If I wanted to, I could follow in my dad’s footsteps, go to BHSU for a Business degree, and eventually take over my grandpa’s company, A-1 Construction, Inc. That’s a good life to live. I don’t want it.

Why do I work hard? My generation is more competitive than ever before. We are more likely to take unpaid internships, and we have a lot of serious economic issues in our future. If I want to get further than my parents, I have to work harder.

My career goal is to be a foreign service officer with the State Department. Basically I want to serve my country and travel at the same time. I speak conversational Spanish, and that is obviously a valuable language  right now, but it isn’t as strong of a higher point for me. Hamilton read politics and spoke French, I read politics and learn Russian. I started learning the tongue before we started cozying up with Putin and installed his declared friend as our Secretary of State, but it’s a critical language. And with two years experience, I can get sent to a Russian speaking country for free while also getting an in with my dream job.

Regardless of whether or not that works out, I’ve always wanted to join the Peace Corps, and they can send me to the Ukraine. It might be a warzone by that point, but whatever. I’ll get there. That will be a huge step toward my larger plans. Here’s the thing, none of those are easily obtained. Even if learning Russian was easy, all of those jobs are competitive to get into and even harder to climb the ladder. So I’ll keep on working. And eventually, I’ll write my way out of here.

Only a few bits left

There was a time not so long ago I was obsessed with media. Well, to be specific, I was obsessed with owning media. Boxes of books, movies, video games, CD’s (mostly of bad bands) and all other things I had piled everywhere just taking up space in the off chance I wanted to revisit Underworld: Evolution. Okay I did that a few times (I CAN MAKE BAD CHOICES) but still, the vast majority of my possessions were just things that never saw use.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t hording things, I was happy to loan things to people I and we always were good about spring cleaning. I knew how to give up things, but I was really good at holding onto things that I thought had value. That’s started to change.

I couldn’t tell you the exact time I wanted to own less, but I think it is related to the desire I had to change myself after I left Mines. I was fundamentally very unhappy, and I didn’t know why. So, I basically hit resent and started making major changes to my life.

Step one was when I shaved my head. Say what you will, I looked good. Then I started to get rid of crap. I sold video games initially and then started to donate them because I don’t really value money. I donated books and movies. Not my usual two or three here and there, I got rid of almost all of them. I don’t own a DVD anymore, certainly no CD’s. No more physical video games. The word physical is where things really pick up here.

Who buys DVD’s? No seriously, the only people I know who buy movies are people who either don’t get the idea of streaming or….. okay they’re actually the only ones. Between Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Now, I can cheaply watch more good shows and movies than I could ever possibly hope to watch. Music? Google Play Music is my personal choice. I’ve been on digital music for a while, but streaming is just frankly easier and more unified in a lot of ways. I still have physical copies of the Bible, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, but that’s mostly just a bit too much nostalgia to give up. Besides that, Kindle books are cheaper anyway. As for video games, I’ve grown to prefer PC gaming anyway, and what chump buys physical PC games?

Here’s the thing, it feels truly liberating to have less stuff. Obviously I’ve been out of the house for some time now that I’m in college, but I used to just keep a bunch of stuff at home. I wanted nothing to do with that anymore. It’s seriously just stuff I have no intent of using anymore. I literally don’t have a room at my family’s house anymore (it’s not sad like it sounds, there’s just a lot of people in a small space).

Does any of this mean I am consuming any less media? Not at all. I don’t buy as much anymore, but I’m getting as much or more joy from entertainment than I ever have. I just spend less and own less. I really like it. I can get things I like anywhere I happen to be I have what I want. Travel has been my goal for as long as I can remember, and owning less makes that seem a lot easier. I’m hoping to spend a year in Russia soon, and if I were to go today, the computer I’m currently typing on already has everything I would possibly want ready to go. Nothing I’d have to entrust with people while I’m gone or try to stuff together. Just the freedom from being owned by possessions. It’s kind of like Fight Club.

I would not quite call myself a minimalist yet, but I’ve gotten to really enjoy owning less. There’s a great documentary on Netflix that is made by podcasters and bloggers who are hardcore minimalists. They didn’t get me started on getting rid of possessions but they sure have helped me along the way. The main idea that I am trying to embody is only buying things that add value to my life. They have a phrase I’ve been trying to keep in mind. “Love people and use things because the reverse never works.”

Looking to be a man at work

If there is one thing I am not good at it’s looking for a job. Don’t get me wrong, I can find an actual place to apply without much difficulty, I just really, really hate the process. And yet, here I am. Desperately searching for an internship somewhere in the state.

I’ve already applied for some bigger national positions, but my odds aren’t great at getting them. Even if I did get them, most are in big cities and don’t pay. Even if I did get paid at them, I don’t honestly know if I could afford to do them. So here I am, applying for internships across the spectrum of state offices, and wanting nothing more than to stop.

I do look forward to the potential work. Frankly, any of the positions I am looking at sound much more appealing than another summer in fast food, and despite the hatred most people feel toward any sort of government bureaucracy (my dad might disown me if I work for the Department of Labor) this is the sort of thing I want to do with my life, and the way I plan to serve my nation and state moving forward in life. So, that’s also not the problem. I hate asking for work.

Obviously, this isn’t begging. I’m asking to do labor in exchange for experience/the ability to survive. That’s pretty much what anyone my age attending a place of higher education is supposed to be doing right about now, but that just doesn’t feel right to me.

One classical interview question is “Why should I hire you?” With my tendency toward internal self deprivation and total aversion to anything that resembles bragging, I can hardly stand to answer that. I’m actually really good with interviews, I’ve never had one that I would say went poorly. I don’t get nervous about interviews, I can’t think of a time I’ve been nervous to talk to someone, full stop. It just rubs against me wrong.

Then there’s the actual application to be filled out. Of course, this is mindbogglingly boring, but there is nothing I hate as much filling in the references section. I have plenty of fine references, nothing overly professional, that’s what the internships are for. Still, I’ve put in my dues with fast food, my new work at the library, and my high school internship with an attorney. They’ll all vouch for me, but I hate to ask them for that.

I feel lucky that I was employed in any capacity to begin with, so asking for someone else to brag me up combines two things I disdain. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never even had a previous employer contacted for a job, but just knowing that there is a chance drives me crazy. I don’t know when they’d be called. They could be sitting down to dinner and suddenly be asked to leave their families and meal on my behalf. Small, yes, but I would never want to trouble someone like that, even for just a few moments.

One day, I’ll be in my professional line of business, and I won’t have to worry about grinding to impress strangers, but for now I’ll just get used to being a gopher.

Relationship goals

My girlfriend just left for Canada. My drive back to Vermillion was filled with podcasts about leadership and  policy. If you know me, you know I listen to a lot of podcasts of this nature. While not all fit in that vein, I do subscribe to 48 podcasts. This was a little different though.

I think of my girlfriend as more than just a girlfriend, I really do think of her as a partner. I acknowledge that I might just be young and in love, but I found someone really special to me, and she’s already doing big things. So, while I was listening to podcasts about heavy, if inspirational, subjects, I was thinking about my future and goals. Mostly, I was thinking about how I’ll be bringing my lady on her way to Canada with me.

I think we both intend to make this last, we have already committed to making long distance work for the semester, and for Christmas she gave me some of the most meaningful presents I have ever gotten as a survival kit. I hold her very dear to me, and I think she holds me with the same regard. We’ve talked vaguely about the future, but how far can we go?

She’s already going to Canada, but I don’t think that’s where our ambitions have to end. I don’t ever intend to chase political power. I would only do that if I felt my nation truly needed me. But for now, I can’t see that happening. I like my privacy, so I’d much rather remain a private citizen. My ambition is travel.

I want to see everything in the world with whatever life I want, and I would love, love, love to do that with her by my side. It helps that she also wants to travel, and we’re both going into career fields that allow for travel. I speak Russian, she speaks French, that easily opens up a good portion of the world linguistically. I’m hoping to work in state, she’s a double major in Journalism and International Studies.

As I write this in South Dakota, she is on a shuttle in Montreal. My goal is to stay with her, live well, and travel everywhere. Oh, and get dogs, but that’s another blog.