Leah Fassinger | Nashville, TN – Biomedical Engineering and Russian, 2018
Leah Fassinger is a double major in Biomedical Engineering and Russian, and hopes to encourage medical professionals to learn languages and better serve their patients. Many tier one research institutions employ language interpreters to support families who often default to their native tongues when under stress. Leah lives in a language immersion residence hall to practice Russian over dinner with a professor and other students, and also attended a summer immersion camp at Middlebury College. Leah will be participating in a Maymester trip to Vladmir, Russia, and volunteering at such community organizations as a veterans home, a dog shelter, and an orphanage. Leah will live with a Russian family to get to know them on a more personal level.
Blog Post One:
I have now been in Russia for only a week, and yet I’ve learned and experienced more than ever before. The first big experience was with my host family: I learned about life in an apartment, a supreme hospitality not present in America, a lot about the Russian language (mostly how much I still have to learn!), and making connections with these new, wonderful people.
So far, I’ve been able to paint at a kindergarten, help the elderly clean their apartments at a Veterans Home, teach Russian students about America and practice their English with them (just in time for their exams!). In the coming weeks, I will volunteer at a number of different places in Russia and learn many more valuable lessons I am sure.
Our group of Vanderbilt students has discovered a lot about the history of Vladimir(our base camp in Russia) and about Russia as a whole through excursions to very old buildings and towns and lectures on sociology, history, politics, the job market, etc. We even had the chance to stay in a Russian country house (dacha) and try out the banya (which is a more involved sauna).
Yesterday I had the most insightful meal of my life. We went to dinner at my host mom’s friend’s house. After asking me what misconceptions I had before coming, her friend gave a toast: may you find the truth, not only here in Russia, but in every place you visit without letting things cloud your view of reality. Later that night, he gave me a beautiful wood carving that his brother had made from a hike in a nearby village. Not only did he give me further inspiration to find the truth for myself, but he also showed me such incredibly hospitality. So, for the rest of the trip, and when I get home, I want to remember to be a more giving person and to discern things for myself more.
Blog Post Two:
Having spent over a month in Russia I truly do consider it as a second home. I cannot believe that time went so quickly while I was there and I want to return as soon as possible to strengthen the relationships I made during those five weeks and forge new ones.
Since my first post, I was able to do a great number of things, but it would take days to describe all of them as I wish I could so I will just touch on a few. The hardest day of work for me was when we volunteered at a cemetery in Vladimir that is maintained by the people who work in the church that is located on the grounds. The people from the church, students from the local university, and our group of Vanderbilt students got split up into smaller groups with a mix of people from each group. On our way to work, we ran into a reporter who interviewed me about our volunteer work in Russia and our impressions of the culture and country. It was a really cool experience to talk to him, but it was also totally nerve wrecking to do in Russian! Once I met up with my group, the work began: we had to clear around the graves that hadn’t been taken care of in a number of years by mostly removing all of the vegetation (while attempting to avoid the rampant mosquitos that are much more vicious than any in America). There were trees we had to take down with few tools and (my only tool was a shovel) but to do so we had to get around all of the thorns and stinging nettle and fallen metal fences. All the while, I was trying to converse with the others in Russian since I was the only American in the group. Two weeks after this day of work, our group of Vanderbilt students went to visit another church and there were people there from the cemetery’s church. Not only did they remember our names, they had things they wanted to show us based on our encounters with them a couple of weeks previous. A man named Vlad took me to show me an old saint from the city. The saint was lauded because of all the people he had helped and lived he had touched as a doctor. Vlad was so excited to tell me the history of this saint to inspire me to aid people like this man had done so many centuries before since I had expressed to him my interest in medicine.
Although this is just one, small story, it represents to me not only how much of an impact I had on the people I met there, but also the great impact that each and every one I met had on me.