The train ride from Kiev to Kharkov took 6 hours. The school paid for my ticket (about $12) and Lena kindly helped me navigate the train station.... after watching me frantically try to pack my bags in 10 minutes as the taxi driver waited downstairs (Cowboy, thank you for your stalling tactics!!). I traveled second class on the express train, a train with seats like a regular commuter train instead of the bunks I'd seen on long-distance Russian & Ukrainian trains.
The train was not completely full of people, thank goodness, so bringing on my heavy luggage was nothing more than the inconvenience of carrying it on and off the carriage. I was able to leave the suitcase in the back of the carriage and a guy helped me lift the duffel bag into the storage area above the seats. It's interesting how often people switch to English with me, even if they know very little. It's kind of sweet, like they want to be nice. The guy who helped me with my luggage switched to English, good English....later I saw he was reading an English-language book during the journey. I wonder what his story was.
When my seatmates arrived, I said hello to the girl and she looked at me like I was crazy. Ooookay. Maybe people don't say hi on trains. But then her father spilled a beer across the mini table and onto the pants of the guy sitting next to me, and when I offered him some napkins he asked “Where are you coming from with such an interesting accent?” and the ice was broken. We all pretty much talked for the next 6 hours. I sometimes find it really hard to answer the questions people ask me here. What would you say in response to inquiries like “Do you have a lot of stray dogs in America?”, “Why do you build houses out of such cheap materials? Why don't you use something sturdy, like bricks?”, “Is it true American women are insulted if a man holds open a door for them?”, “Why would you come here? Are there not enough jobs in America? What do we have that you don't already have?”, or even the classic “How much money do you make?” Sometimes I can answer these questions well, and other times I struggle and it's not just because of the language barrier. Anyways, this was the first time since I arrived here that I was in a Russian-language-only environment and.....yep, I seriously need to study more.
Here's a blurry photo from the train: Sasha and her father were coming back from a holiday in Montenegro. Sasha studies IT at the university and her father really pushed her to speak English with me. This has happened to me before in Ukraine, where parents almost want proof that their money wasn't wasted on language studies (understandably) and at first their kid is super-shy and awkward feeling about it. (Imagine how you would feel if you had studied a little French and then your parent pushed you into a conversation with a native speaker?) Sasha was a really sweet girl and we exchanged contact info in hopes of meeting up this week. My third seatmate was a man who'd been around the world on business, built his house with his own hands, and pretty much taught himself English through conversations. It was a loooooooong train ride, especially after darkness fell upon the countryside, and eventually we all just zoned out and watched some silly movie on the TV.