When I transferred to USC at the end of my freshman year of college, I went as a math major. I enrolled in Russian language classes as that was seen as necessary for the field. It turned out that I was pretty good at it.
Not surprising, I guess considering that I grew up reading and speaking Latin at church. My high school in Ohio offered Latin, a class that I excelled at. I would have continued the study, but when we moved to California, it was not offered.
I switched to Spanish, a language that I found extremely easy to learn. I completed three years, then when I enrolled at the community college, chose Spanish once again. The professor told me to switch to a higher level of Spanish, which I did. I aced that course, but that was the highest level the school offered.
I didn’t want to return to Spanish in college, so that’s how I ended up taking Russian.
Every semester I took another Russian class, not just language, but also in literature. I fell in love with the characters and stories that opened up a whole new world to me.
That was when my dream began to one day go to Russia.
I would have continued my degree program in Math, but the department chair destroyed that for me. This was in the 1960s, well before women fought to study whatever subject interested them. The chair told me that no company would ever hire me no matter that I was a straight A student.
Disheartened, I realized that I had to switch to something that would still allow me to graduate on time. My only option was Russian.
In time I passed every class the department offered. My spoken Russian was a bit rough, but I could read and write perfectly.
My professors encouraged me to apply to grad school. I was accepted at the University of Illinois. The professors there wanted to meet me, so I spent what little money I had to fly back there.
When I walked into the office, I was greeted by five Russian speaking professors. My mouth froze. Nothing came out. I felt and looked like an idiot. I realized then that I would never be able to get a Masters or even a PhD.
My next humiliation came when I interviewed to be a Resident Advisor in the residence halls, the only way I could afford to go there.
I was humiliated when I couldn’t answer question after question.
I flew home knowing that I had no job offer and with no money, would be forced to return to the family home. A place where I was humiliated on a daily basis.
Back at USC, my spirits soared when a flyer appeared inviting everyone to a talk by the Peace Corps. I excitedly went, thinking that I could get posted in Russia!
After listening to the talk, I left full of hope that I’d get to see the country I’d be dreaming about.
I applied. Submitted all the documents, including health reports. I was turned down. Not because I couldn’t do the job, but because I’d had major surgery on my right wrist in which a chunk of bone had been amputated. The recruiter told me that I would be a liability.
After graduation I set my sights on being a translator. I imagined myself traveling with visitors from Russia, going with them to Disneyland and other fun places. There happened to be an office near where I lived.
I applied. However, when I was asked to come for an interview, I quickly found out that my Russian was so formal that I couldn’t speak in informal situations.
At that point I thought I’d never get to Russia. Until I heard about the military language school in Monterey.
I enlisted in the Army Reserve as a language specialist. I figured I’d put in time until I could get into the language school.
Working as a translator for the Army was harder than I’d expected. I was given piles of intelligence documents to translate. One assignment was to try to figure out how many telephone poles there were in certain areas of Russia. That proved to be nearly impossible and incredibly boring. I was the only one in my division who knew Russian, so I worked alone in a dank, stuffy cubicle.
Meanwhile I applied to the school in Monterey. I was denied.
Realizing at that point that I’d never make it to Russia, I requested a transfer to the photograhy lab, a place I learned to love.
In fact, the skills I picked up there led to a part-time job as a photographer. Also a number of ribbons at the county fair. I still love taking photos today.
I married and became a mother to three wonderful children. Times were often tough financially. Sometimes there was no money for milk. I watered down juices, bought off-label canned and boxed foods, and mixed powered milk in with the jugged. Clothes came from thrift stores and our cars were well used.
There was no way I would ever get to Russia, although I still harbored that dream.
And then in 2020 a deal came up with a cruise company that would achieve that dream! We paid for our tickets, applied and paid for our visas, then began thinking about all the wonderful things we’d see.
Two months before our trip, the pandemic brought all travel to an end.
The company cancelled the cruise, but allowed us to transfer funds to the same trip in 2021.
That was also cancelled because of omicron. Once again we were allowed to transfer to the 2022 trip. Our visas are only good for three years, so if we didn’t go to Russia this year, we lose our money.
Here we are less than two months away from going to Russia and Putin invades Ukraine.
We hurt for the people of Ukraine and are sickened by what Russia is doing. How dare Putin take over a democratic country! How dare he cut off Ukraine on three sides and send in his masses of military might!
We want to cancel the trip. We’d like to visit Russia someday, but there’s no way that I want my tourist dollars going to Putin’s country.
However, we have to wait for the cruise company to cancel or we would take a huge financial hit. We may have to do that anyway.
It’s sad to have held on to that dream for over fifty years only to have it dashed by a power-hungry despot.
Maybe someday, long after this war is over, we might think about going to Russia, but I don’t think so. I don’t see us reapplying for visas and without them, we can’t go.
My story is one of a dream denied. Not as serious as lives killed and a country overrun, but on a small scale, devasting.