16 May 2013
Moscow through the Eyes of an American
Moscow through the Eyes of an American
Language Connections’ Inna Zimina Interviews Marc McElroy
Marc McElroy was born in Beverly, MA. He got his degree in Modern European Studies at the University of Maine in Orono. During his college experience he took part in a student exchange program traveling to the Ukraine. Right now he lives half of the year in Moscow and half of the year in the United States. His wife Katya is a Russian instructor at Northeastern University and the University of New Hampshire.
IZ: How did you make this decision to study in Russia? Did someone influence you?
MM: Oh, it was just coincidental. I chose Russia because it seemed interesting, and it was unusual. I became interested in Russia because of the country’s rich history and culture. So, there was no one influence but rather just a general interest.
IZ: How long have you lived in Russia?
MM: Since 2005 off and on. Over the past few years, I have lived in Russia for various periods of time, two months, three months, four months, and six months. So, in the last seven or eight years, I have lived there for a total of maybe three or four years all together.
IZ: What do you enjoy most about Moscow and what do you think about the quality of life there?
MM: I especially like the subway. Ah, the Moscow metro (laugh). Moscow is very different from most American cities. The public transport system is excellent; with the metro one can get around all parts of the city very quickly. Even though it is the largest city in Europe, Moscow has a small city feel to it which makes it easy to get to know.
IZ: Do you think Moscow is safe?
MM: Moscow is as safe as any other city of 12 million people. Like in any city, as long as you are basically careful it is fairly safe. As a foreigner I do not feel intimidated.
IZ: How do you rate accommodations in Moscow on a scale of 1 to 10?
MM: Well, like with everything, it depends on how much money you have to spend. For tourists vacationing in Russia, Moscow has rather expensive hotels. On the positive side the hotel standards are very high. Another less expensive option for visitors is to rent an apartment by the day, week, or month depending on their length of stay. Most foreigners choose to live near the center of the city, although the closer the accommodation is to the center, the higher the cost.
IZ: What do you think about the cost of living in Moscow? What is cheaper or more expensive there compared to your native town?
MM: You can live on one hundred thousand dollars a year or you can live on ten thousand dollars year. It depends on how you live, where you live, and what your habits are. Like in any city, housing makes up the biggest expense. Moscow can also be very reasonable. For example, museums, the performing arts, and theatres are very inexpensive compared to cities in the United States, such as New York City. The public transport system is also cheaper compared to United States. Food. If you know where to go in Moscow, eating out can be both reasonable and delicious. In my personal experience, you can live in Moscow without being wealthy.
IZ: What is the economic climate in Moscow? Are there a lot of job opportunities?
MM: Yes, there are a lot of job opportunities in Moscow. Unlike most Russian cities, there are many jobs in both Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Moscow is the cultural, economic, and political center of Russia. For Americans, it is like New York, Washington, D.C. and L.A. all in one city. But the majority of business primarily takes place in Moscow, so it is the place to be.
IZ: Regarding healthcare in Moscow, how would you rate it on a scale of 1 to 10?
MM: It is difficult to rate. I would say five. It is a good place for some kinds of healthcare. I would say for general healthcare it is excellent. Dentistry, on the other hand, is much cheaper and the quality of care is just as good as in most European cities. But I would not want to be in an emergency situation. Ambulances get caught in traffic jams pretty regularly. Luckily I never had a situation (knock on wood) where I had a serious problem. However, once you are in the hospital the care is decent. Five…
IZ: Can you tell us briefly what are the positive and negative aspects of working in Moscow?
MM: For me it is different than for a lot of other foreigners, because I speak Russian. A lot of foreigners I know start to feel a little lonely and isolated because of the language barrier. They tend to stick around pubs and clubs where people speak English, and spend most of their time with their co-workers. But when I was living there I enjoyed meeting lots of different kinds of people. As a foreigner one has to be open to new experiences and meeting new people. Otherwise you risk sitting at home a lot by yourself.
IZ: Was it easy for you to make friends in Moscow? Do you have any friends there who are native English speakers?
MM: Yes it is very easy to make friends in Moscow. In general, Russian people are friendly. But even in a cosmopolitan city such as Moscow, foreigners are kind of rare. So, people are still fascinated by foreigners because they are different. People have often asked me where to go to meet English-speaking people. My answer is that I know where three hundred million Americans live and if I want to talk to them I will go there. When I am in Russia, I always prefer to be with Russians, speak Russian and do Russian things. When I am in America I associate mostly with Americans.
IZ: During the year, you live half of the year in Russia and half in the United States. But in the future are you planning to stay in just one country, and if yes which country will it be?
MM: That changes quite a bit. As of now I plan to continue spending time in both countries. If I were to choose to live in one country, I don’t know which one that would be, and, it may not even be Russia or the United States. The most important thing is to keep life interesting.
IZ: We know that your wife is Russian. A Russian wife and an American husband, do you find that you have any difficulties when the two cultures face each other?
MM: The cultural differences are so big that we have come to understand and almost ignore them. We have gotten used to considering things differently and thinking about things differently, depending on where we live and which culture we are dealing with. It is somewhat of an adventure, but we have a very interesting way of interacting and keeping things peaceful and smooth.
IZ: What language do you speak when you are at home with Katya?
MM: We speak a combination sometimes. We often speak Russian, because when we met we met in Russia and spoke Russian to each other there. Now Katya has lived long enough in United States and she speaks English well. But before, she was not very confident in her English. She is also a teacher of the Russian language. She loves her native tongue, so, we speak a lot of Russian. But sometimes English words are more useful to describe certain things, so we also use a lot of English. For example we use the word lunch in either language.
IZ: What are you doing when you are in the United States or in Russia?
MM: In the U.S. I work as a recording engineer and a musician. I also work selling musical accessories. I am self-employed in the music industry. In Russia I work as an English teacher both because I have experience teaching English and because the pay is good. Russian people are very interested in learning English. I would say that half of foreigners living in Moscow teach English and the other half work for oil companies.
IZ: What do you think about Russian music? Do you have a favorite band?
MM: I like Russian music. My wife loves Russian music. Even after living in United States for so long, she listens mostly to Russian language music. Favorite bands… some of my wife’s favorite bands that I listen to… Mumiy Troll. Rock. Basically I like rock music. Some of my friends in Moscow have a band that I like called Queen Boom. They are not famous but they are very good and I am actually helping them work in a recording studio on some songs in English.
IZ: You already have a lot of experience with the Russian culture and language, and you have a Russian wife. But when you made the decision to go and get your education in Moscow you were very young. So now with all your experience would you still advise young people to go and study in Russia/Moscow?
MM: Yes, I would, first of all because there are a lot of work opportunities, and secondly learning Russian opens up a lot more options. Right now in Russia, there are a lot of interesting changes in the educational system, especially in higher education in Moscow schools. Studying in Moscow offers several advantages: there are several very good learning institutions and the cost of education is a lot less, even for foreigners, and much less expensive than an American education. I think everyone, Americans and Russians alike, or wherever you live and wherever you’re from for that matter, should spend some time in a foreign country learning another language. I think that this is good advice for young people interested in expanding their horizons.
Inna Zimina is a Marketing Assistant at Language Connections which is a full language service provider. Originally from Russia, she is currently living in Boston.
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