Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More on Lizzie: Back in the USSR

When Lizzie was 11 years old, I received a fellowship to conduct research in the Siberia in what was then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). There were 8-9 American scholars allowed into the USSR that year, and I was the only one with a child. Needless to say, the experience was a challenge for Lizzie, for me, and for Inotdel, the foreign student office at the University of Moscow, even though I had come prepared: I had communicated with Hedrick Smith, author of The Russians, a very insightful book, and at the time the only living American I could find who had spent any time at all in Siberia (he had gone there for a couple of weeks as a journalist), and I had tracked down the child of an American diplomat and the child of an American journalist, the only other children at the time to have attended Soviet schools. (After us, many more scholars went to Siberia, and a few more American students went to Russian schools -- but nearly all of that occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union and the reemergence of Russia.

Lizzie started out at a school in Moscow. I will post more details on that later. For now, I will say that it was a mixed positive-negative experience for Lizzie, who was the only Westerner in the school. Most of the children were puzzled: This was someone who lived in the land of Enemy #1, but she did not seem like a big enemy. Most of the teachers were supportive and even approving as Lizzie's language skills improved, allowing her to prove that she had done her homework and that she was a serious student. Being a serious student was a very good thing in the Soviet Union. There were a few teachers, however, who disagreed with the school director's decision to allow Lizzie to attend their school, and they showed their dissatisfaction by constantly scapegoating Lizzie. Every time she made a mistake, on would say to the other students, "Nu, chto vy ozhidaete ot amerikanochki?" (Well, what do you expect from a little American girl?) Lizzie once told me that she hated the label amerikanochka (little American girl) and if she were to hear it one more time she would either cry or scream.

In addition, most of the parents cautioned their children against playing with Lizzie, fearing government retribution, although, happily, there was a group of four children and parents willing to brave government frowning on fraternization with an American child. These children invited Lizzie to their homes and visited her in our University of Moscow dorm suite. However, given Cold War protocol, once Lizzie returned to the USA, she could only communicate with her friends by writing a letter to the whole class through the class leader (similar to a US homeroom teacher).

Given these difficult moments, years later, when someone offered me a button that read "veteranka kholodnoj vojny" (veteran of the Cold War), Lizzie snatched it, saying with a smile, "I really am, you know." Of course, she is.

One of Lizzie's biggest disappointments occurred when she was 16. She wanted to return to the Soviet Union for the poslednyj zvonok (literally, "last bell" -- similar to a US graduation) of her class. Unfortunately, at the time there was just no money available for a ticket. However, the satisfaction of fond memories, language proficiency, cultural awareness, and the knowledge that she may have given a human face to the enemy for classmates who grew up to see and perhaps even participate in the great conversion of the Soviet Union as enemy to Russian as cautious ally outweighs any small personal disappointments. She was a Cold War veteran who had fought for peace long before she could understand what war and peace are all about.


For readers' ease, I am double-posting this here and in the main post about Lizzie.


  1. I just noticed the comment you left about my son on the Prayers for Little Angels sight. I was impressed to hear about your son. Thanks for your kind words and support.


  2. Wow! What a life you've led!!! And what a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Lizzy!!! This is so interesting!!! I'm thoroughly enjoying this! ~Janine XO

  3. You have had the most amazing experiences. I am such a bore compared to you!

  4. I have just written a blog you might find interesting. Take a peek!

  5. Dear Elizabeth,
    I am amazed at the life you have led. I have read some of your past posts and I have such deep respect for you and what you have been able to do with your life.
    You are a beautiful woman and I appreciate my own life and the experiences I have had more so by visiting.
    Thank you for your comments and visits to my blog. I appreciate all your time.
    God Bless

  6. Thank you for your lovely and kind words!!! I love your blog!!!! So glad you are writing down all these fabulous experiences!! And that I have the opportunity and privilege of reading them! ~Janine XO

  7. Hi Thank you for you help, I don't know whats the best way to get my book published this all new to be. I think I'm over my head so any advice you can give me.


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