Mid-morning on Monday, Alexander took me to the train station where I left on a 2000km, 20-hour overnight train ride east to Izhevsk, in the Ural Mountains, arriving about 9:00am on Tuesday morning. Alexander did not advise me that there was no dining car on the train, nor that I should obtain some food to eat during the trip.I had just settled into a bunk in my compartment when a curvaceous young woman entered and settled into the other bunk. She spoke no English and I no Russian, however, we were able to communicate during the trip by using my English/Russian phrase book.
Early evening she removed some food from her luggage which she prepared to eat asking, “Did you bring something to eat?” I told her I had not been advised I needed food to which she answered,” no problem, I have sufficient food that we can share”.
To my great surprise, I was met at the train station in Izhevsk by four gentlemen who introduced themselves saying they were from the Udmurt State University and were taking me to a government owned hotel where I would be staying during my assignment. They then introduced me to Vladimir saying, he would be my guide, caretaker, translator, almost constant companion, and go-t- guy for whatever I might need to make my stay comfortable and successful.
The dining room at my hotel was closed that evening so I decided to have dinner at a hotel I had seen a couple of blocks away. There were two women on the front desk who warned me, “You will not be safe going out of the hotel by yourself after dark”, and they did their very best to block me at the door. I told them I would keep myself safe and not hold them responsible for whatever might happen.
After dinner I decided to walk to a telephone center ten blocks away, that was the only place I could make an international telephone call home to tell Donna I had arrived safely. I got lost returning to my hotel and did not want to risk asking for directions, so I had to return to the restaurant and retrace my steps back to my hotel. This resulted in returning very late in the evening. The women gate keepers had been very concerned for my safety and berated me for undertaking such a dangerous mission. They said, “Don’t’ you know we are responsible for your safety while you are staying here?” I apologized.
On Wednesday morning Vladimir came and took me to the Department of Economics and Commerce at the University. At the Dean’s office, about ten professors and a translator were present to welcome me with the requisite toast of Vodka or Cognac, which I was informed is the customary greeting for a visiting lecturer. The Dean told me that I would be lecturing undergraduate students regarding business principles and practices in North America”. Not being a product of academia, nor having experience in lecturing at the university level I informed him, “You must have been misinformed about the purpose of my assignment here in Izhevsk and therefore I must graciously decline this role as I have no experience in lecturing university students.”
Reaching into my briefcase I withdrew my assignment documents saying, “My understanding from CESO was that my assignment would be to transfer my business experience in the construction and building materials distribution industry, to business people in similar types of business in Russia, by conducting a series of seminars or workshops.My teaching method and experience is conducting interactive seminar workshops for business people”. He was, to say the least, taken aback and visibly miffed with my response. The assembled professors and staff were terribly shocked that I would have the temerity to advise the Dean that I could not accede to his request.
After several moments of silence he asked, to the surprise of the others in the room, “Will you consent to conduct this type of seminar for our undergraduate students?” In my naivety I said I would be delighted to. He then inquired if I would need to adapt my teaching materials in order to undertake this task. I replied that I would require someone to translate the handout materials into the Russian language and a translator who was proficient in both Russian and English language to work with me in the classroom. Again to the surprise of his colleagues he agreed. Vladimir was assigned to help me translate the handout information and we immediately undertook the task to carry out this work.
On Saturday morning Lyudmila, a woman interpreter from the university, arrived at the hotel indicating she had been assigned to show me around and wanted to know what I would like to do or see. I replied, “I would like to attend a Baptist Church on Sunday morning, other than that you plan both days.”
Each day was spent sightseeing and touring various significant historical sites. This included a visit to a very large flea market which proved to be very beneficial in the teaching project that I would be undertaking at the university.
On Sunday morning we attended a Baptist Church held in an unfinished basement of an apartment building. As we entered she warned me to watch my head as the pipes were under the main floor, barely six feet above the sand floor. They had laid sheets of plywood to support the folding chairs that were placed there as pews. The service was very interesting with the congregation friendly and open to discussion.