Speaking Russian at NYPI

As a Russian major and native Russian speaker, you would think that when it comes down to speaking Russian, I am comfortable and eager to speak it in public. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

On my third week interning at NYPI, an intern from the Manhattan office called me at the Brooklyn office and asked if I could call a client for her. The client only spoke Russian and no one at the Manhattan office knew how to communicate with them. I eagerly accepted the job. I had performed successfully in my classes so I figured that this phone call should be a piece of cake. After a minute of attempting to draft a script in Russian, I realized with horror that I was not familiar with any legal terms and did not know the right words to use to describe mediation to a client who had never heard of mediation. I called my mom and then my grandmother for their advice on wording. Incredibly nervous but equipped with a script, I called the client. What ensued was a disaster: the client’s wife picked up the phone and would not let me speak to her husband until I told her who I was, where I was calling from, and what I wanted. I was unable to do so, for one, because I was stumbling over my Russian and because I did not feel comfortable telling her the nature and reason of my call. I had heard nightmare tales about spouses who had not been aware that their significant other had a suit in court and would then yell at their spouse and also at us. I tried to explain to her that I could not divulge the information to her and that I needed to speak to her husband, but she would not allow it. After about three minutes of this, her husband gets on the line on another phone in the house, so naturally, chaos ensued. As I tried to explain the concept of mediation and incorporate necessary Russian legal terms, both parties spoke over each other and reprimanded me for calling them if I did not know how to speak Russian. At this point, I was close to tears because I was trying so hard and so obviously failing. I got off the phone with them dejected and close to tears.

A couple days ago, my co-intern turns to me and with a pained expression tells me that someone has just called in who can only speak Russian, and asked if I would mind speaking to them. Immediately, I felt nervous and uneasy. I had not spoken to anyone in Russian since the last incident. I was already stressed out with all the work I had to complete for the day and I did not have time to handle being upset or reprimanded about my Russian speaking abilities! But I had no choice – I braced my fears and got on the phone. I told the client on the other line that I was not very proficient in speaking but I understood him perfectly. He acknowledged it and proceeded to tell me his story. To my surprise, I was able to explain mediation to him and offer him our services. There were moments when he did not understand me, but at the end of the call he told me that I spoke Russian very well and to keep trying! I was so relieved and proud of myself. Sometimes, no matter how scary or daunting something is, you just have to do it and hope that it works out!

On another note, my last day at NYPI was two days ago! As I was busy packing up my apartment, I realized how lucky I had really been this summer. Without the summer internship grant from Dickinson, I would never have been able to have this experience. I would not have been able to afford living in New York, even the cheaper parts, on my own. I have grown so much from this internship and gained so much self confidence and it was all thanks to Dickinson. As I was applying for the grant, I was so nervous because I had no back-up plans for the summer. Without the grant, I would have been forced to return home to Los Angeles to find work. If Dickinsonians in the future read my blog and are hoping to work in NYC for the summer, I would strongly recommend applying for the grant! The Career Center is very helpful and accessible and they want to help you succeed! I am so, so grateful for this opportunity. I truly felt like I was living the dream.