“6 Questions with…” is an opportunity for women and girls everywhere to share something about their passions and lives. (It’s also a fantastic excuse for me to be really nosey and learn from of the some amazing women I’ve met.)
This week I’m putting Jasilyn Albert in the hot seat. A fellow blogger and sister in Christ, Jasilyn blogs over at Coffee + Cleveland about her travels and adventures. I’ll leave the rest for Jasilyn to talk about.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you come from. Paint a picture of yourself.
I am from a suburb outside of Cleveland, Ohio, and I have lived in the Midwest my entire life. I went to the University of Cincinnati (UC) where I studied history and secondary education (I wanted to be a history teacher). That’s actually where I became a Christian as well. I grew up Roman Catholic, attended a Catholic school, went through all sacraments up to that point (baptism, confirmation) but as I got older I just didn’t feel a connection to God. I have to say that as much as people hate on the Catholic Church I did, at the time of attending school, feel a connection to God. I’m not Catholic anymore because I don’t agree with everything the Catholic Church does, but I think God connects to people in different ways and I am thankful for everything it did teach me. During my sophomore year my younger sister actually became a Christian again. I remember thinking the conversation we had was really weird and I felt uncomfortable with her telling me about God. I was really depressed at that time, though, and decided maybe it was something I needed to look into. So I got in contact with one of the groups on campus and ended up meeting a great group of Christians at UC. They led me to become the Christian I am today. After I graduated I moved back to the Cleveland area where I was substitute teaching and became familiar with English as a second language. I went back to study ESL, and that’s where I am today.
2. You’re living in Russia and teaching English at the moment. What was it that inspired you to move somewhere with a completely different language and culture?
In 9th grade we learned about the Romanov family and the Russian revolution. I was fascinated by it all. Ever since then I was interested in Russian history. I also love Soviet architecture, and I knew one day I would visit Russia to experience it myself. I had a friend from university working here the year before I came and he asked me if I was interested in teaching English. I had just gotten my teaching certificate for ESL and was only working three part time jobs that I said, “yes!” because I wasn’t leaving much behind. It’s really hard and expensive to get a travel visa to Russia so, for pragmatic reasons, I thought it would be easier to work here than travel. I’ve always wanted to learn the language too, and if you’ve studied Russian as a second language you’d know that it’s quite difficult to learn abroad. I also saw moving here as an opportunity to gain experience teaching ESL so that when I move back to the USA I will hopefully have an easier time finding a job.
3. In the West, TV and film loves to use Russia as the “bad guy” and stereotype the country. What stereotypes have you disproved since living there?
Oh, the stereotypes. I actually get extremely annoyed now when I see that ‘bad guy’ stereotype in film. Russians are so nice, and I actually feel safer here than I ever have in the USA. Another stereotype is that they are always drunk. It actually took me a while to meet people who actually drank. Don’t get me wrong there are people who drink a lot. I’ve had a guy next to me on the bus open up a beer and I’ve seen men drunkenly fall on the sidewalk, but I think their view of alcohol is different. In the USA it is common to have a glass of wine every night. In Russia if you drink every night you are looked on as being an alcoholic. A Russian once told me, “Drinking alone is the first sign of an alcoholic.”
Another stereotype I heard was that Russian women are very big and manly. This isn’t true either. Russian women are so beautiful, and I often feel really ugly around them. They are also really skinny too, which I don’t understand because Russian cuisine is all mayo and carbs. Russians have told me that it’s different in the villages and that alcoholism is also a problem there. Maybe women are bigger there because they have to take care of their drunk men?
Also, Russian have stereotypes of themselves that they think the world believes. They will ask me, “Did you think Russians have bears playing the balalaika?” I just respond, “I didn’t even know bears and balalaikas were stereotypes of Russians.”
4. Alongside teaching English as a foreign language, you also run a travel blog (Coffee+Cleveland) and you’re considering launching a website aimed at those wanting to learn English. How do you balance your work and blog with everything else that life involves?
Well, this year is much easier with English teaching because I don’t have many hours and I’ve reused lessons that I created last year. On the other hand, I traveled much more last year so it made it easier to have content to write about. This year I am pushing myself to post at least twice a week on my blog, just for myself, because if I don’t I won’t post at all. I’m actually pretty lazy and I always have tons of ideas but I never make them come about. I’m having trouble, still, with my English website because I just don’t know where to start. I definitely wouldn’t consider myself an expert on balancing work and life. But with my travel blog it definitely gives me drive to go out and do things. I suffered from really bad depression when I was younger, so I use the blog as an excuse get out of the house, as well as a way to improve my photography.
5. Christianity in Russia is largely within the Orthodox Church or is still recovering from being persecuted by Communism. As a Christian, what challenges have you faced living in Russia?
Recently, the Russian government passed a law that said you aren’t allowed to evangelize or hold Bible studies with non-believers. They are also persecuting people who are going against the Orthodox Church. I heard this is because the president sees religious people as easier to manipulate because conservatives are less likely to protest against the government, which is why a lot of his policies work in favor of the Orthodox Church. Now, I don’t know if this is the reason for his policies, but to me it makes sense. The region I live in is actually majority Muslim, so his policies for the Orthodox Church aren’t as strong here because he can’t risk upsetting the Muslim regions of the country.
Unfortunately, I’ve never been one to evangelize so I don’t feel like I risk getting deported or anything, but it does make it difficult to find a church or even a Bible study. I don’t feel my faith has diminished since living here, but I do see myself struggling to pray or have quiet times because I don’t have a community. Actually, a few of the foreign teachers I work with happen to be Christians so I do have a small community, and it’s nice to have someone to talk to about my faith.
One thing I do like about living in a Muslim republic is that I learned so much about Islam, which is so important especially in the world today where people like Donald Trump are passing laws in order to hurt Muslims. I think it is unfortunate that radical terrorist groups are giving Muslims a bad name and making them out to be people they aren’t. We have to remember that there are radical Christian groups in the world, maybe not to the scale of ISIS, but they don’t represent who we are as Christians. I have several Muslim friends, and it just makes me so sad to see how they are viewed in the world. They are people like you and me, but they are seen as terrorists to the world just because of their faith. I think as Christians, and citizens in a global world, it is important to meet people with different beliefs and lifestyles because that is where we start to make the world a better place. The message of the Bible also won’t work if people see you as someone who hates people who aren’t like you.
6. As Christians, we are encouraged to be in fellowship with one another and to offer support where it is needed. Who inspires and encourages you to keep going in your faith?
I have several friends who inspire me. Katy is definitely one of them, as well as the girls in our private Facebook group. I have friends from college and from my Bible study in Cleveland who are constantly doing God’s work, and I get envious sometimes because it’s a struggle for me to live a Christ-centered lifestyle. I wish I had the discipline to open my Bible every day and have quiet times. I’ve always been a person who struggled with reading the Bible on my own. I need guidance whether it’s with a mentor or with some kind of study guide. That’s my biggest problem in Russia. I don’t have people to ask me how I’m doing or offering to do Bible studies with me. I hope this isn’t coming off as me blaming other people! I completely understand that people live busy lives, and just the logistical problems of me living in somewhere that has a 10-12 hour time difference of people back home. It’s not practical. I also have to work on my own relationship with God. I am thankful, though, for those people who do ask how I am, and they are usually the people I least expect!
Don’t forget to check out Jasilyn’s blog, Coffee + Cleveland.
The post 6 Questions with Jasilyn Albert first appeared on CounterCultural. CounterCouture.