Pre-Departure Adventures and Nitty-Gritty Details

The last two weeks have literally been two of the most busy and exciting weeks of my life, so much so, that I’m almost surprised that 75% of that excitement is research-based. I’m currently writing from St. Petersburg, Russia, where I’ve finally settled into an exquisite home-stay apartment; however, in the past two weeks, I have spent serious time at home, in New Jersey, visiting the Zimmerli Museum at Rutgers University, and in Vilnius, Lithuania. This blog post, in the interest of saving myself time and sanity, will focus on the end of my stay in the states and what strides I was able to make in my research pre-departure.

Most of my time at home, as I mentioned in my last post, was spent working on pre-departure research. This involved reading as much as possible about art during the Soviet Union, so that, when meeting with my interviewees, I would not sound like an uneducated moron who jumped onto this project only to snag a $3,000 check and frolic in Europe for six weeks. Fortunately for me, this research material is everything I proposed in my project and more, like I described in my last post. I spent some time at the Boston Public Library and at home, scouring books and browsing internet sites of museums and galleries, learning names and seeking contacts, so that upon my arrival in Vilnius and St. Petersburg, I could make the most of my short stay.

In addition to conducting this pre-departure reading research, I spent a great deal of time working on my Protection of Human Subjects Protocol and Consent form. Back in March when I was writing my project proposal, it was something that nearly turned me away from the project. The day before the proposal was due, I met with my advisor to discuss the protocol and what needed to be done. The first draft I submitted was actually even rejected, which surprised and shocked me, but with some help from my advisor and editing, and a better idea of why such a form was needed, I was able to come up with an acceptable English-language consent form.

My project, however, was not to be conducted among English-speaking interviewees, less so English-reading individuals! Therefore, the rest of my pre-departure time was spent translating and editing my English consent form into both Russian and Lithuanian. To do this, I found myself pushed up against a wall. As far as the Russian went, I had a lot of fun translating the document myself, and used a variety of resources to make sure it was correct. I first contacted a friend, Jacob, who conducted a Charles Center Research Project in Russia last year, and asked if I could borrow his consent form, in order to understand the vocabulary and check some of my grammar tenses. He obliged, and I combined my document and his before forwarding the form onto my advisor, who made some final edits and then read through it with me on Skype to make sure that I could pronounce all of the words that were used. Working on the translations made me feel a bit uncomfortable and nervous about my weak Russian language skills, but as I continued to work, I reminded myself that the reason I’m going to Russia is to practice, and that, after a mere two years of study, nobody is expected to be fluent in a language.

The Lithuanian translation, on the other hand, was a much different experience. Having practiced the language since a young age, I am familiar with the flow of the language and the sound of literature and vernacular conversation. Formal writing, however, was introduced to me only last year when I studied at Vilnius University. Writing an official-like document was something I knew would be a challenge, so I gave it a lot of thought. Ultimately, though, I knew I would need an editor, and not just my parents or grandparents, who taught me their own versions of Immigrant-American-Lithuanian. Instead, I contacted my friend, Lina, who graduated last year from the Law Faculty at Mykolas Romeris University in Vilnius. With her knowledge of official Lithuanian, my consent form turned into a much more formal document. Additionally, she offered her own comments on my translations. The first was that my dictionary-in-hand translation of the document wasn’t that bad; only it read like a direct translation in some places, making it sound very American. The second was that the consent form as a concept is a very American thing, which was interesting, because, although it is required for an American research project, my interview subjects might be a little bit intimidated by such a form for its official-ness. Attached to this post are PDFs of my consent forms in English, Russian and Lithuanian, for the purpose of satisfying your curiosity regarding what the Lithuanian and Russian languages look like.

Consent Form English FINAL

Consent Form Russian FINAL

Consent Form Lithuanian FINAL

With pre-reading and translations done, I had only to leave for my European adventures. I packed my bags with clothes and souvenirs for family and friends abroad, particularly those who were hosting me. The last thing I wanted to do before leaving home was to interview a friend of mine, so I could get some practice on the video equipment and make sure it worked. Because all of the students on the St. Petersburg Study Abroad Program are making video research projects, I had no trouble borrowing video equipment from Swem before leaving Williamsburg. Once I got home, however, the pelican case with the video equipment nestled inside was sitting on my bureau, waiting to hit the skies.

I had one friend at home who I hoped to interview, and that was Robbie, a recent graduate of Connecticut College, who spent part of his junior year studying abroad in St. Petersburg. During his travels, he actually came to visit me in Vilnius, and I spent a weekend with him sharing my city. One of the things we experienced together that weekend was the opening of the Fluxus Ministerija. My interview with him was actually very informal – he stopped by my house the day before I left and we spent an hour or so walking around my neighborhood, as I asked him questions about surviving in St. Petersburg and his experiences there. When we returned to my house, I set up the camera in my living room and shot him a couple of unrehearsed questions about his experiences having visited both the Fluxus Ministerija and the Pushkinskaya-10 Art Center, as well as about his understanding of nonconformist art and the restrictions of the Soviet Union. Having done theater with me in high school, he was very comfortable and casual in front of the camera, and, thankfully, forgiving of the distractions of my house, like the phone ringing. The interview material was also phenomenal, and I’m really excited to transcribe it and include it in my video project. Once I conquered that first interview and understood how to operate the video equipment, I felt much better about my departure the following day.

I think that’s about enough for one, quite long, blog post. As I started off saying, so much has happened in the past two weeks, that one blog post cannot contain it all. Look forward to upcoming blog posts about the Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art, my four days in Vilnius (a brief account is already on my personal blog), and my first impressions of the Pushkinskaya-10 Art Center. Until then, classes have started and I have homework to do! I hope everybody else is having as much luck as I am on his or her projects! До свидания!

In addition to this blog portal, I will be continuing the blog that I kept while studying in Lithuania. Visit that here.


  1. Monika-

    Your project and program sound absolutely incredible. I really admire how your project is constantly expanding and to include new topics that, ultimately, will help you to uncover more information related to your original research topic.

    In one of your previous posts, you mentioned that the artwork presented in the Pushkinskaya-10 Art Center and the Fluxus Ministerija was non-conformist to the extent that it was rebelling against socialist realism. I was wondering if you could explain what socialist realism is in greater detail. Has it changed since the dissolution of the USSR, and if so, how?

    I know you are really busy with classes and researching, but if you have time you should definitely post photos of the artwork you see at the Pushkinskaya-10 Art Center. Having studied art in the past, this topic is incredibly interesting to me. I am so excited for your studies, findings and, overall, your intellectual journey in Lithuania and Russia.

    Have an amazing six weeks in Russia, my friend!