Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Virtually Russian

A couple of years ago I carelessly promised to go to Moscow for a guest lecture. It's a bad habit I must get rid of: when people invite me to come and do a guest lecture, I feel flattered and say: I'll be delighted, instead of: Sorry, I truly cannot. Apart from painful travel, I have a complicated relationship to my birthplace, but at some point going to Moscow to do a guest lecture and then see all Rabbit's friends and relations felt attractive. It got less and less attractive as the date approached, and since I was then - as always - desperately cancelling all previously arranged travel I took a deep breath and emailed my Russian colleague to give my apology. By that time, another colleague in Germany had suggested that I do a virtual lecture if I couldn't come in person, and I suggested to my Russian colleague that I do a virtual lecture for them, secretly hoping that it would turn out impossible. However, she was delighted, and the date went on approaching. Actually, it was brought forward by two months, so suddenly last week I realised that I was going to give a virtual lecture in my mothertongue which I hadn't spoken academically for decades. (I used to go to Russia and lecture a lot, but not for a long while now. I always liked it. It took me to exotic places such as Murmansk).

I insisted on a technical test in advance because there are thousands of things that can go wrong. I had a test for my German lecture, and it worked fine, and then it didn't at the actual lecture. At least, not at once.

The test went fine, but I did it from home, while I wanted to do the lecture from the office where I was sure that my end worked as it should. I asked to have a final test half an hour before the lecture. When I opened my Skype this morning the Russian contact was not there, and I didn't quite remember their Skype name. I tried this and that, which didn't work, and then I hoped they would send a contact request, and they didn't, and I emailed them, and I tried some more Skype names, and finally one was correct. Perfect. Close encounters of fourth grade. Well, I said, see you in fifteen minutes. My Russian colleague wriggled and said, could we possibly start five minutes past so that the audience got in. I had no problems with that and looked through my notes. They called five past to ask whether we could make it ten past since there were more people coming in. Finally a quarter past we started, and I forgot my notes and made some jokes (which is weird in a virtual classroom since I couldn't see the audience's reaction). Halfway through, the connection broke. My contact went offline, and there wasn't much I could do about it. I got an emal saying: Sorry, we are fixing it, which I had already figured out. Then it worked again, and I had to ask them what the last thing they had heard me say was. I had a big alarm clock in front of me, but because of the delayed start and the interruption I allowed myself to go over a bit. Then there were questions and comments, all very clever and helpful, and I had forgotten that I had spoken a language I wasn't comfortable with. I enjoyed it. I want to do it again.

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