‘There is one story nobody wants to hear. It’s your own story’.
Some book on writing.
My name is Vladimir Kryshtalov. At least, it is spelled so in English. Here, in Ukraine, we use Cyrillic letters, which makes my name look slightly (or completely?) different. I prefer to call myself Vlad on the internet.
Yes, I live in Ukraine. You surely know that Ukraine is a pretty big European country that borders Russia, Poland, Belarus, Moldova, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. It was a part of the USSR back those days, so actually we have two native languages here: Russian and Ukrainian. I speak both of them, and so do most of our people.
I was born and grew up in a small city on the river Dnepr. The city is called Svetlovodsk, which may be interpreted as “city of clear water”. Unfortunately this interpretation is no more true, the water in Dnepr is quite dirty. Nevertheless, I love the city. It is quiet and beautiful, although a bit pitiful today.
My first higher education I received at Kharkov State University. The USSR had been already gone, Ukraine had gotten independence, but everything back then was a little chaotic. Good jobs were difficult, if not impossible, to find. So, we studied and wondered what could await us in the future.
By the way, I studied sociology.
It was then that I decided to improve my English. Our society was becoming more open, so a foreign language might be a serious argument when getting a job.
Besides, I loved American science fiction.
I started attending lectures on sociology delivered by an American professor. We had this FSA (freedom support act) program, which was my luck. Not many university departments were provided with real professors from the USA. Obviously sociology was considered as crucial for freedom.
It was difficult. The professor didn’t speak any Russian, or Ukrainian. I studied English in the school, but it was nothing. I couldn’t speak, I didn’t know enough words, I couldn’t even recognize where one word ended and another began when the professor was speaking. There was no way I could get into it.
After several lectures I gave up. Too much. I had other things to do. Those lectures were voluntary, they didn’t have any meaning for our education at all. At the same time we had required course subjects that took six hours each day, plus homework. I came to the university early in the morning, then came back home in the afternoon to take a meal, and left for the university again to attend those American lectures. When I came home in the evening, I was too tired to do something serious. And my inability to understand spoken English was pretty much dispiriting.
A few months passed by. I rested from the whole thing and decided to try it again. I knew it was hard… but not impossible. Some people understood those lectures and even took part in the discussions. They did it somehow. Were they simply smarter?
I started to push. I took homework and wrote every unknown word out, then translated it using my dictionary. It was a very slow process, and sometimes I still didn’t understand the whole sentences. But I didn’t intend to give up again either.
From time to time I find those sheets of paper filled with English words and their translations. I used to take them everywhere to scan the lists quickly between my lectures.
And then something unexpected happened. I didn’t need a dictionary anymore while reading homework materials. And I started to understand the spoken English too, and to participate in discussions.
Guess who got an “A” at the end of the course?
I did yet another thing. We all had obligatory English classes (except for the people that studied something else in the school, they had either German, or French). Those classes were boring and quite primitive, but you were to attend them if you wanted to study. I came to our teacher and asked a permission to use my time somewhat more effective. For example, may I please attend German classes instead of English ones?
It may look easy, but our system is not that flexible. I could get either English or German, and I wanted to have English in my Diploma. For obvious reasons. English is far more popular in the modern world, so to have it listed in an official paper means far better chances for a good job.
Sure, I was not the only one among those who didn’t want to waste their time with English classes. But I asked in a pretty good English (clearly unreachable for most students), and that did much of the trick.
The teacher granted me a good mark in English and freedom to choose between German and French. I switched myself to German, while continuing to improve my English.
After the university I spent some time looking for an appropriate job. I also published my first book – ah, did I mention that I loved science fiction?
Strange times were still there, and at last I decided that I didn’t like our job market. Ridiculous wages, still more ridiculous requirements.
I went to Germany. My German was nothing, I didn’t study it as much as English. In the university, it was simply a way to avoid the boring English classes and homework.
We, Ukrainians, are required to get a visa before crossing a border of the European Union. To get a visa, you should have some acceptable reason for it. You can’t just go ‘to see the world’.
I came to study German, and then sent my papers to the university of Ludwig-Maximillian (Munich). After two months of German lessons I was able to pass the language exam. That’s where my second higher education started.
Guess what I studied? No, not sociology.
I decided to try something different. For example, informatics. It was my old hobby.
My studying went smoothly. I did have some problems with mathematics – something I never experienced before (I think it was a combination of German language, German high school education, and a lack of practice from my side; mathematics is more an art than a science, it needs to be practiced), but in general it was easy. My previous experience in programming worked excellent for me. I enjoyed both lectures and homework. I also worked to support myself.
But one day I looked around and thought: no, I don’t want to be a programmer. Maybe I wanted that in the school, but now I’m different. Yes, I can easily get a diploma, but what’s the point of it? I speak four languages, have published two science fiction books, have a diploma in sociology, have an experience as system administrator for Windows and Linux systems, play piano and guitar. Is there anybody who wants to pay for all of this? If not, why should I reduce myself to only one activity?
It was a difficult decision. I hate to drop things halfway done, but then I needed to free some resources for the things that I considered to be more important. For example, for the literature.
So, I returned to Ukraine. Now I live in Kiev. Self-employed. Married. Happy.
Well, not everything is brilliant here. I used to like the tranquility and order in Munich. I used to like excellent German highways and polite, smiling people. It’s all very different in Ukraine.
But it’s still my country. And by being here I’m making it better. I really do.