Midsemester fun-time and my giving back project





Now we are approaching midsemester, which means midterms, another shot at the math GRE, grad school apps, and unfortunately not much else. Topology has become significantly more interesting now that we’ve moved beyond metric spaces, which were pretty boring considering most of it was a rehash of stuff I learned in Analysis 1 and 2 at UNO. We’ve finally begun to discuss geometric topology, looking at real projective space, Euler characteristic, surfaces, and how to combine different surfaces to make new ones. This also means, however, that the class has now reached a whole new world of difficulty. I think this weekend will be quite long as we try to finish the problem set due Tuesday.

Algebra is also becoming really cool. I’ve found that I particularly enjoy group theory, but my intuition is taking a while to build up. We’ve learned the first isomorphism theorem, Burnside’s lemma (or formula, whatever you want to call it), looked at cyclic groups, quotient groups (quotient anything is a pretty cool concept I think), and just a bunch of neat problems that I had no idea would have anything to do with group theory. Looking back over the past month and a half, it is truly amazing how much math we’ve covered in the 3 math classes I’m taking. This is exactly what I was looking forward to when planning my trip to Moscow.

The excursions around the Moscow area have been put on hold, though, because coursework is taking so much time. On Sunday, my friend Josha and I did go to this amazing little restaurant near Aviamotornaya metro station. After church, we took about a 30 minute jaunt to hunt this place down. After wandering past a huge Ashan (grocery store) and going past some intimidating industrial area with a large barbed-wire fence, we found the place. Its small and cozy, and I think may have something to do with the Orthodox church? Not entirely sure. But there were a few icons in there, and everybody who came and left did the Orthodox sign of the Cross (its more complicated than the Catholic version). The food was amazing! Hearty, filling, definitely made with some good ol’ babushka love. I will be returning ASAP.

In other pressing news, MOSCOW JUST HAD SNOW! Crazy, I know. I thought it was way to early, but low and behold, snow fell yesterday as Jacob, Alex, and I chowed down on some blini with condensed milk at our (now) bi-weekly visit to Teremok. Unfortunately, none of us had a camera. So dear readers, you’ll have to stretch that imagination of yours. Of course, it didn’t stick, but the temps were low and it was pretty cold compared to Omaha. My brother said it was 60 there yesterday.

I have been postponing writing about this until I had a few weeks worth of meetings to discuss, but now I will tell you about my giving back project. Thankfully, Prof. Irina Paramonova, the director of MiM, helped me set up a English language discussion group. Several students of IUM, who also attend other institutions like Moscow State, meet with me on Monday afternoons to practice their English. I think it has been a great experience for all involved (I hope it’s been great for them, at least). The first 2 weeks were a little rough as I have never done anything remotely like this before. It’s interesting how little we think about our own language and how we use it. I think, now, though, that I am kind of getting the hang of it.

The Russian students speak amazingly well, I wish I spoke Russian as well as they speak English. We’re reading through Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” and they bring in questions they have about grammar, vocabulary, colloquialisms, and really anything else they can think of. I’ve also found some great grammar quizzes and worksheets online that have, I think anyway, been helpful. Surprisingly, they asked for homework, which is funny because I intended this to be as informal as possible so that the meeting doesn’t add to their already gnarly workload. What really amazes me, though, is how much math these students know. Most of them are only second or third year undergraduates, but they are already studying things like manifolds and spectral geometry. All in all, they are a fun and impressive group, and I’m very grateful for how understanding they have been that this is my first time leading a group like this.