Learning two languages at once can be challenging

Photo by Марьян Блан | @marjanblan on Unsplash

“Hello, how are you?” “My name is Alison.” “What is your name?”

And so starts every language course, just like when I learned the first few words of French at primary school, many years ago.

I am taking an introductory course in Ukrainian, designed for people who already know some Russian. In our first lesson, our teacher spoke Russian to explain the principles and translate vocabulary. I thought that would be difficult, like having to cope with two new languages at once. Instead, it made me realise how far I have come with my Russian and that Ukrainian is going…


Not with a bang but with a whisper

Weak sunlight in the Yorkshire Dales. Photo by the author.

Small changes are happening, coming faster now as February rolls by, discernible to those keen of observation and high of impatience. Mud, mists and mucky slush lie at the edges of roads and fields. Not for us the glorious sun bursting through in triumph, or not yet, for this is northern England.

But on some days — or at least parts of days — the clouds thin out and patches of blue sky are visible. The watery sun blinks through, doing its best to warm up the cold, damp air. Spring remains tentative. Last week we had snow and blizzards…


My next steps in learning to speak Russian

Podil, Kyiv. Photo by the author.

I recently returned from three months in Kyiv, Ukraine. I went there to learn Russian (while also working remotely part-time, exploring, and writing). This was immersion learning. I had lessons every day, a big wodge of homework to do every evening, and was exposed to speaking Russian in shops, restaurants and anywhere else I went.

All my lessons were conducted in Russian, with only occasional concessions to translate single words. The main explanations of grammatic rules were in Russian. The exercises were in Russian. If I had a question, I had to try to ask it in, Russian. …


Return of the digital nomad

View through the trees on a sunny day, Yorkshire Dales, UK. Photo by the author.

I came home. I was away for three months, a digital nomad living, working and learning in Kyiv, Ukraine. I travelled home with some regret, my sojourn necessarily curtailed by visa restrictions. Trepidation was there too, with a fourteen-hour journey through international airports, confined in planes and trains: plenty of opportunities to catch Covid. Once I survived that and the subsequent self-isolation period, we were into the UK’s Lockdown Three — a heart-sinking realisation that the next digital-nomadic-jaunt might need to be postponed.

However, I arrived home to my lovely house in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales and thought ‘this is…


Connected in place, separated in time

Leeds city centre. Photo by abdullah ali on Unsplash

They came from the warm lands of southern Ukraine, where the fertile earth nurtures crops and the summers are long and hot. They came to Leeds, where winters are cold, damp and dark. Factories belched out their vile smoke, into the streets full of noise. They lived in a tiny, terraced house, barely making ends meet, tailoring for piecework. Their teenage daughters, who had been doing so well at the gymnasium back home, had to turn to and help their father as ‘feller’s hands’, hand-finishing garments for a pittance.

Sarah, their mother, my great great grandmother, struggled in this alien…


Still deciding what I want to be when I grow up

Just an arty image, because I hate pictures of myself. Frosted leaves photographed on a walk near my home this week. © Alison Marshall, 2021

I never really got the hang of working. I have had various jobs, but never really much of a career. The actual work is not really the problem, but I find all the interactions, negotiations, relationships to be mentally and emotionally draining. Now that I am in my fifties, I decided to go part-time with my university post. I love it. It gives me the perfect balance between having structure and income, with enough freedom and space for myself.

It is taking me time, though, to work out what I want to do with this free time. …


And straight into Lockdown 3

Photo by Tatiana from Pexels

I had to self-isolate for ten days on returning home to Britain from Ukraine. This is my last day. It has been interesting and not too painful. It will be good to be able to do my own food shopping again — I can’t believe I have missed doing that! I will be able to go out for walks and to work if I need to. However, a national lockdown was announced at the start of this week, so there will be precious few additional freedoms. …


Stories from a digital nomad

Kyiv panorama. Photo by the author.

In October 2020, I had been socialising online and working remotely for six months, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. I could be anywhere — as long as I was in front of my computer for online Teams work meetings and friends’ Zoom catch ups. I wanted to learn Russian and to explore Ukraine. I decided to travel to Kyiv, where I stayed for three months. You can read my stories in a series of letters, published in Without Borders. Below are the links to all the letters, in chronological order.

I hope you like them!


Coronavirus quarantine for a digital nomad

Photo by Tatiana from Pexels

I returned to my home in the Yorkshire Dales, UK, after three months away in Kyiv, Ukraine. I am required to self-isolate for ten days, starting from the day after I return. I may not leave my house or garden. I should avoid shops unless I have no alternative way to get food or medication. If I had a dog, I would not be allowed to walk it. I am prohibited from entering any public spaces, including the road outside my house. If I do, I may be fined up to £10,000.

Well, so…


Letters from Kyiv: Number Ten

Photo by Denys Rodionenko on Unsplash

My last week in Kyiv went quickly. A host of goodbyes and final catch-ups, alongside Ukrainian Christmas festivities. There was snow and sleet, shopping for presents to take back, arrangements for my arrival at home — and anxious watching of the latest global developments.

It didn’t help that the week before I was due to fly, flights to and from Britain were cancelled on a mass scale. The world’s knee jerk reaction to the latest Covid discovery just happening to come from Britain was to apply a cordon sanitaire. This would have been a good idea in principle, except that…

Alison Marshall

Writer, traveller, researcher

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