Natalia Olshanskaya was one of the most influential people in my life.
I rewrote that sentence ten times because the phrase “Natalia Olshanskaya was” does not make sense to me. The idea that she’s gone, that I cannot say “Natalia Olshanskaya is” anymore, makes me a little dizzy, and after talking to other students who took her classes, I know I’m not the only one.
When I first came to Kenyon, I was anxious and had little to no self confidence, especially after a language placement test showed that despite four years of high school Spanish, I still didn’t know enough to study at the 200 level here. I stumbled into an academic fair meeting for the MLL department, and Professor Olshanskaya was the only professor who showed up. Disgruntled with her colleagues, Olshanskaya answered questions for a while before announcing,
“Listen, people say that languages like Russian are hard, but I could teach Russian to this table if it wanted to learn.”
It sounded good to me, and apparently it did to everyone else in the room, too. Before drop/add was over, she’d signed in at least five students over the registration limit for Intro Russian. Even today, several of my classmates site this interaction as the reason why they signed up for the class.
Clearly, she knew what she was doing.