It all began last Wednesday evening. Father approached MJ and me about being in a video to promote our University to potential students and foreign students. He told us that we probably would not have to speak. We agreed not knowing the extent of this project.
The next morning, we got up and made our way to the university, like any other day. We sat in our journalism class, trying to decipher what the professor was saying for yet another class period. We continued on to our grammar lesson, when I was asked to step out for a bit to speak with the school head. She then proceeded to ask me if I would be willing to star in a promotional video. The videographer and the other co-star Vlad, were there. I agreed, completely unaware of what I was getting myself into. We returned to the classroom where we began filming. The whole time I was trying to figure why they picked me to be the star. Then it hit me, MJ looks Russian, and had been told that since our first day in Russia. I looked foreign with my head of curls (which fascinate people here).
We moved to another class where I was instructed to sit in the front with Vlad, look attentive and ask the professor questions. All while the videographer zoomed and focused on me for most of the take. I have never felt so self-conscious.
From there we made our way around the university taking shots at all the various locations. Everytime I thought we were done, there was yet another location to shoot. Hallways, offices, fancy conference rooms, weight rooms, the balcony, the library and the University Orthodox chapel.
They told me to grab my jacket and hat, because we were filming at other locations too. We were off to the other campus location on the opposite side of the city where we shot a scene in the cafeteria. Trays full of authentic Russian food: Pelmeni, Blinis, Borscht , Kotleti, etc.
Then, I was ushered up to a gymnasium with at least 40 large Russian men playing basketball and volleyball. The School head and I were the only women in the room and soon all eyes were on us. I immediately began to pray that they would not make me go out on the courts. Immediately they all cleared to one side of the court, as I was ushered out onto the other side of the court, in a skirt, and told to shoot some hoops. I then proceeded to pray that all the basketball drills I endured in P.E growing up would not fail me as everyone watched. I made it in on the third try. Close enough.
From there we drove to the dormitories, where I was filmed living in some complete strangers’ dorm room. On our way out of the dorms, the school head began to talk to me about snowboarding. I thought she was making small talk, but I soon found out that I was mistaken.
As we sat in the car, waiting for the videographer to finish filming the building with his super cool drone camera, the School head began to explain to me that I was going to ride with the Videographer, Anatoli, to meet up with a Vlad and Natasha to go snowboarding.
I looked down at my watch nervously. It was 3pm and we had been filming for three and a half hours already. I thought they were just trying to be hospitable by taking me snowboarding for helping them out with the film.
I tried to explain to her that I really should be getting home; all while internally freaking out because A, I was wearing a skirt and did not have the gear, and B didn’t know how to snowboard, was tired and wasn’t exactly up for learning that moment.
I tried to ask her how long it would take. “5-10minutes,” she responded. I was so confused, it is impossible to snowboard in that short a time. I figured I screwed up my question, so I asked again, and she repeated the same answer. Then she said, “I don’t understand what you are asking, do you want to know how far it is way because it is 5-7 minutes away.” At this point she switched to English. I asked if I would be home by 4pm, and she said “Yes, and don't worry because they have all the gear.” I was very confused and uncertain, but agreed.
Anatoli and I set out to meet up with the others. His car ran out of gas, and we we picked up on the side of the road by Natasha and Vlad. We drove a few more minutes and pulled into a lot parallel to the ski slopes. Natasha told me to take my parka off and put on her jacket..
“Okay Jess, this is happening, brace yourself” as I tried convince myself to accept the situation. Just as I did that Natasha took my parka, put it on and made her way with Vlad to the slopes. I had my very own stunt double! I was relieved and stunned all at once. Anatoli and I sat in the car, as he filmed them cruising down the slope with the drone camera. They came back, and had me put on the helmet to film post slope scenes.
On our way back we picked Anatoli’s car and attached it to Natasha's car with a very thick rope that he conveniently had in his trunk. We filled up with gas, and then I was brought me home in a car blasting Russian techno crushing down the city streets. It was almost 5pm when I received a message from MJ asking where I was. I told her I was on my way back from snowboarding, and that I would be home soon. She responded “WHAT THE HECK?!”
By this point the temperature had drifted down to -22c, and I as told that is way way too cold to be here, even for Russians, and that I should go back to the States.
I finally arrive home at 5pm… Five and a half hours later, from what I originally thought was going to be a 30 minute ordeal. And so I became the University‘s poster girl, all because of my curly hair.