March 16th, 2005


interview meme

Questions from spider88

1) What was it like when the USSR dissolved? Was it scary? Just another news event?

USSR still existed at the time I left, though I was around for the referendum which was among the final steps leading to its demise. The most interesting part was watching the reforms that were (gradually) taking place, and admissions that a lot of the propaganda we were exposed to as kids was just that -- propaganda. Probably the most scary part was the coup attempt; thankfully, it did not last long, but my sister and father were still living in Moscow when there were tanks on the streets.

2) When your family left Russia for Canada, what was that like for you? Were you scared, happy, excited? Mad at your mom from taking you from home?

I was definitely more excited than anything else. We left in 1991, and I had spent 4 months in 1990 living in Paris, which gave me a reference for living in a different country. I had been a little lonely and bored in Paris, I watched a lot of TV and finally ended up learning computer programming to pass the time. But I still had a great time living in a magical foreign land. So when it came time to go to Canada, I was not at all mad at my mother. I think I'd be a lot more anxious about such a drastic life change now.

3) I know you're applying to academic jobs in many different cities right now. Which city would be ideal?

Out of the places I applied for academic jobs, Toronto. Toronto and the Bay area are my two top places to live, but I only applied to industry research jobs here. I'm not sure which one I would put on top, I've never actually lived in Toronto but it always feels like home when I'm there. The Bay area, of course, is home these days.

4) In which way would you prefer Canada to be more like the US?

This is the most difficult question for me to answer with something less trivial than "I wish it were warmer." (Though I do!) My father, before we moved to Canada, related to me the aphorism that "Canada has all of the advantages of the US, minus its disadvantages." I don't really believe it's true, but it does feel like the grass is greener north of the border, probably because I notice more of the things I miss.

So it might take until I move back to Canada (whenever that will be) for me to give you a good answer of what I'd miss about the US. I can tell you what I'd miss about the Bay area, though — everyone here is trying to do something or be someone special. And sure, some of these pursuits are empty or fruitless, but a lot of them aren't, and it forms a different sort of culture. I meet people at parties who are on their way to being famous, to changing the world; or vice versa, whenever I hear about something exciting someone's done, chances are that someone is a friend of a friend, living a short drive from me.

5) In which way would you prefer the US to be more like Canada?

What I'd really like to see is less stratification among classes. Canada has its rich and its poor, its ignorant and intellectuals, but the differences feel far less stark than in the US, and there isn't such a feel of division and alienation. Perhaps that's because in large part the classes in Canada are more geographically separated, and so you don't have the same chance to see two different classes coexisting nearby but trying their best not to interact with each other. But I do also think that the extremes in Canada are less sharp than in the US.

The rule is, I have to promote the meme by asking people questions if they want to be interviewed, so leave a comment here and I'll try to think of something.